Bronze Age Graves Uncovered At Stonehenge During Tunnel Excavations

Bronze Age Graves Uncovered At Stonehenge During Tunnel Excavations

Archaeologists digging at England’s controversial Stonehenge A303 tunnel site have unearthed Neolithic pottery, Bronze Age burials and a mysterious C-shaped enclosure.

The area has been suffering from increasingly heavy traffic causing serious congestion on the 8 mile (13 kilometer) long A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down that runs past the 4,500-year-old Stonehenge UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wiltshire, England. The proposed solution is the Stonehenge tunnel project: a highly-controversial 2-mile-long (3.3 kilometer) twin-bore tunnel being built beneath the iconic ancient monument.

Besides finding Stonehenge graves, archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology also unearthed Neolithic pottery. ( Wessex Archaeology )

Archaeologists Concerned About Impact of Stonehenge Tunnel

In a January 2020 Ancient Origins news article I explained that a wave of English archaeologists voiced their concerns about Highways England, English Heritage and the National Trust's plans for the new £1.7bn tunnel. Professor Mike Parker Pearson is a member of Highways England ’s independent A303 scientific committee and he told The Guardian that the planned tunnel “might cause irreparable damage.” In another Guardian report archaeologists were reported as fearing the works might lead to “the loss of hundreds of thousands of artifacts.”

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  • Despite Warnings, Blick Mead, the Possible Cradle of Stonehenge, has been Drilled by Government Contractors

Not only are archaeologists concerned about the safety of the ancient standing stone circle itself, but also about the surrounding Wiltshire landscape. Dr. Pearson said the entire region was “crucial to the mechanics of the astronomical observatory as the stones are themselves.” Now, archaeologists conducting preliminary excavations at the new road site have “hand dug and sieved” almost 1,800 test pits and have recorded more than 400 new trial trenches making a slate of new discoveries which included Stonehenge graves.

Archaeologists discovered a unique shale object near a Stonehenge grave during excavations being conducted before the construction of a controversial tunnel. ( Wessex Archaeology )

The Tip of the Archaeological Iceberg…

The archaeologists at Stonehenge from Wessex Archaeology recently announced the discovery of Neolithic grooved ware pottery, Bronze age graves, the remains of a “mysterious C-shaped enclosure” and a range of ditches. An article in The Guardian says the Neolithic pottery was discovered just to the south of the site of the Stonehenge visitor center close to the planned western end of the tunnel entrance. The remains of a baby’s ear bones were found in a small, plain pottery beaker, and in a 4,000-year-old Beaker-period burial pit grave nearby a man’s remains and “a unique shale object” were discovered. The researchers are yet unclear what this shale artifact was but its thought to have been “the tip of a ceremonial wooden staff, or a mace (club).”

Matt Leivers is a consultant archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology. Speculating on the origin of the Neolithic pottery he said it was probably buried by the people who built the famous stone circle. Alternatively, it might be the case that it was ritually deposited by a group of people who visited the sacred site. Located beside the Stonehenge burials , the “C-shaped enclosure” was flanked by deep ditches that were found to contain burnt flint fragments and red deer antlers. The researchers believe that this was probably “a prehistoric industrial area […] where metal, leatherworking, pottery manufacture or crop processing was carried out.”

Digs at the eastern portal of the planned Stonehenge tunnel revealed significant quantities of “debitage,” the waste material produced in the manufacture of flint tools. A series of Iron Age ditches were also unearthed at the eastern aspect of the dig site which are thought to be associated with the nearby Vespasian's Camp , an Iron Age hill fort close to the town of Amesbury to the south.

It’s Full Steam Ahead into Phase II

David Bullock, a Highways England project manager for the A303 tunnel, told The Guardian that the next phase of archaeological excavations will begin later this year and that the excavations will last approximately 18 months, “involving up to 150 archaeologists.” Bullock reassures the concerned masses that “a huge amount of investigations” have been undertaken to assure the new tunnel “can be threaded through so as to disturb as little as possible.” Highways England agree with Bullock and said the amount of survey work that had been carried out was “unprecedented,” because of the immense significance of the Stonehenge site.

