The Stonehenge Tunnel debate
Several years ago, I was busy crossing places off my bucket list and I finally got to Stonehenge. England could not have put on more perfect weather: cold, grey and haunting! Nevertheless, I was overcome with amazement, washed in awe and all round spun out by the sheer enormity of the monument. Despite the bone-chilling cold, I stood still and pondered the type of human endeavour required to put together such a spectacle....without modern machinery!
I was also taken aback by the closeness of the traffic - it was right there, hurtling past this amazing structure. In the visitor centre, I learned about the plans to put the road underground in an effort to return to site to its former beauty, and to highlight the ancient pathway that leads to the henge - currently cut off by the A303!
To this novice at the time, it seemed a reasonable response. Although, I did consider the damage such excavations could to to the foundations of the henge and I wondered for how long the site would be closed to visitors. Or, would guides simply ask tourists to ignore the construction site to their left and focus on the monument to their right!
Fast forward to today, and the tunnel is back in the British headlines - and it has divided the people. English Heritage, Historic England and National Trust - all preservation and conservation organisation in Britain - said the right type of tunnel, in the right place, would add to the landscape and improve the experience for all tourists and locals. Archaeologists are not so sure. The type of deep and expansive underground excavations required to put a tunnel in the area would surely end the chances of any future discoveries and any further exploration into Stonehenge. Contemporary Druids, who worship at Stonehenge, are also concerned about any interference new earthworks might cause during the midwinter sunset.
Tom Holland, classicist and author, is one of the most vocal opponents. He comments that the project is too focused on the henge and has ignored the impact the development would have on smaller and lesser-known sites surrounding Stonehenge. In addition, there are a number of ancient burial mounds, which to untrained eyes, look like, well, mounds. These are of significance importance to the area and mark the resting place of the ancient dead. His point is this: Is Stonehenge a tourist site or a monument of historical importance? Should the needs of tourists drive the way we manage archaeologically and historically important sites? Interestingly, the International Council of Monuments and Sites, an advisory body to UNESCO, is also not impressed with the suggested designs. They are suggesting an alternative route that would take the tunnel away from the entire area.
So, will it happen? I guess the world will have to wait. I wonder what the silent stones make of all the fuss and I wonder if they will appreciate the desperate measures its supporters plan to take to protect the site. Personally, I do not support any plan that would disturb the area of the henge, the burial mounds and the smaller sites surrounding Stonehenge. I hope that all stakeholders can come to some agreement, or at least, put off any development for another thousand years or so......
sources: Morris, S (2017) Opportunity or threat? Stonehenge tunnel plans revives long-running debate, The Guardian.com, Saturday 14 January, 2017
Harris, P (2017) The Stonehenge tunnel: 'A monstrous act of desecration is brewing', The Guardian.com, Tuesday 25 April, 2017