The Road to Stonehenge
Recently we have witnessed the destruction of ancient sites in Syria and Iraq by Isis. Many of these sites had UNESCO World Heritage Status. Even though these sites are deemed of global historical significance, there isn’t anything the World Heritage Committee can truly do to prevent damage or destruction. They can apply pressure through proper avenues, but in the end, it is not up to UNESCO to protect sites designated as a World Heritage Site.
The port town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, near where I live, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It represents one of the first British attempts to settle Nova Scotia. The architecture dates to the 1700s. Presently it is under threat from global warming and rising tides. It is not UNESCO who is working on ways to preserve the significant architecture of Lunenburg. It is university professors proposing plans based on scientific data to the government. It is organizations raising money and awareness as plans are formed. It is government recognizing the value of this place and providing further funds. There is no legislation in Canada to automatically protect World Heritage Sites. However, discussions are being made as people recognize the need.
Not all governments are willing or able to intervene. While Australia has legislation in place to protect its World Heritage Sites, the UK does not. This leaves places like Stonehenge vulnerable to development such as building roads and tunnels in the landscape. It falls to organizations to create awareness. It falls to people like you and me to echo their voice.
The Stonehenge Alliance was formed in 2001 as discussed in my last blog. It is comprised of scientific organizations and concerned individuals who do not wish to see harm done to Stonehenge and its landscape. They recognize that Stonehenge is far more than the stones, as beautiful as they are. As fascinating as the stone circle is, Stonehenge’s landscape (as we presently understand it) spans more than four miles.
Since 2001 there have been over 50 different plans for how and where to build a roadway and tunnel across the Stonehenge landscape with the intent to alleviate commuter traffic. It was stated with one proposal that the “length of the tunnel appears to be based on cost rather than cultural heritage considerations.”
The Stonehenge Alliance and other groups have argued that the proposed construction would not effectively alleviate traffic congestion. Additionally, alternate routes have been proposed which would divert around and away from the Stonehenge landscape. In January of 2017, plans for a 1.8 mile (2.9 km) dual-carriageway tunnel were finalised by Highways England, and a public consultation was launched.
Proposed construction would come dangerously close to ancient burials. Advocates for protection against damaging human burials have protested. Regardless of where one lives, when there is construction like this, there is always the risk of unearthing ancient human remains. I’ve witnessed this many times. In fact when I lived in Anderson, Indiana, construction for a new gas station resulted in accidentally unearthing an ancient First Nations burial. This formed the basis of my short story “Beasts, Bones, and Bylines.” Ironically, my childhood house is built on top of an old Native American burial ground. Perhaps today that land would be better protected. Perhaps not.
With Stonehenge, as I’ve attempted to demonstrate, the landscape has not given up all its secrets. There could be more human remains undiscovered. There could be more ancient ruins hiding just under the surface. Even if there are no more secrets, building a road and digging a tunnel will permanently damage any hope of further understanding this site. Whether we live in the UK or another country, this site is both beautiful to see and significant in the scientific evidence it can yield about our collective past.
The Stonehenge Alliance broke this news last week:
A UNESCO report has been published which says a short tunnel could damage the World Heritage Site. A bypass above ground (away from the landscape) or a longer tunnel should not be ruled out. The Stonehenge Alliance stated they are very pleased to welcome UNESCO's findings. Kate Fielden who spoke on behalf of the Alliance today said: "It means the government will have to think again about how they treat the World Heritage Site at Stonehenge. It isn't right to consider damaging the site forever with an inadequate road scheme."
The findings will be presented to the World Heritage Committee next month.
The BBC news article is here:
This news has been long in coming. This is the type of pressure the World Heritage Committee can apply in protecting a World Heritage Site. However, it still falls to government. Will the British government listen to this report and discontinue further plans for a road and tunnel? This is the next chapter of Stonehenge’s future. It is unknown. I will certainly remain in contact with the Stonehenge Alliance and provide any updates to this information.
Hopefully this has left you wondering what you can do. Sharing information on social media is a good place to start, but there’s more to be done. The UK government could potentially ignore the recommendations. For that reason the petition is still extremely important to support and share. This can be found on the Stonehenge Alliance’s website:
The petition is even in other languages.
If you live in the UK, there is another:
With the unrest in the world--headlines broadcasting terror attacks, war, and unstable governments--issues like protecting land or a structure can easily fall to the back of our minds. I think of the things we have already lost: the Colossus of Rhodes (no, that’s not a Game of Thrones thing), the Library of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and the Tempe of Artemis to name only a few. We ponder the pyramids and wonder how ancient man built them. How did they look in their prime? Heck, we ponder Stonehenge and wonder the same.
Consider the mathematicians of Alexandria: Euclid, the father of geometry; Hypsicles, a mathematician and astronomer; and Ptolmey, another mathematician and historian. These men built a foundation of knowledge that we are rediscovering or understanding in deeper ways. Their discoveries are taught in our universities. Ancient man has a lot to teach us if we listen.
What untold secrets might places like Stonehenge have? Not all of us will get to visit Stonehenge, but it would be a tragedy to see it lost like so many magnificent places. I would encourage you to take time to look at Stonehenge in a new light.
Visit the Stonehenge Alliance here: