Tunnel vs. Stonehenge: The Battle For Ancient Wiltshire Advances

Tunnel vs. Stonehenge: The Battle For Ancient Wiltshire Advances

Is the British government’s proposal for a two-mile long tunnel beneath Stonehenge good value for money? Maybe not.

Scheduled to be operational in 2026, the Stonehenge tunnel project will include a new 2 mile (3.3 kilometer) long twin-bore tunnel running underneath the Stonehenge World Heritage Site in a bid to improve congestion on the 8 mile (13 kilometer) long A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down past Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.

But these holy places and the nearby Neolithic sites are an “incomparable testimony to prehistoric times,” says UNESCO. The Stonehenge monument , being over 4,500 years old, is one of the best-preserved ancient structures left, anywhere. However, no less important is the Wiltshire chalk landscape around the monument which is as crucial to the mechanics of the astronomical observatory as the stones are themselves.

Stonehenge Tunnel - Good Value For Money, Or Not?

Ministers are debating whether to green-light the controversial tunnel beneath the historic Stonehenge and a report in the Financial Times says that while Transport Secretary Grant Shapps supports the $2.22 (£2) billion project, the Treasury has concerns about its “value for money”. And while the new road is aimed at easing a bottleneck on the A303 from London to the southwest, the Treasury is saying alternative routes to the west on the M4 and M5 already exist and they are concerned the project isn’t a good spend of British taxpayers money.

A303 queues at Stonehenge. This view looks more or less southwest towards the road. (Pam Brophy / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Chancellor Sajid Javid, described the talks about the project as “rumors” but another minister said the Treasury “isn’t very keen”, adding that it was hard to see what the outcome might be. And last week at Prime Ministers Questions Boris Johnson seemed to align with Mr. Shapps with regarding planned infrastructure projects he said: “the A303, you name it, to improve road and rail transport to Cornwall”.

The Alleged Benefits Of The New Road

The 2 mile (3.3 kilometer) Stonehenge tunnel was originally to be PFI funded via the private finance initiative, but it was frozen in the 2018 Budget of then-chancellor Philip Hammond, and now, Chancellor Sajid Javid has yet to allocate his reserved $88.7 (£80) billion pounds for infrastructure projects.

An article on Road Traffic Technology says the benefits of the new tunnel include: creating employment opportunities and supporting economic growth in the region and the journey time between Amesbury and Berwick Down will be reduced from 60 minutes to 10 minutes during peak hours. Furthermore, improvements will be made in accessibility for cyclists, walkers, and horse riders. A grass covered canopy will hide the tunnel and will help restore the landscape surrounding the famous stone circle , “by removing the sight and sounds of the road,“ according to the Financial Times .

The Stonehenge tunnel is supposed to help traffic in the area. Peter Trimming / CC BY-SA 2.0 .

The Opponents To The Stonehenge Tunnel Are Many

A journalist is spoiled when looking for opponents to this project but let’s begin with an article in the Daily Mail which says any tunnel shorter than 2.7 miles (4.35 kilometers) would do “irreparable damage” to the landscape and local archaeological sites. Also, in that article, Tony Robinson, presenter of Time Team described the planned a $2.22 (£2) billion tunnel as “the most brutal intrusion ever” into the Stone Age landscape.

A report on Friends of the Earth asks, “If you ’re allowed to dig up a World Heritage Site to build new roads, then is anything safe?” And they also say that because transport is now officially the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK the road will have adverse effects on “the climate, air quality, our landscape, our heritage, and our future”. Furthermore, Professor David Jacques, who heads up the award winning Blick Mead research project , says tunneling through the local chalk could cause “the water table to drop”, meaning bones and other organic remains could quickly dry out, and ”could be lost forever”.

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Perhaps the saddest aspect of this situation is the imminent threat to wildlife which is exasperated by the project. The RSPB, objecting to the tunnel, stated it “directly affects a number of stone-curlew nesting territories,” and potentially the stone curlew population in the rest of Salisbury Plain . What’s more, a turkey that was driven to extinction in Britain, the Great Bustard, is being re-introduced in the area and a construction project won’t really help them settle in.

Is There An Alternative To Doing Nothing?

If we agree with the basic premise that the A303 needs to widened at all, a longer tunnel is the preferred option for many environmental and archaeological groups. According to Friends of the Earth , archaeologist Dr. Kate Fielden who works with the Stonehenge Alliance said a tunnel of some 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) that avoids the World Heritage Site “must be the ultimate goal” and she adds that given the vast sums the government is proposing to spend on new roads, this solution should be perfectly feasible.

