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A petition against the planned tunnel at Stonehenge, containing over 50,000 signatures, was handed in at Downing Street last month. The (final?) decision now rests with the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps who has until the spring to announce his decision. However, it is thought that a decision could well be announced in time for the new budget next week, on March 11.

In the meantime, rumours have been rife that the decision has already been made, epitomised by premature journalism as seen recently in the Salisbury Journal and the Daily Mail. Depending upon who you believe, the tunnel has either been canceled on financial grounds or will go ahead regardless of cost.

And still, eloquent and spirited letters of objection continue to arrive on the desk of Grant Schapps. Letters like the one below, copied into us here at the Heritage Journal and reproduced by permission, which lays out many of the main objections to the tunnel.

Dear Mr Shapps,

I am writing to ask you to please cancel the A303 tunnel and road project near Stonehenge as the fate of one of our country’s most historically fascinating landscapes is in your hands. This Stonehenge landscape is so important that it has been officially designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (though this prestigious WHS status could be lost if you don’t cancel the tunnel).

The magnificent circle of stones called Stonehenge, doesn’t exclusively stand in isolation as it is just one integral part of the much wider Stonehenge landscape (this WHS is 26 square km). You can’t have Stonehenge without the wider Stonehenge landscape, and vice versa. This wider Stonehenge landscape contains many interesting and unusual historical features, which all predate Stonehenge and are significant in their own way. For example:

  • 10,000 year old post holes that once held tall wooden posts and which the experts still speculate about.
  • Mysterious pits such as the nearly 6,000 year old Coneybury Anomaly. This contained an unusual collection of ritual deposits dating from the hunter-gatherer period, right up to the start of settled farming communities.
  • Two large causeway enclosures, the oldest being around 5,700 years old. They are thought to be ritual sites but what happened at these places is the source of much speculation.
  • Approximately 15 long barrows, with an average age of around 5,500 years old. These were large burial chambers for communities of people, rather than the later different style of Bronze Age round barrows which were built for individuals and their immediate family.
  • Two cursuses around 5,500 years old, the longest being 3 km long. They baffle the experts and just one theory is that they were ‘processional ways’.
  • Periglacial stripes, which are a natural feature of long erosion lines. It is thought by many archaeologists that before Stonehenge was built, people noticed that these aligned with the midwinter sunset and the midsummer sunrise and felt it was a special place. So around 5,000 years ago, they started to build Stonehenge at the end of the line of periglacial stripes.

Stonehenge was then built over a timescale of more than 1,000 years and in various stages. During and after this time, many additional structures were built in the wider Stonehenge landscape. For example, the site we now call Durrington Walls was a village where the builders of the later stages of Stonehenge lived temporarily and had huge feasts at solstices. The enigmatic Woodhenge was built nearby. And scattered around the rest of the Stonehenge landscape are around 400 Bronze Age burial mounds, some of which contained exquisite gold items. Since 2011, various aerial and geophysical surveys etc have been undertaken. These have revealed a variety of previously unknown structures hidden under the surface and some even look like small henges. Suffice to say that the Stonehenge landscape is absolutely peppered with dozens of fascinating structures, many of which still need to be excavated to reveal their full complexity. In summary, Stonehenge is just one part of a much wider Stonehenge landscape and if you approve the tunnel then significant parts of it will be seriously and irrevocably damaged.

As just one example, all the construction to the east of the tunnel will seriously damage Blick Mead (BM). This predates Stonehenge and is extremely important for the following reasons:

  • It dates from 9,500 years ago, was in continuous use for 3,000 years, and has much evidence of ritual and other activity since then.
  • It has a unique 7,000 year old platform of flint cobbles under which were ritually preserved Auroch hoof prints. (This is the platform which Highways England’s incompetent people bored a large hole through!).
  • BM has the first dwelling in the Stonehenge landscape (this dwelling is 6,000 years old).
  • All of the above dates have been proven by carbon dating. Many other items have also been carbon dated and it is the sequence of various dates which is so vital to the understanding of BM.
  • A total of 70,000 pieces of worked flint have been found at BM.
  • Also found were 2,420 pieces of animal bone and 126kg of burnt flint which indicates that extravagant feasts were held.
  • As a result of all the above, it won Current Archaeology’s Research Project of the Year award in 2018

Sites as old and rich as BM are extremely rare and it would be an absolute tragedy if it were to be damaged by the tunnel project. The actual dig site is only about the site of a tennis court and yet it has already revealed so much. There is a lot of archaeological potential on the other side of the A303 and that too would be damaged. If BM isn’t damaged by the tunnel project, then further excavations will reveal so much more. It is by far the best site in Britain to help us understand the fascinating story of how hunter-gatherers gradually evolved into settled communities who built areas like the wider Stonehenge landscape and then the modern world.

If the tunnel project gets your approval then BM will be physically damaged by all the construction works as it is less than 20 meters from the current road. Specifically what is planned near to BM is an almost 30 foot tall four-lane dual carriageway flyover with deep reinforcing pillars, plus two extra lanes feeding in from a huge roundabout (so a total of six lanes which merge into four very near to BM). The long-term effect of all this massive concrete construction will be that BM will gradually dry out and this will destroy the carbon dating opportunities. These sequential carbon dates are absolutely crucial for understanding how hunter-gatherers gradually evolved and spread out to build the wider Stonehenge landscape, and then go on to become modern humans like you and me.

