The proposed construction of a tunnel to accommodate the a303 road under Stonehenge is utterly intolerable. It symbolises the final hollow victory of short term profits over long term humanity endeavour spirit and action. Everywhere ancient heritage is in danger from projects that are commonly sold to us as representing progress and improvement. They don’t, progress is not getting to your second home in Cornwall an hour earlier than previewed.
In the mid 90s Saint Catherines Hill in Winchester, an ancient hillfort, was sliced in half to make room for motorway improvements which reduced the journey time to London of the by ten minutes, so that the ancient city can see its house prices rocket as it becomes colonised by inhabitants of 4x4s seeking the rural dream within commuting distance. The ancient hill of Tara saw the same in 2009/2010 as Ireland decided to bulldoze its own past in the name of the Celtic Tiger. Old Oswestry Hillfort in Shropshire is under threat from a new housing estate
You’d have thought that Stonehenge would be safeguarded from destruction by its status as a world heritage monument, and the surrounding protected nature of Salisbury Plain. The monument has long since become little more than an economic asset in the eyes of government and caretakers, as is the fate of heritage in modern times; something to be fenced off, privatised and charge extortion ticket entry to, raking in extra cash with the gift shop.
Stonehenge is not a single monument, it is a landscape, one that was already damaged by the construction of the A303, which to its credit, is a about a romantic a journey as is possible to take in a car in modern Britain. But by the sheer number of people travelling down it to view the stones means that the landspace of our century is better represented by a traffic jam. For thousands of years, even before the stones were built, the Salaisbury Plain represented a meeting point for communities inhabiting the region. Long before anything vaguely resembling our modern economy was in place people converged to this area. The construction that took place, of which the stones are the most obvious reminder, was a manner by which the landscape took on a social role and neutral space was created so that diverse groups could forge relationships and alliances. This ideal was neglected for centuries, as the stones were a constant jarring reminder of the inconsistencies with the Christian worldview. The second half of the 20th century saw attempts to revive the spirit of Stonehenge as a peoples monument, by hippies and travellers, people who are regarded disdainfully by archaeologists, planners and heritage professionals as well as local government. The backlash against people converging on mass to the site led to the Battle of the Beanfield, in which pregnant women were beaten with clubs by police and one of the largest mass arrests since the second world war took place (over 580 people). The moment is representative of the Thatcher era and the crackdown on free and open gatherings outside of the control of authorities. Nowadays the summer solstice festival continues to be held at Stonehenge and is one of the few times you can get close to the monument without shelling out 30quid for an entry ticket, as long as you can tolerate the heavy police presence and drug searches.
The building of the tunnel under Stonehenge represents the perceived profit of short term profit over long term effort, vast amounts of damage over the next few decades to something that has stood for thousands of years. Stonehenge has already stood longer that our society, doomed to fall within the next century or two, ever will. Our relationship with it is an example of how everything in our society is simply to be owned bought and sold and used for profit. We see it as something we own, though it was created long before our conception of private property existed. The needs of tarmac and engines are promoted over protection and celebration of peoples culture, a contrasting example, would we ever build such a tunnel under Buckingham Palace, Nelsons Column or similar sites dedicated to monarchy and imperialism? Why must we destroy the unique elements of our past to make way for anonymity and concrete?