We must be mindful that while on the outside, where most of us sit, it might appear that British decision makers are risking thousands of years of history, heritage, wildlife, and a unique natural environment, in an apparently misguided attempt to improve a road journey, however, leading heritage groups including the National Trust said they believed the plans overall would “enhance and protect” the Stonehenge landscape.


Stonehenge tunnel plan opposed by historians

A £2bn proposal, which includes a 1.8-mile (2.9km) tunnel, was announced by the government in December, aimed at easing congestion on the nearby A303.

Dan Snow, Ruth Scurr and Tom Holland have now united with Stonehenge Alliance to oppose the plans, which they say "endanger" the ancient site.

But, the Department for Transport (DfT) said safeguarding it was essential.

"Stonehenge is one of Britain's greatest treasures and it is important to note that English Heritage and National Trust support our plans," said a DfT spokesman.

"It is essential that we ensure this site of cultural and historical significance is safeguarded as we progress with the upgrade.

"As with any road scheme, we will consult with interested parties before any building begins on the A303."


Less damaging option

The tunnel plan has the backing of English Heritage and the National Trust.

A report by UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites has also recognised the benefits of the project.

However, the group of archaeologists, which includes Mike Parker Pearson, professor of archaeology at the University of Sheffield and the University of Buckingham's Prof David Jacques warn that the proposed tunnel entrance and approach road will be "a vast gash on the landscape".

They believe a southern bypass is the only option which will not severely impact the site. They also argue it would be cheaper to build and less damaging to the landscape.

The academics say advances in technology mean the area could still offer up further major archaeological revelations "if the monuments and their precious setting are not wrecked".

"Planning at Stonehenge must be cautious and always propose minimal intervention," they added.

A spokesman for Highways England said: "We are working closely with key organisations within the World Heritage site, and we continue to find the best solution possible to improve journeys for drivers while also protecting Stonehenge."

He said a public consultation on the tunnel plan, which runs until 5 March, is "offering people the chance to see our initial proposals and we have been exploring fully the potential locations for the tunnel".

"For now, we can only identify broad possible locations for the tunnel portals but the plan is to put them beyond the horizons of the stones," he added.


The busy A303 currently passes within a few hundred metres of the ancient monument and the tunnel would remove much of the road.

Dr Kate Fielden, from Stonehenge Alliance, said: "Highways England is pursuing this scheme before they've even finished the archaeological excavation - it's like it's a done deal.

"It would have been nice to have a full account of the work being undertaken, its results and investigations.

"Most worrying of all is the location, it is right below the ancient avenue which is a key feature of the pre-designed prehistoric landscape. It's a philistine way of treating the landscape."

Dr David Jacques, from The University of Buckingham, has been leading an archaeological project at nearby Blick Mead since 2005.

He said: "There's no sense of balance in this consultation. It seems to be simply Highways England explaining what they are going to do.

"They are putting a lot of energy into this but Blick Mead and the local landowners have yet to be invited into the consultation process."

A Highways England spokesman said: "We are undertaking geotechnical and archaeological surveys in and around the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

"These will add to the evolving knowledge and understanding of this unique landscape and help us identify any issues when taking forward options for detailed assessment and design."

A public consultation to gather views of drivers and residents runs until 5 March.


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It is believed that the use of bovines stemmed from a need to create settlements from felled wood and move it to different locations.

The use of the animals during this period of neolithic history opens up the possibility they were used to transport Stonehenge's rocks, which was erected at around 5,000 BC.

Research has revealed that cattle were being used for traction – to pull loads – from the earliest Neolithic habitation sites in the Balkans.

Stonehenge may have been built with the assistance of cows who carried the enormous rocks. It could help explain how the fabled bluestones managed to complete the journey from Wales to Wiltshire, where Stonehenge still sits today (Stock)

STONEHENGE'S CONSTRUCTION REQUIRED GREAT INGENUITY

Stonehenge was built thousands of years before machinery was invented.

The heavy rocks weigh upwards of several tonnes each.

Some of the stones are believed to have originated from a quarry in Wales, some 140 miles (225km) away from the Wiltshire monument.

To do this would have required a high degree of ingenuity, and experts believe the ancient engineers used a pulley system over a shifting conveyor-belt of logs.

Historians now think that the ring of stones was built in several different stages, with the first completed around 5,000 years ago by Neolithic Britons who used primitive tools, possibly made from deer antlers.

Modern scientists now widely believe that Stonehenge was created by several different tribes over time.

After the Neolithic Britons - likely natives of the British Isles - started the construction, it was continued centuries later by their descendants.

Over time, the descendants developed a more communal way of life and better tools which helped in the erection of the stones.