After the 18 months have passed, the Stonehenge landscape will have been reformed and transformed. Then, the planned construction project will begin on the actual tunnel in 2023. The Stonehenge Alliance believes that “no further damage should be done to the archaeological landscape of Stonehenge,” and that anything shorter than a 2.8-mile-long (4.5 km) deep bored tunnel “would cause irreparable damage to this landscape, in breach of the World Heritage Convention.” At the time of writing, 202,390 people had signed the Stonehenge alliance petition for a longer tunnel. However, their proposed tunnel measures over twice as long as the one that has been budgeted for at £1.7bn per 2-mile-stretch (3.3 kilometer), so it’s doubtful this will happen.

Archeologists Find 130 Homes Around German Stonehenge, Indicates That Ritualistic Site Was Once an Ancient Community

(Photo : Georgfotoart, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

Discovering of the remnants of 130 homes that were built at the time of this early bronze age gave an impression that it could have been a year-round community. Aside from having connections to religious activities, it was tied to activities of a community as well.

Is a Proposed Tunnel Under Stonehenge a Threat to Humanity’s History?

Cars drive past Stonehenge on the busy A303 trunk road which passes within yards of the ancient monument at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

If you’ve ever visited Stonehenge, or even if you haven’t, than you know that the site of its ancient ring of monolithic pillars standing tall like a beacon to the Sun against the dramatic English countryside is one of the most iconic surviving relics of the ancient world. The mysterious stones—which some experts have argued may have been used by druids while others say their circular arrangement form an early and accurate seasonal calendar—are among the world’s most visited historic sites. But therein lies the problem. Each year thousands of tourists flock to see Stonehenge, creating a never-ending traffic jam on England’s A303 road, where passing cars can catch a view of the stones on their way to the nearby Solstice Park office and retail strip mall.

But with traffic only getting worse as the tourist experience surrounding the region grows thanks to the development of new hotels and businesses, Stonehenge’s landscape may be about to change forever, according to the Guardian. That is, if a government proposed underground tunnel to reroute traffic from the A303 to two other nearby highways goes forward. Construction on the plan, which was initially proposed in 2014 by then-chancellor George Osborne and is backed by both English Heritage (the organization which operates the Stonehenge visitor center) and the National Trust, is set to begin in 2020. The 1.8 mile tunnel would feature a “dual carriageway” with two openings sitting inside the area designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and could mean that Stonehenge Avenue (the monument’s processional route now bisected by the A303) could be restored.

However, any modern construction adjacent to the 5,000-year-old ruins comes with its downsides. In this case, the tunnel would disrupt current archaeological excavations at another archaeological site nearby called Blick Mead, where ancient dwellings and artifacts belonging to people who once lived and passed through the Salisbury Plain as far back as 400 B.C., during the Mesolithic era, have been found.

“Up to now, the assumption has been that Stonehenge was a kind of Neolithic new-build, in an empty landscape. And of course, the big question is: why is it where it is?,” said David Jacques, a Mesolithic expert from the University of Buckingham, to the Guardian. “Nobody’s had a very good answer for that. But now, all of a sudden, we’ve got the longest spread of radio-carbon dates from the Mesolithic of anywhere in Europe. Something really odd was going on: these are normally nomadic people, but they are coming back here again and again and again.”

Jacques expanded on the importance of recent findings at Blick Mead by saying, “There’s hunter-gatherer material in there, at the same time as there’s the first Neolithic date at Stonehenge. So simply put, you’ve got the first multicultural society here. This is probably a contact point between early Neolithic pioneers coming in from continental Europe, and the indigenous people who had been doing stuff for 4,000 years. Before our site, there was virtually no evidence of Mesolithic occupation in this area at all.”

The addition of a concrete highway at Blick Mead has Jacques considerably worried for its ancient contents. “It’ll take down the water table, and if that water table drops, it’ll remove all of the organics, like the animal bones,” he says. “They’ll all be gone within five years. They’ll be reoxygenated, and they’ll degrade fast. So we’ll lose dating evidence, all the ways of understanding how people were living, and what their resources were.”

A view of the 5,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site Stonehenge. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

In addition to the destruction of yet-t0-be discovered artifacts beneath the soil, damage to existing sites is also of concern. Stonehenge’s neighbor, Boreland farm, contains bronze age burial mounds and grave sites known as disc barrows. Among them is Bush Barrow, a burial mound excavated in 1808 which contains the remains of a man who was buried with significant bronze age artifacts such as an age, daggers and jewelry. The farm’s owner, Rachel Hosier, worries that the proposed tunnel and flyaway road would disrupt the site’s pristine views. “I’m extremely worried. Bush Barrow man is going to be looking at a tunnel and a big road, right from his grave,” said Hosier.