In summary to the two paragraphs above, if you approve the tunnel then BM will be seriously and irrevocably damaged and this would be a tragedy for British history……………….and humanity really.

As well as BM being damaged, the massive western tunnel portal will seriously damage the burial grounds in that area. These burial grounds all predate Stonehenge by hundreds of years. World famous archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson’s written submission to the tunnel Examining Authority says. “The proposed work will damage the WHS, especially beyond the western portal to the western boundary of the WHS where a substantial area would be rendered archaeologically ‘sterile’. This will destroy a major block of land within the WHS and degrade its Outstanding Universal Value and is contrary to the recommendations of UNESCO and other international and national parties. The road line would cut through the densest concentration in Britain of remains of Neolithic long barrows (burial mounds from c.3800-3300 BC) known in Britain. The long barrows’ distribution may have a bearing on why Stonehenge was located where it is. Important remains relating to the period before Stonehenge, and potentially to its choice of location, would be destroyed by the proposed work. The proposal should be rejected.

Similarly, world famous Paul Garwood (Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Birmingham University) written submission says “The current A303 scheme would have a major detrimental impact on the setting and sensory qualities of the barrow group, diminishing one of the most spectacular heritage assets within the WHS. The new carriageways to the south would break up the Stonehenge landscape in a more extreme manner than the current road, while the massive new road intersection with groundworks just 100m from the long barrow, and new roundabouts and slip roads 250m away, would be even more intrusive. Such construction work would be an act of heritage despoliation, both materially and visually, that archaeological ‘mitigation’ and landscaping cannot compensate for.

World famous archaeologist Julian Richards says on You Tube, the tunnel will come out “right into the heart of an unspoilt and incredibly significant area” and “completely obliterate the setting of the ‘Lake’ barrows” which will be a “complete disaster” so he objects “really strongly” and says “future generations will say, what have you done to this absolutely incredible landscape!

I make the point that there are three organisations who should be agreeing with what Julian Richards, Paul Garwood, Mike Parker Pearson and I have all said above. They are English Heritage, Historic England and National Trust. They normally behave ethically but in this case they most certainly are not! They are completely deceiving the public by claiming that the tunnel project is a “historical improvement”. This claim is a smokescreen to hide the reality, which is that they are only focused on their little empire of land which they own around Stonehenge itself. And they are trying their hardest to remove from their empire, all us ordinary decent people driving past enjoying the view of the stones for free. It’s almost the very definition of NIMBYism. And to rub salt into the wounds the public will suffer, we will foot the nearly £2 billion cost (which is very likely to be much more!). In summary, it’s a disgrace that those three organisations are willing to allow serious damage to BM and the western burial grounds to further their agenda of selfishness to the huge detriment of the public.

I also make the point that it is only really the very established and secure (career wise) archaeologists who are criticising the above three organisations. I say this as I have been told that less secure archaeologists are afraid of criticising those powerful organisations, as they are then likely to be blacklisted which will affect their careers. Despite this bullying, a consortium of 22 world class archaeologists have stood up to be counted and written a solid body of evidence detailing the case against the tunnel project.

I ask you to please judge for yourself the honesty and integrity of those three organisations by Googleing each one’s name, and then Blick Mead. You will find that they give only a tiny amount of information about it, despite it being a very significant historical site just 2 km from Stonehenge. I leave you to draw your own conclusions but mine is that those three organisations don’t want the general public to know how important BM is and then think that it shouldn’t be damaged by the tunnel project. I think they are being very dishonest by deceiving people in this way. It’s a very far cry from all the sanctimonious and insincere claims on their websites about how much they care for England’s Heritage.

In summary to all the above, please don’t fall for this cynical con trick being very cleverly peddled by those three organisations.

I know full well that there can be traffic delays at Stonehenge, but these are always mitigated as I use the time to slow down from the trivia of modern life and admire the magnificent circle of stones. As I drive past, I think about how people evolved from being hunter-gatherers at inspiring places like Blick Mead and on to the wonderful culture of people who built the wider Stonehenge landscape. I pay my respects to those good people, whose shoulders we are all standing on, and I very much hope that the awesome Stonehenge landscape they created will be respected for the rest of the foreseeable future.

There are many other reasons that other individuals will give you to ask you to please cancel this extremely damaging tunnel and road project. But I have just focused on the above as it is all very dear to my heart. I am not an archaeologist, and a few years ago I retired after working for 19 years on 999 emergency ambulances for London Ambulance Service. I think that very humbling experience has given me the judgement to know what is genuinely valuable in the world. I think that the wider Stonehenge landscape, plus the rare and absolutely priceless chance to understand how hunter-gatherers evolved into modern humanity, are excellent examples of those truly valuable things that we should all treasure……………..and protect!

I conclude by saying that I think history, and humanity will judge you harshly if you approve this damaging and dishonest scheme. Please, please, please cancel it.

Yours very sincerely,

Paul Gossage

 

 

 

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