Bones, tools and other artefacts found on the site seem to support this hypothesis.

'Traction was not an 'all-or-nothing' situation we need instead to reconsider it as a more complex process, with animals used as engines in multiple ways,' Lead author Dr Jane Gaastra writes in the study.

'Our repeated identification of the exploitation of cattle for pulling heavy loads calls into question the current scope of the analysis and interpretation of the use of animals in prehistoric Europe.'

Experts say that if these practices can be found to have been used elsewhere it will have major ramifications on our understanding of animal use in the Neolithic.

Dr Gaastra writes: 'A firm understanding of the nature of early traction evidence in prehistoric Europe has significant implications for our knowledge of both management practices and the nature of labour and movement in prehistoric societies'

The Stonehenge monument standing today was the final stage of a four part building project that ended 3,500 years ago

Stonehenge is one of the most prominent prehistoric monuments in Britain. The Stonehenge that can be seen today is the final stage that was completed about 3,500 years ago.

According to the monument's website, Stonehenge was built in four stages:

First stage : The first version of Stonehenge was a large earthwork or Henge, comprising a ditch, bank and the Aubrey holes, all probably built around 3100 BC.

The Aubrey holes are round pits in the chalk, about one metre (3.3 feet) wide and deep, with steep sides and flat bottoms.

They form a circle about 86.6 metres (284 feet) in diameter.

Excavations revealed cremated human bones in some of the chalk filling, but the holes themselves were likely not made to be used as graves, but as part of a religious ceremony.

After this first stage, Stonehenge was abandoned and left untouched for more than 1,000 years.

Second stage : The second and most dramatic stage of Stonehenge started around 2150 years BC, when about 82 bluestones from the Preseli mountains in south-west Wales were transported to the site. It's thought that the stones, some of which weigh four tonnes each, were dragged on rollers and sledges to the waters at Milford Haven, where they were loaded onto rafts.

They were carried on water along the south coast of Wales and up the rivers Avon and Frome, before being dragged overland again near Warminster and Wiltshire.

The final stage of the journey was mainly by water, down the river Wylye to Salisbury, then the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury.

The journey spanned nearly 240 miles, and once at the site, the stones were set up in the centre to form an incomplete double circle.

During the same period, the original entrance was widened and a pair of Heel Stones were erected. The nearer part of the Avenue, connecting Stonehenge with the River Avon, was built aligned with the midsummer sunrise.

Third stage : The third stage of Stonehenge, which took place about 2000 years BC, saw the arrival of the sarsen stones (a type of sandstone), which were larger than the bluestones.

They were likely brought from the Marlborough Downs (40 kilometres, or 25 miles, north of Stonehenge).

The largest of the sarsen stones transported to Stonehenge weighs 50 tonnes, and transportation by water would not have been possible, so it's suspected that they were transported using sledges and ropes.

Calculations have shown that it would have taken 500 men using leather ropes to pull one stone, with an extra 100 men needed to lay the rollers in front of the sledge.

These stones were arranged in an outer circle with a continuous run of lintels - horizontal supports.

Inside the circle, five trilithons - structures consisting of two upright stones and a third across the top as a lintel - were placed in a horseshoe arrangement, which can still be seen today.

Final stage : The fourth and final stage took place just after 1500 years BC, when the smaller bluestones were rearranged in the horseshoe and circle that can be seen today.

The original number of stones in the bluestone circle was probably around 60, but these have since been removed or broken up. Some remain as stumps below ground level.


Road Workers Building Tunnel Beneath Stonehenge Damage 6,000-Year-Old Platform In Salisbury Plain

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Road workers working on a construction project of a tunnel that goes beneath the iconic British landmark have drilled an 11.5-feet deep hole into the 6,000-year-old man-made platform in Salisbury Plain.

Image Credit: Walkerssk / Pixabay

Archeologists claim that road workers tunneling beneath Stonehenge have damaged Salisbury Plain, where British first hunter-gatherers lived.

Experts fear that irreparable damage was done to the ancient cite when engineers, monitoring the water levels, foolishly drilled an 11.5ft deep borehole through the iconic ancient site, reports the Daily Mail .

Salisbury Plain has offered scholars a great deal of information on the first hunters-gatherers of Britain, and the Mesolithic Period.

Salisbury Plain has given experts lots of valuable archaeological information. Recently, experts excavated a carefully constructed stone platform at the site of an ancient river.

Scientists say that it may have been part of a jetty. Hoofprints produced by cattle (massive cows) thousands of years ago were also discovered on the site.

“This is a travesty,” Professor David Jacques from the University of Buckingham, who discovered the site 12 years ago, told the Daily Telegraph.