And of course, local officials are concerned that new traffic congestion patterns will send more vehicles through local towns and could lead to underground back-ups. “You’ll end up with a traffic jam underground,” said Andy Rhind-Tutt, former mayor of Amesbury and president of the local chamber of commerce. “The tunnel will become, effectively, an underground car park.”

All those campaigning against the tunnel with the Stonehenge Alliance certainly have plenty of serious concerns to lean on. But while the tunnel’s start-date isn’t too far off, supporting groups such as English Heritage still say there’s still room to improve the proposal. “There is still much work to be done on the detail,” said a spokesperson from the group. One idea includes extending the length of the tunnel. A recent statement from the International Council on Monuments and Sites backs up Stonehenge Alliance’s concerns, and proposes an alternate route for the tunnel after concluding that the current plan could cause “substantial negative and irreversible impact” on the World Heritage site.

Highways England has responded to concerns over the impact to Blick Mead and surrounding sites by saying it was, “considering all information and feedback we have received.”

So the question remains: What’s worse? Hoards of tourists viewing the majestic stones with a view of bumper-to-bumper traffic just over the hill? Or sacrificing potentially groundbreaking discoveries about human history for the sake of hiding a few cars? It’s worth noting that until 1977 visitors were allowed to walk up and touch the stones, and so many people did so that the grass around the site died from the foot traffic. In the early 1900s, people were known to chisel bits of the stones away in order to take home souvenir rocks. And yet, Stonehenge has miraculously survived, no thanks to human intervention, for almost 5,000 years. Whether a tunnel is built under the site or not, plenty of important archaeological evidence has been lost already. But if there’s a way to avoid further damage to the beloved henge and sites unexplored shouldn’t it be considered? No industrial park seems worth the sacrifice of finally cracking the mystery of Stonehenge.

Excavations in Stonehenge Landscape Reveals Neolithic Burials & Bronze Age Enclosure

Archaeologists undertaking preliminary evaluations across the planned A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down Scheme sites have revealed Neolithic burials, a Bronze Age ’C’-shaped enclosure and ancient tools and pottery.

Wessex Archaeology’s investigations, which included over 462 hectares of geophysical survey and 440 evaluation trenches, uncovered evidence of human activity dating back over 7000 years.

A small object made of shale – found in the grave of a female in her twenties or early thirties – has intrigued archaeologists. The burial dates to the Beaker period, around 4,500 years ago, when new types of pottery and other objects appear in Britain. This period also saw the building of some of the bluestone circles at Stonehenge.

“It’s a unique object: we have never seen one before,” says Dr Matt Leivers, A303 Consultant Archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology. “Although not hugely significant, we can only speculate about what it was – it may have been a ceremonial cup purposefully damaged before it was laid in the grave, or it may be the cap off the end of a staff or club.”

Nearby pits from the same period were found to contain other traces of human activity, including fragments of pottery, worked flint for tools, and animal bones. Archaeologists also also discovered tiny ear bones from a young infant in one of the pits, buried alongside a plain Beaker.

Elsewhere, a ‘C’-shaped enclosure dating to the late Bronze Age is thought to have been an area for industrial working, due to the density of burned flint contained in the soil around it.

“These preliminary investigations have offered us the opportunity to understand more about this landscape, and delve into the lives of those that have lived within it over thousands of years,” explains Matt. “What we’ve found are some small traces and intimate details of these people. It’s not going to change our understanding of this place, but it can help us add detail and build on the picture we already have.”

The investigations have informed the main archaeological fieldwork, due to begin on site in late spring this year. The main phase of fieldwork will involve around 100-150 archaeologists and last approximately 18 months ahead of construction starting on site in 2023.

“We’ve done a huge amount of initial work which has been extremely thorough – more so than any site I’ve worked on in my 40-year career – reflecting the sensitivity of this site,” says Andy Crockett, A303 Project Director at Wessex Archaeology. “We now have a very clear idea of what we expect to find in the upcoming main fieldworks. Everything we find will be processed, conserved and analysed by the specialists in our Research department. We’ll also be drawing on the expertise of our partners in the archaeological sector, so that we make sure that the best possible outcomes are achieved for the archaeology.”

Ultimately, all finds will be delivered to Salisbury Museum to be displayed to the public.

