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The National Audit Office was already unconvinced that the Stonehenge project was value for money – and that was before the world was engulfed in the greatest economic crisis in generations! So clearly, the Transport Secretary would need an additional reason to approve the project, one that transcends mere economics.

Historic England, English Heritage and the hapless National Trust have obligingly tried to supply one to the Government: “the scheme will be a net cultural improvement to the World Heritage landscape”. As to that:

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On the left, the cultural “improvements” made in the 50s and 60s. On the right, the landscape now, with most of them gone. What one generation of experts classed as visitor improvements were seen by the next as a national disgrace and removed! “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains” …. except for some scars and an area left utterly devoid of archaeological evidence.

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Food for thought, bearing in mind that the area of cultural destruction now being promoted by EH, HE and the Trust is a thousand times greater than the area previously admitted to having been “a national disgrace”. Making “cultural improvements” is closely related to “irreversible cultural disasters”, as history has often shown. Should we really take the chance?

Thankfully, it seems that the coronavirus crisis has delayed a final announcement on the tunnel being made. The following comments were submitted by a supporter of the Heritage Journal:

Stonehenge at Sunset, 1840, by William Turner of Oxford.

People sometimes say to me that the 20th-century archaeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes said that “every age has (gets) the Stonehenge it deserves”. I always say back to them something along the following lines:

If the tunnel gets approval then all future generations will get the Stonehenge landscape they don’t deserve as significant parts of it will be damaged. And once that damage has been done, then there’s no turning back from that for three things.

  1. Blick Mead.
  2. The western burial grounds. And all the unknown percentage of sieving in the western burial grounds that Highways England didn’t do “on cost grounds” (when archaeologists like MPP and Paul Garwood etc are asking for 100% sieve-rate in certain areas but Highways England won’t agree to anything like that).
  3. And also any previously unknown archaeology that is in the way of the tunnel as I don’t think the people (in charge) are trustworthy or competent (ref. the BM boreholes).

Something heartening, if it’s true, for those who care about the preservation of the World Heritage Site for future generations:


“Given the current situation, with the anticipated effect of the Covid-19 virus on the UK economy, the business case for the project will be called into question, as it was early in 2019.

Months before the outbreak in China, the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) publicly stated that it was not convinced the Stonehenge project offered value for money. Amya Morse, then head of the NAO, said, “The tunnel at Stonehenge is only just value for money by the department’s [Department for Transport’s] own business case,” adding, “It will take a very special effort by the department to protect public value up to completion”.

The UK’s Planning Inspectorate has sent its report and recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport, but a decision on the project is not expected until after the lifting of the government’s current coronavirus measures.”


 

The three groups invited to bid are:

  • BMJV [comprising Bouygues Travaux Publics and J Murphy & Sons)]
  • HDJV [consisting of Hochtief Infrastructure GmbH and Dragados)]
  • MORE JV [comprising FCC Construcción (42.5%), Salini Impregilo (42.5%) and BeMo Tunnelling UK/Austria (15%)]

So British involvement is minimal. Why would that be? Do we lack the expertise and competitive edge despite being in the country already?

Or could it be that major local firms are more aware of the geological difficulties and the possibility the plug would be pulled mid-project; the vast archaeological jeopardy; and the possibility that any firm involved will end up reviled by the British and the public worldwide?

 

Explain this!

 

Sincere congratulations to Historic England, joint winners of the recent Current Archaeology award for Rescue Project of the Year!

They’ve been recording rare Roman graffiti in Gelt Forest, Cumbria. It couldn’t be a more exciting project: the inscriptions were carved by soldiers quarrying stone for Hadrian’s Wall and previously lost ones have now been rediscovered. Nor could it be a more worthy project: the soft sandstone into which they are carved is gradually eroding away and eventually they’ll be lost..

Which prompts the question: how can an organisation which rightly earns great praise for preserving irreplaceable Roman graffiti at the Hadrian’s Wall quarry be supporting the construction of a mile of new dual carriageway across the Stonehenge World Heritage landscape which will needlessly destroy massive quantities of irreplaceable archaeology?

 


“Officials have promised the project will avoid important archaeological sites and will not spoil the view of the setting sun from Stonehenge during the winter solstice.”


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1.  And who defines “important“? It’s Highways England’s PR department who have repeatedly proved themselves unreliable witnesses, determined to deliver the tunnel, not the truth, at all costs. Of course important archaeological features would be lost, perhaps numbered in thousands – why wouldn’t they, in Europe’s most important prehistoric landscape?

If they’re telling the truth let Highways England publish a detailed inventory of all the archaeology which lies in the path of the access roads. A truthful body would do so. But they won’t because they can’t.

2.  And it “will not spoil the view of the setting sun from Stonehenge during the winter solstice”? Well, as an aside, Historic England wanted to do exactly that and were forced to change the route by those who gave a damn about it!

But it’s far worse than that: they are crowing to the public that the solstice sunset will still be visible but they aren’t admitting that Stonehenge won’t! The free view of the monument will be hidden from millions of travellers who will only be able to see it if they pay nearly £20 to English Heritage!

 

In a decision so irrational and heritage-unfriendly it could have been made by Shropshire Council at Oswestry Hillfort, Wiltshire Council has now come out in support of the Stonehenge tunnel. Its reasons are completely unconvincing:

The tunnel will “help to unlock” more than 21,000 jobs in the south west and boost the region’s economy by £9 billion. “The South West” and “the region”, note, not Wiltshire! And there’s really no evidence that 21,000 jobs and £9 billion’s worth of economic growth are being prevented in the South West let alone in Wiltshire by the few minutes of delay that sometimes happens near Stonehenge.

As if in acknowledgement that the claims are very thin, the Council says they are based on “An independent economic assessment commissioned by the local authorities and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, and validated by Department for Transport“. But anyone who has followed this sorry saga will know that a report prompted by and validated by the Department of Transport is not authoritative: the Department has been consistently bending reality for years! One commenter may well have got much closer to the grubby truth:


“Timing is excellent. Lets just suck up to all the locals by pretending to support what the local villages want, the day before the council bye-election for the “Till and Wyle Valley” ward in which Stonehenge sits.”


 

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

 

 

 

Last week, the Salisbury Journal offered proof you can make statistics say anything you want them to say.

In a somewhat sensationalist article, ‘Stonehenge found to be one of the top landmarks for causing road accidents‘, which bemoans the phenomenon of ‘rubber-necking’, it is stated that:

SCORES of drivers have crashed their vehicles while eagerly trying to peek a view of Stonehenge

but then goes on to state that:

Research shows that eight incidents occurred on the busy stretch of road directly to the south of the stones

There is no analysis into the cause of these accidents, and indeed, differentiating between those driving westbound afforded a spectacular front on view, or eastbound where the view is much less rewarding, would seem one obvious question. 

Given the number of vehicles using the A303 on a daily basis, 8 accidents in a five-year period would seem to indicate a very tiny percentage. On the other hand, the number of accidents at or near the Visitor Centre itself suggests a much higher percentage. The site of the highest number of accidents was at the Longbarrow Roundabout designed and introduced by Highways England – need anyone say more?

“Rubbernecking’ has developed from spying an accident on the motorway, to drivers actively slowing down on the many roads straddling famous landmarks to get a peek. The problem has become so severe in recent years, that authorities have put forward plans to build a tunnel next to Stonehenge, to put a lid on the issue.”

…and suddenly, the raison d’etre for the tunnel becomes clear: 8 drivers (in 5 years) out of the many thousands that use the road every day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of us will have purchased ‘bug houses’ from supermarkets in recent years. These bug houses hang on fences and walls across the country, and some of you will have helped build grander bug hotels like the one pictured below, sited in the northern half of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, at Avebury.
Where though do the bugs hang out near the most famous stone circle in the world since the demolition of the old visitor centre at Stonehenge?
(The question wasn’t put by just anyone, it came from a visitor under 10.)
Come on National Trust, get with it English Heritage, give those bugs a home!

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