You are currently browsing the daily archive for 23/04/2018.

In recent weeks farmers have kept machinery off the fields due to the wet conditions, pedestrian access to the Stonehenge permissive path has been closed by English Heritage and access to Avebury henge has similarly been closed by the National Trust to prevent footfall erosion. And yet Highways England’s contractors have been using a mechanical digger to excavate archaeological evaluation trenches in a field adjacent to Longbarrow Roundabout, just beyond the western boundary of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS). This work is being undertaken in connection with the proposed Stonehenge tunnel scheme.

The use of a heavy machine, which in continually moving back and forth in the current wet soil conditions would likely devastate any fragile archaeological deposits, underlines the threat that will soon reach the WHS. This was signalled when Highways England’s contractors started hand digging test pits in a nearby farmer’s field within the WHS last week. Located alongside the A303, between the area currently occupied by pigs and the A360 at Longbarrow Roundabout, this area is ankle deep in a crop masking the environs of an Early Bronze Age settlement lying across and within the boundary of the WHS.

This area of archaeological interest lies in the path of a proposed 1.2 km length of dual carriageway within the WHS, which would lie in a cutting 40–78 metres wide and 8 metres deep. The cutting stretches east from the A360, through the area now occupied by pigs to the proposed western tunnel portal location, at Normanton Gorse. We are told hundreds of archaeological test pits are proposed, to be followed by a herringbone pattern of trenches over the whole area.

Why has Highways England started this archaeological evaluation now when a growing crop will thwart field walking surveys, cloying earth is difficult to sieve for finds, and the introduction of a digger onto saturated ground could see fragile archaeological evidence lost forever?

If the investigations had been put off until the ground dried out the risk of damage would considerably reduce, but the timetable has been compressed by Highways England’s failure to engage constructively with landowners and farmers in the WHS, with no account of the farming calendar or extremely wet conditions exacerbated by periods of heavy snow. More to the point perhaps – why is this invasive and destructive investigation taking place at all when, if the road scheme is agreed, the archaeology in its path would have to be properly excavated anyway?

The public traveling along this stretch of the A303 will unwittingly bear witness to the impact of Highway England’s industrial approach to WHS archaeology. The archaeological work will continue for many weeks to come, yet the public can hardly be aware of what this activity means without the focus the media can bring. We hope the world’s media will help by monitoring what Highways England is doing, supposedly in the public interest, because there is no one that will keep an eye on this activity like the independent media can!

Further press enquiries: theheritagejournal@gmail.com

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