Saving Stonehenge:

A vintage postcard showing an aeriel shot of Stonehenge while visitors watch nearby.
If the tunnel construction goes ahead, the ecology around the heritage sight is at threat.
Photograph source uknown.

Environmentalists have been campaigning to save Stonehenge for years - but what exactly is at stake for the prehistoric monument? 

Text Artemis Adamantoupoulou

Part of the thrill in looking back at historical landmarks is the ability to play detective in identifying what, how and why something was created. In no better way is this embodied than with the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge, whose continual existence throws scientists, historians and archaeologists into a whirlwind of puzzling findings. The monument, located 8 miles away from Salisbury in the south of England, consists of nearly 100 massive stones erected upright in a circular formation and can be seen from miles away. Archaeologists expect the monument to have been created between 3000 and 2000 BC, though the level of detail and materials used leads many to suspect its construction to have spanned over roughly 1500 years ago.

While its purpose is still debated on, many historians agree it was used as a burial ground. Others believe it to have mystical significance and theories have questioned whether it was originally built to host religious rituals or as a platform for chieftains or to perform certain ceremonies. The monument’s alignment with the sunrise and sunset during the mid-summer solstice also posits the assumption that it was used to work out farming calendars. Whether it was used by Druids in the Neolithic period remains unknown, however modern-day Druids assemble there every year to watch the solstice sunset and sunrise. In addition to the mysteries its purpose poses, its construction is perhaps more confusing. Aside from the Neolithic civilization showing no evidence of having used tools, technology or even as much as a wheel to erect the heavy slabs, scientists have identified the bluestones in the stones’ inner ring as belonging to the Preseli Hills in Wales, 200 miles from Stonehenge’s location.

Tourists pose for pictures at Stonehenge in the 1950s, source unknown

Stonehenge stands as a true testament to the nation’s unsolved historical mysteries, luring nearly 1 million tourists to the UNESCO World heritage site every year for a chance to marvel and derive their own hypotheses on how this monument came to be. Needless to say, the magic and craftsmanship of this place has baffled many and the monument has been a constant source of inspiration,  finding its way in art and poetry, popular culture and even as an icon of ceremonial worship for modern spiritualists. Yet, despite the great importance Stonehenge carries for Britain’s ancient history, the heritage site has found itself under threat in recent years due to the planned extension of the A303 highway.

It is the main route in the area for passerbys and drivers alike and historically the AO3 highway has always been a popular scenic cross-country road which runs alongside Stonehenge. In attempt to conserve as much of Stonehenge as possible, some parts of the road have remained single carriageway roads which inevitably causes congestion and traffic in the area. While talks over the expansion of this highway date back to the ‘90’s, the conversation concretely resurfaced three years ago when Highways England suggested construction on the 3.2km road tunnel to begin in 2023. The tunnel will be a part of a £1.7bn infrastructure project that has since been approved by transport secretary Grant Shapps in November 2020.

Stonehenge in 1987 by British photographer John Piper © The Piper Estate
Enter The Stonehenge Alliance, the organisation that swiftly acted when it seemed that talks of the tunnel were getting serious. In 2014, three years before the new tunnel proposal, numerous ‘Save Stonehenge’ petitions were started by the organisation with the hopes of challenging the decision to build the tunnel. The alliance declared that the tunnel was a clear breach of the heritage site and would only threaten the landmark’s conservation. As the petitions have become more popular, Saving Stonehenge has gradually been recognised as an important environmental issue, the introduction of additional transport would inevitably increase greenhouse gas emissions in the area and scare off native wildlife. Such ecological threats demonstate how the site’s tranquillity, ecology and geology is in peril if the tunnel gets the green light.

Through the use of social media, the Saving Stonehenge campaign has now been shared internationally, providing information regarding the environmental desecration that will be a consequence of the construction. Though the UK government hasn’t shown much acknowledgement of the petitions, they will soon have to. Through continually showing resistance to the construction, in December 2020, the Stonehenge Alliance, successfully raised £50,000 from over 2,000 donors to legally challenge the government. In an exciting turn of events, a judge is due to decide whether the case will be admitted to Court in this year. Though we have yet to see what will happen, the construction of the tunnel seems to be in a precarious position, proving that when the thrill of exploring one of history’s unsolvable riddles falls under threat, it is bound to spur a movement.

Artemis Adamantoupoulou is a London based writer and photographer. To help support the #SaveStonehenge campaign sign the petition here

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