“If the tunnel goes ahead the water table will drop, and all the organic remains will be destroyed.”

“We took great care in order excavate this ancient platform and the aurochs’ hoofprints,” Jacques explained. “We believe early hunters considered this area to be a sacred place even before Stonehenge. These monster cows — double the size of normal cattle — provided food for 300 people, so were revered.”

Professor Jacques also notes that the damage that was now caused could lower the water table threatening artifacts preserved in the waterlogged ground.

Kate Fielden , honorary secretary of Stonehenge Alliance, explained in an interview with CNN that she was also concerned about the development at the archaeological site, and warned that this could “irreparably damage” one of the world’s most iconic ancient sites.

The site was home to now-extinct ‘monster cows’ which may also explain how Stonehenge was built.

“It may be that this explains why Stonehenge was built. These monster cows provided food for 300 people so were revered,” Professor Jacques explained.

“There are thousands of years of history lying undisturbed in the water-logged ground. It’s a miracle it has survived and would be a disaster if it was lost,” he warned.

Stonehenge is believed to have been erected in four steps . The monuments first version was likely a large earthwork where its builders constructed a ditch, bank, and the Aubrey holes. All of this around 3100 BC.

The second stage started around 2150 BC when the builders somehow managed to transport 82 massive bluestones from the Preseli mountains in south-west Wales.

The third stage of the construction took place about 2,000 BC when the builders transported the Sarsen stones.

The fourth and final stage took place around 1500 BC when smaller bluestones were rearranged by the builders in the horseshoe and circle that we can still see today.


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Among the finds in recent years is a carefully constructed stone platform on site of an extinct river which could have part of a pathway or jetty, as well as hoof prints of prehistoric cattle, known as aurochs.

Prof Jacques, who discovered the site 12 years ago, told the Daily Telegraph: 'This is a travesty. We took great care to excavate this stone platform as it was clearly put there to preserve the aurochs' footprint.

Stonehenge was built thousands of years before machinery was invented. The heavy rocks weigh upwards of several tonnes each. Some of the stones are believed to have originated from a quarry in Wales, some 140 miles (225km) away from the Wiltshire monument

'It may be that this explains why Stonehenge was built. These monster cows provided food for 300 people so were revered.'

Adding: 'There are thousands of years of history lying undisturbed in the water-logged ground. It's a miracle it has survived and would be a disaster if it was lost.'

Highways England said: 'We are not aware of any damage being caused to archaeological layers.

'The works have been undertaken in a highly professional manner, with an archaeologist on site and with due care being exercised at all times.'

STONEHENGE'S CONSTRUCTION REQUIRED GREAT INGENUITY

Stonehenge was built thousands of years before machinery was invented.

The heavy rocks weigh upwards of several tonnes each.

Some of the stones are believed to have originated from a quarry in Wales, some 140 miles (225km) away from the Wiltshire monument.

To do this would have required a high degree of ingenuity, and experts believe the ancient engineers used a pulley system over a shifting conveyor-belt of logs.

Historians now think that the ring of stones was built in several different stages, with the first completed around 5,000 years ago by Neolithic Britons who used primitive tools, possibly made from deer antlers.

Modern scientists now widely believe that Stonehenge was created by several different tribes over time.

After the Neolithic Britons - likely natives of the British Isles - started the construction, it was continued centuries later by their descendants.

Over time, the descendants developed a more communal way of life and better tools which helped in the erection of the stones.

Bones, tools and other artefacts found on the site seem to support this hypothesis.

The Stonehenge monument standing today was the final stage of a four part building project that ended 3,500 years ago

Stonehenge is one of the most prominent prehistoric monuments in Britain. The Stonehenge that can be seen today is the final stage that was completed about 3,500 years ago.

According to the monument's website, Stonehenge was built in four stages:

First stage : The first version of Stonehenge was a large earthwork or Henge, comprising a ditch, bank and the Aubrey holes, all probably built around 3100 BC.

The Aubrey holes are round pits in the chalk, about one metre (3.3 feet) wide and deep, with steep sides and flat bottoms.

They form a circle about 86.6 metres (284 feet) in diameter.

Excavations revealed cremated human bones in some of the chalk filling, but the holes themselves were likely not made to be used as graves, but as part of a religious ceremony.

After this first stage, Stonehenge was abandoned and left untouched for more than 1,000 years.

Second stage : The second and most dramatic stage of Stonehenge started around 2150 years BC, when about 82 bluestones from the Preseli mountains in south-west Wales were transported to the site. It's thought that the stones, some of which weigh four tonnes each, were dragged on rollers and sledges to the waters at Milford Haven, where they were loaded onto rafts.

They were carried on water along the south coast of Wales and up the rivers Avon and Frome, before being dragged overland again near Warminster and Wiltshire.

The final stage of the journey was mainly by water, down the river Wylye to Salisbury, then the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury.

The journey spanned nearly 240 miles, and once at the site, the stones were set up in the centre to form an incomplete double circle.

During the same period, the original entrance was widened and a pair of Heel Stones were erected. The nearer part of the Avenue, connecting Stonehenge with the River Avon, was built aligned with the midsummer sunrise.

Third stage : The third stage of Stonehenge, which took place about 2000 years BC, saw the arrival of the sarsen stones (a type of sandstone), which were larger than the bluestones.

They were likely brought from the Marlborough Downs (40 kilometres, or 25 miles, north of Stonehenge).

The largest of the sarsen stones transported to Stonehenge weighs 50 tonnes, and transportation by water would not have been possible, so it's suspected that they were transported using sledges and ropes.

Calculations have shown that it would have taken 500 men using leather ropes to pull one stone, with an extra 100 men needed to lay the rollers in front of the sledge.

These stones were arranged in an outer circle with a continuous run of lintels - horizontal supports.

Inside the circle, five trilithons - structures consisting of two upright stones and a third across the top as a lintel - were placed in a horseshoe arrangement, which can still be seen today.

Final stage : The fourth and final stage took place just after 1500 years BC, when the smaller bluestones were rearranged in the horseshoe and circle that can be seen today.

The original number of stones in the bluestone circle was probably around 60, but these have since been removed or broken up. Some remain as stumps below ground level.


Chris Grayling gives go-ahead to road tunnel under Stonehenge

A tunnel is to be built under Stonehenge under plans announced by ministers, in a move that will reignite the controversy over improving major roads around the ancient site.Chris Grayling said he was taking a “big decision” to transform the A303, one of the main arteries to the south-west and a notorious bottleneck for lorries and holidaymakers, as part of a £2bn investment.

The transport secretary said the tunnel could enhance the Stonehenge site by removing traffic. The concept has been backed by its custodians, English Heritage and the National Trust.

But others regard it as a scheme that could irreparably damage the world heritage site. Last year, the historians Dan Snow and Tom Holland attacked the proposals.

Snow, the president of the Council for British Archaeology, likened them to vandals destroying ancient artefacts. “We have recently started to realise that the standing stones are just a beginning. They sit at the heart of the world’s most significant and best-preserved stone-age landscape. The government’s plans endanger this unique site,” he said.

“Around the world we see pictures of our fellow humans smashing the treasures of the past and count ourselves lucky that we live in a country which values its rich history and appreciates what it offers modern Britain. Our heritage helps us understand ourselves, how we got here and where we are going.”

Holland said: “There is so much waiting to be learned about how Stonehenge was built – if we decide, as a country, not to sacrifice it to road building. The battle to save our most significant neolithic landscape is an unending one.”

The 1.8-mile (2.9km) tunnel will run as part of a 7-mile dualled stretch of the A303, making the road a more effective link to the M3 and the M5 and speeding up journeys to and from the south-west.

A Unesco report approved the plans in principle last year, opening the way to resolving two decades of protests over new roads around Stonehenge.

Up to £2bn is being spent on the A303 and other works in the south-west as part of a £15bn road strategy announced in 2014.

Grayling said: “This major investment in the south-west will transform the A303 and benefit those locally by cutting congestion and improving journey times. It will also boost the economy, linking people with jobs, and businesses with customers – driving forward our agenda to build a country that works for everyone and not just the privileged few.”


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But that also means that things will have to change if they are to remain the same. That, in essence, ought to be the guiding spirit of Toryism. This is not just a matter for rural life or the preservation of ancient monuments either it means doing more to improve air quality in cities and increased investment in lower-carbon public transport infrastructure.

Some of these schemes, including most obviously high-speed rail, will be expensive. Sometimes even eye-waveringly so. But they exist in a realm that’s greater than the numbers to be crunched in an exhaustive economic cost-benefit analysis. They speak to something more profound, perhaps even something more ancient, than that. They speak to a certain idea of the Conservative soul. There is a measure of poetry here, albeit one easily lost amidst the prosaic business of government.

That, in the end, is the real lesson and the true importance of this battle for Stonehenge. It is one that must be fought with weapons somewhat greater than a calculator. A Tory party that was truly a Tory party would recognise that history and the preservation – indeed improvement – of the environment are its allies, not a threat. Each is too significant to be left to the left, but that requires a Conservative Party that is ready and willing to conserve.

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