Controversial tunnel under Stonehenge approved over archaeologists' objections

The British Government has approved a controversial plan to build a four-lane highway tunnel beneath the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. The two-mile-long tunnel and its approaches are part of a £2.2 billion package to upgrade the narrow A303 highway that runs startlingly close to the iconic stone circle and has long been notorious for traffic jams and long delays.The approval came despite strong objections from an alliance of archaeologists, environmentalists, and modern-day druids, who consider the site sacred. But supporters say the tunnel will restore the landscape to its original setting and improve the experience for visitors, now topping 1.6 million a year.“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,” said Anna Eavis, curatorial director for English Heritage, the charity that looks after more than 400 historical monuments around England, including Stonehenge.“People forget or don’t realize that Stonehenge is more than just the stone circle, it’s a landscape,” Eavis said. “This will make it a place for walking again.

Visitors will be able to approach the stones from the south, for example, without taking their life in their hands trying to cross the highway.”Opponents contend that the tunnel project may irreparably damage an ancient landscape that is only beginning to be understood and is still full of surprises.

Last June the discovery of 20 deep shafts arranged in an enormous circle nearby the site forced the government to delay the decision on the project for another four months while the find could be assessed. “Remote sensing has revolutionized archaeology and is transforming our understanding of ancient landscapes–even Stonehenge, a place we thought we knew well,” said Vince Gaffney, a landscape archaeologist at Bradford University and co-leader of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, which discovered the previously unsuspected shafts. “Nobody had any idea these were there.

What else don’t we know?”

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