David Bullock, A303 Project Manager, Highways England, says: “It is a scheme objective to conserve and enhance the World Heritage Site and this is being achieved through close collaborative working with heritage groups, the independent A303 Scientific Committee, and our archaeology contractors Wessex Archaeology, who have an extensive track record of work in connection with the Stonehenge landscape.

“The route itself has been designed to ensure there are no direct impacts on scheduled monuments and the amount of archaeological survey and mitigation work is unprecedented because, in recognition of the significance of the WHS, the surveys are over and above what would have usually been done at this stage of a highway project.

“As part of the extensive archaeological surveys to date, we have uncovered some interesting but not unexpected finds, and we are now preparing plans with Wessex to start further archaeological excavation work later this year. This will be monitored on site by Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service, and members of the independent A303 Scientific Committee and A303 Heritage Monitoring and Advisory Group.”

Header Image – Late Bronze Age vessel being excavated south of Longbarrow Crossroads on the A303 – Image Credit : Wessex Archaeology

Discoveries at Stonehenge highlight controversial new tunnel's threat to heritage

5th February 2021 17:02 BST

Archaeologists excavating at Stonehenge have uncovered prehistoric human remains and ancient artefacts during a recent investigation at the iconic site. The findings have added fuel to the controversy surrounding a new tunnel nearby, that could, it now appears, disturb a whole landscape of archaeology.

Among the discoveries, the excavation team found burnt flint, grooved pottery, deer antlers, and burials. One grave contained a child’s ear bones and a pot, another a woman, who died in her 20s or 30s and was buried with a unique shale object that may have been part of a club. A C-shaped enclosure has also been uncovered.

These finds, which date from the late Neolithic and Bronze Age, emerged from 1,777 test pits and 440 trenches, sunk around 2km to the east and west of Stonehenge itself, within the wider World Heritage Site and beyond. Since being unearthed, the artefacts have been moved into storage in Salisbury, but will eventually be exhibited in the local museum.

“We’ve found a lot—evidence about the people who lived in this landscape over millennia, traces of people’s everyday lives and deaths, intimate things,” Matt Leivers, an archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology, told The Guardian.

The excavations were conducted in preparation for a controversial new tunnel that will have an irreversible impact on the site. The A303 road, which currently runs close to Stonehenge, will in future enter a 3km long dual-carriageway tunnel that passes through part of the ancient site, removing any vehicles from the view of visitors.

Historic England has voiced support for the project, arguing that it will “reunite the landscape” disrupted by the current road. However, a report by The Planning Inspectorate, from January 2020, recommended that consent for the project be withheld, and Unesco has expressed concerns, stating that the tunnel and roads, “would impact adversely the OUV [Outstanding Universal Value] of the property.”

David Bullock, the A303 project manager at Highways England, says: “The route itself has been designed to ensure there are no direct impacts on scheduled monuments and the amount of archaeological survey and mitigation work is unprecedented because the surveys are over and above what would have usually been done at this stage of a highway project."

The government gave approval for the tunnel project in November 2020, leading the campaign group Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site to launch a legal challenge against the decision. Then, in December, protesters gathered at Stonehenge in a “mass trespass,” bringing attention to their opposition and causing English Heritage to temporarily close the site to visitors. Those opposed to the project fear that it will damage the ancient landscape, which, as these new excavations have shown, is far more than just the standing stones.

In a Tweet about the discoveries, The Stonehenge Alliance writes that the artefacts “reveal the richness and fragility of the whole landscape.”

Excavations in preparation for the tunnel are set to continue in late spring, and will last for 18 months.

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  • Archaeologists have discovered several Bronze Age graves near Stonehenge
  • They also found two Beaker burials and a range of Neolithic pottery
  • The findings could help unpick some of the mystery surrounding the monument

Published: 12:34 BST, 5 February 2021 | Updated: 15:53 BST, 5 February 2021

New items discovered near the proposed road tunnel underneath Stonehenge could shed light on the makers of the famous stone circle.

Early discoveries include various graves dating back to the Bronze Age as well as two burial pits of Beaker people, who arrived in Britain around 4,500 years ago, after Stonehenge was erected in the late Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago.

The findings have thus far not provided any insight into who may have built Stonehenge, or how they may have done it, but researchers believe ongoing excavations could help unpick some of the mystery surrounding the monument.

Small finds uncovered at the site pertain mostly to everyday life and allow experts to build a clearer image of life pre- and post-erection of Stonehenge, which could help inform future studies and theories about its origin.

