The UK Department for Transport has announced major plans to transform the A303 highway. This highway is the one which runs alongside the world-famous site of Stonehenge. Their plans are to improve traffic in the area as well as change the appearance and feel of the site by building a tunnel under the megaliths and doing away with the current road. However, many historians, archaeologists, and ancient history enthusiasts are shocked and outraged by this proposal. They assert that the tunnel could wreak havoc on unknown archaeological sites which may be located nearby.
Stonehenge is one of the most famous prehistoric structures in the world. The megaliths draw in thousands of tourists every year who marvel at the enigmatic site. The stone circle has been studied by scientists, archaeologists, and historians for centuries, however the exact purpose of the monument is still uncertain.
Some of the recent finds made at and around Stonehenge involve discoveries about ancient gender equality, a smaller Bluestonehenge, a 5,600-Year-Old Ceremonial Center built before the famous stone circle, a 4,500-year-old megalithic super-henge (just one mile away), and hints at fifteen or more previously unknown monuments in the vicinity.
A digital reconstruction of Bluestonehenge by Henry Rothwell. (CC BY SA 3.0)
It’s easy to see why the area is so appealing for archaeologists, historians, and tourists. But what would an underground tunnel mean for this region and the archaeological wonders it holds?
The Telegraph says that there have been campaigners complaining about the 24,000-plus vehicles passing by Stonehenge daily, which they argue disrupts “the peace and tranquility of the World Heritage site.”
To which the announcement on the UK Department of Transport website asserts that:
“The single carriageway section of the A303 currently runs alongside the stones and the proposed option is to construct a 1.8 mile dual carriageway tunnel to improve journey times, remove the sight and sound of traffic and enhance the world heritage site.”
Traffic on the A303, with Stonehenge in the background. (OGL v3.0)
The Telegraph reports that this tunnel has been a long time coming – it has been delayed for 30 years by fears of stepping on the toes of historians and environmentalists.
And perhaps they were right to be concerned, Global News reports there are strong worries coming out by historians and history enthusiasts that the tunnel will cause more problems than it could solve. As historian Tom Holland has stated in a Youtube video ‘No Tunnel!’:
“I think it would be a catastrophe — an act of vandalism that would shame our country and our generation… Stonehenge did not exist in isolation. Stretching all around it are traces stamped, not just in the field, in the very subsoil of Salisbury Plain — the most archaeologically significant landscape anywhere in Europe. Lose it to the tunnel and you lose our beginnings.”
However it is interesting to note that UNESCO has given the project the green light and the Council for British Archaeology has also suggested that the tunnel may be okay – as long as it is longer than the proposed 1.8 miles (2.9 km).
A303 passing close to Stonehenge. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
So, Ancient Origins asks you: What are your opinions about this? Is it more important to build the tunnel and get rid of the eyesore of a roadway running along the monument which makes transport for locals and tourists difficult - regardless of possible archaeological ramifications? Would you prefer to see the tunnel created (and possible discoveries made while it is in construction) to do away with the noisy, polluted highway? Are there other solutions you can think of which would make both the historians and the department of transport content?
The beginnings of work on the proposed tunnel are still three years away, and if you live in one of the areas noted on the UK Department of Transport website, you can find out more about the proposed tunnel and take part in the in public consultations in-person. The Stonehenge consultation has already launched online as well and a feedback form about the tunnel scheme is available until March 5, 2017.
Top Image: Stonehenge, located near Salisbury in the English county of Wiltshire. Source: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
By Alicia McDermott