Early discoveries include various graves dating back to the Bronze Age as well as two burial pits of Beaker people (pictured), who arrived in Britain around 6,500 years ago, long before Stonehenge was erected in the late Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago

The controversial £1.7billion tunnel project is designed to divert traffic away from the iconic site by removing the current stretch of the A303 which passes within a few hundred yards of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Various finds have been dug up by archaeologists clearing the area

Early discoveries from the proposed site of the Stonehenge tunnel help paint a picture of how the area has been used for millennia

What do early findings reveal about the origin of Stonehenge?

Early discoveries from the proposed site of the Stonehenge tunnel help paint a picture of how the area has been used for millennia.

It indicates the site was inhabited by Beaker people who first landed on British shores around 2,500BC.

Beaker burials at the site, of an adult and a child, show long-term habitation of the area. Stonehenge was built around 5,000 years ago so these people would have likely lived in the shadow of the iconic monoliths.

Other finds show graves and evidence of human society there as long ago as the Iron and Bronze ages.

There have been no direct revelations from the current digs that reveal when, who or how the monument was erected.

However, experts are confident the small finds can help build up a clearer picture of the site over centuries which could help shed more light on Stonehenge's origins.

Wessex Archaeology is leading hundreds of trial digs around the site to ensure the construction work, due to start in 2023, does not destroy any archaeological items.

'We've found a lot – evidence about the people who lived in this landscape over millennia, traces of people's everyday lives and deaths, intimate things,' Matt Leivers, A303 Stonehenge consultant archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology told The Guardian.

'Every detail lets us work out what was happening in that landscape before during and after the building of Stonehenge. Every piece brings that picture into a little more focus.'

Objects from the Neolithic period were also found scattered around the site, including chunks of pottery, flint and red deer antlers.

It is possible these items were left by the same people who built Stonehenge, but the archaeologists are currently unavailable to prove this.

One discovery of note is a cylindrical piece of shale that was found in a 4,000 year old Beaker burial. It has been described by archaeologists as 'an oddity' and unique.

The item is thought to have sat atop a staff or mace and was inside the grave of an adult who was also interred in a crouched position with a small pot and a copper awl.

Nearby to this pit was the burial site of a young child from the same period of time.

All that remains of the youngster are the inner ear bones and the baby was buried in with a plain pot, which was likely a grave good for the deceased.

This bland Beaker pot is unusual for the culture, which are known for their ornate items. The simplicity likely reflects the age of the person who was buried there, the experts believe.

The Beaker sites were found near the Western portal of the proposed tunnel, which sits south of the Stonehenge visitor centre.

To the south of the Stonehenge visitor centre the team of archaeologists discovered an unusual arrangement of C-shaped ditches, and their use remains unknown. 'It is a strange pattern of ditches,' Matt Leivers, A303 Stonehenge consultant archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology told The Guardian . 'It's difficult to say what it was, but we know how old it is because we found a near-complete bronze age pot (pictured) in one of the ditches'

Even further south the team of archaeologists discovered an unusual arrangement of C-shaped ditches, and their use remains unknown.

'It is a strange pattern of ditches,' Mr Leivers told The Guardian.

'It's difficult to say what it was, but we know how old it is because we found a near-complete bronze age pot in one of the ditches.'

The excavation also revealed large amounts of burnt flint in the ditches, which could indicate an industrial purpose. Mr Leivers says this could be related to metal, leatherworking, pottery or crops.

Digs at the earmarked location for the Eastern portal of the tunnel have revealed fewer items, but they themselves have intrigued archaeologists.

The proposed tunnel is part of a £27billion master plan to improve the nation's roads, which was announced in March

One dig found evidence of debnitage, the waste material produced when making flint tools. Ditches in the area have also been found which date to the Iron Age and may be connected to the nearby Vespasian's Camp, a hillfort located to the south.

All items unearthed so far are being stored temporarily in nearby Salisbury and will eventually go on display at the city's museum.

The controversial £1.7billion tunnel project is designed to divert traffic away from the iconic site by removing the current stretch of the A303 which passes within a few hundred yards of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Traffic will be sent underground and into the new dual-carriageway tunnel network, which will be 164ft further away from the site than the current road, in a bid to ease congestion around the landmark. The current road will become a public footpath.

Environmentalists, archaeologists and druids have been outraged at the plans, which were first unveiled in 2017, and a legal battle was mounted last year.

Highways England says its plan for the dual carriageway tunnel, located 164ft further away from Stonehenge compared to the existing A303 route, will remove the sight and sound of traffic passing the site and cut journey times.

Why a Newly Approved Plan to Build a Tunnel Beneath Stonehenge Is So Controversial

Every year, more than one million tourists flock to Stonehenge to marvel at the hulking rock formations erected by Neolithic builders roughly 5,000 years ago. But some visitors find themselves faced with a decidedly less awe-inspiring scene: a noisy two-lane highway, often choked with cars, that cuts straight through the grassy slopes surrounding the ancient monument.

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After decades of debate and planning, the British government has finally approved a proposal to build a tunnel moving this road, the A303, underground. The United Kingdom’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, greenlit the $2.25-billion (ٟ.7 billion) project last week despite strong objections from archaeologists and preservationists, who fear that construction will result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of artifacts, report Gwyn Topham and Steven Morris for the Guardian.

Currently, the section of the A303 by Stonehenge supports about twice as much traffic as it was designed to accommodate. According to Highways England, the government company set to construct the road, the new plan will create an eight-mile stretch of dual carriageway that travels through a tunnel for a two-mile stretch as it passes the prehistoric stones.

The tunnel will stand about 55 yards farther away from Stonehenge than the existing A303, reports Brian Boucher for artnet News. According to proposals on Highway England’s website, tunnel entrances will be disguised with grassed-over canopies and will remain “well out of sight” of Stonehenge.

A rendering of the proposed western tunnel entrance (Highways England) A map of the proposed tunnel and redesigned A303 highway (Highways England) A view of Stonehenge from a notoriously trafficked stretch of the A303 road (Highways England) The new plan will redesign A303 to run underground. Currently, the road cuts straight through the designated historic land surrounding Stonehenge. (Highways England)

Supporters of the plan argue that the tunnel will reduce the noise and smells of a busy road while offering Stonehenge visitors a relatively unimpeded view of their surroundings. Officials say the expanded lanes will also decrease traffic bottlenecks—something this stretch of road is notorious for, according to Roff Smith of National Geographic.

“Visitors will be able to experience Stonehenge as it ought to be experienced, without seeing an ugly snarl of truck traffic running right next to it,” Anna Eavis, curatorial director for English Heritage, the charity that cares for the historic site, tells National Geographic.

Kate Mayor, CEO of English Heritage, voiced her support for the plan in a statement provided to NPR’s Reese Oxner.

“Placing the noisy and intrusive A303 within a tunnel will reunite Stonehenge with the surrounding prehistoric landscape and help future generations to better understand and appreciate this wonder of the world,” says Mayor.

Archaeologists, however, contend that the tunnel’s construction could destroy valuable archaeological evidence yet to be discovered in the site’s topsoil. Mike Parker Pearson, a scholar of British later prehistory at University College London and a member of Highway England’s independent A303 scientific committee, tells the Observer’s Tom Wall that the project’s contractors will only be expected to retrieve and preserve 4 percent of artifacts uncovered in ploughed soil during the construction process.

“We are looking at losing about half a million artifacts—they will be machined off without recording,” says Pearson, who is part of a team that has been excavating a site near the proposed western tunnel entrance since 2004.

He adds, “You could say ‘they are just a bunch of old flints’ but they tell us about the use of the Stonehenge landscape over the millennia.”

Experts also assert that the region could hold many new surprises: This summer, archaeologists discovered a circle of enormous ancient pits encircling Stonehenge—a find that “completely transformed how we understand [the] landscape,” lead researcher Vincent Gaffney of the University of Bradford told the New York Times’ Megan Specia in June. Now, Gaffney warns that future finds of this magnitude could be lost due to construction work.

“Remote sensing has revolutionized archaeology and is transforming our understanding of ancient landscapes—even Stonehenge, a place we thought we knew well,” he says to National Geographic. “Nobody had any idea these were there. What else don’t we know?”

David Jacques—director of the Blick Mead archaeological dig, which has unearthed crucial information about the humans who lived near Stonehenge as early as 8,000 B.C.— tells the Guardian that the decision to build the tunnel is “absolutely gut-wrenching” and “a head-bangingly stupid decision.”

Critics of the construction project include the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the British Archaeological Trust and the Stonehenge Alliance, which launched a petition calling to “save Stonehenge … from the bulldozers.” (The call to action garnered more than 150,000 signatures.) Additionally, Arthur Pendragon, a prominent modern-day druid, tells the Observer that he plans to lead protests against the construction.

In 2019, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee condemned the plan, saying it would have an “adverse impact” on the “outstanding universal value” of the site. As BBC News reported at the time, the group called for the creation of longer tunnel sections that would “reduce further the impact on the cultural landscape.”

English Heritage and Highways England say that the project’s staff will take extensive steps to ensure that the historic land and its treasures are disturbed as little as possible during construction.

“We already have a good idea of what’s there and there will be a full program of mitigation to ensure that any archaeology that isn’t preserved in situ is fully recorded,” Eavis tells the Observer.

Speaking with the Observer, Derek Parody, the project’s director, adds, “We’re confident that the proposed scheme presents the best solution for tackling the longstanding bottleneck on this section of the A303, returning the Stonehenge landscape to something like its original setting and helping to boost the south-west economy.”

Beaker graves

Foremost among the latest finds are several graves, unearthed just to the southwest of the Stonehenge circle, that are thought to be from the Beaker culture, which is named after their practice of burying the dead with bell-shaped pottery drinking vessels.

The Beaker people lived in Western Europe between 4,800 and 3,800 years ago, beginning in the Chalcolithic period when the first copper tools came into use.

In one of the graves, the researchers found a simple pot alongside the remains of a baby, though only the ear bones remain. Another pit nearby contains the remains of a woman who died in her 20s, her body crouched around a relatively ornate pot or beaker.

The research team also found a fragment of a copper awl or needle and a mysterious cylindrical shale object, perhaps part of a staff or club, in her grave.

Both graves are thought to be about 4,500 years old, which would make them about the same age as the smaller "bluestones" around and within the main circle of large sandstone "sarsens" at Stonehenge, Leivers said.

Buried caches of other ancient artifacts, including pottery vessels, flints, and deer antlers that may have been used for digging have also been found along the planned tunnel route.

(Wessex Archaeology)

Above: This strange cylindrical object, made of shale, was discovered in one of the ancient graves. It may have been part of a ceremonial staff or club.

"Stonehenge was built over a very long period of time even individual phases of its construction could have taken years or decades to complete," he said. "It's entirely conceivable that the people who left those things behind or who were buried nearby had some role in Stonehenge's construction."

The preliminary investigations have also unearthed ditches to the southeast of the monument that could be part of an Iron Age fort known locally as "Vespasian's Camp" – named after the Roman general, later emperor, who led a military force in the area during the Roman invasion of Britain after A.D. 43. Even so, there's no evidence the fort had anything to do with him.

The archaeologists also found a pattern of buried ditches south of the graves that appears to form an enclosure. It seems to date from a period in the middle to late Bronze Age, after about 3500 years ago, when there was a settlement nearby, Leivers said.

He added that the team found large quantities of burned flint in the soil around it, perhaps indicating that some dirty or smelly activities took place there.

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Cookies are small text files that are stored in the web browser that allows HERITAGEDAILY or a third party to recognise you. Cookies can be used to collect, store and share bits of information about your activities across websites, including on the HERITAGEDAILY website and subsidiary brand website.

Cookies can be used for the following purposes:

– To enable certain functions

– To store your preferences

– To enable ad delivery and behavioural advertising

HERITAGEDAILY uses both session cookies and persistent cookies.

A session cookie is used to identify a particular visit to our Website. These cookies expire after a short time, or when you close your web browser after using our website. We use these cookies to identify you during a single browsing session.

A persistent cookie will remain on your devices for a set period of time specified in the cookie. We use these cookies where we need to identify you over a longer period of time. For example, we would use a persistent cookie for remarketing purposes on social media platforms such as Facebook advertising or Google display advertising.

How do third parties use cookies on the HERITAGEDAILY Website?

Third party companies like analytics companies and ad networks generally use cookies to collect user information on an anonymous basis. They may use that information to build a profile of your activities on the HERITAGEDAILY Website and other websites that you’ve visited.

If you don’t like the idea of cookies or certain types of cookies, you can change your browser’s settings to delete cookies that have already been set and to not accept new cookies. To learn more about how to do this, visit the help pages of your chosen browser.

Please note, if you delete cookies or do not accept them, your user experience may lack many of the features we offer, you may not be able to store your preferences and some of our pages might not display properly.