Plan for tun­nel un­der Stone­henge could be a rocky road

Houston Chronicle - - WORLD -

His­to­ri­ans es­ti­mate that Stone­henge is at least 4,000 years old.

It can take about as long to reach the site by car. The two-lane route to the an­cient stone cir­cles in Wilt­shire, Eng­land, is fre­quently jammed with traf­fic. (The World Her­itage Site, among Bri­tain’s top tourist at­trac­tions, pulls in more than 1.3 mil­lion visi­tors an­nu­ally.)

The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment fi­nally has come up with a fix: a $2.4 bil­lion plan to con­struct a 2-mile tun­nel un­der­neath the site. They’ll also widen the nearby high­way.

The plan has the sup­port of English Her­itage and UNESCO. But it has in­fu­ri­ated ar­chae­ol­o­gists who worry that the con­struc­tion will de­stroy vi­tal her­itage.

Andy Rhind-Tutt, who runs the lo­cal cham­ber of com­merce, told CNN that the “de­struc­tive” tun­nel will “put a time bomb of ir­re­versible de­struc­tion on one of the world’s great­est un­touched land­scapes.”

His­to­rian and au­thor Tom Hol­land was even more ex­plicit.

“Re­cent finds show this place is the birth­place of Bri­tain, and its ori­gins go back to the re­set­tle­ment of this is­land af­ter the Ice Age,” he told CNN. “It stag­gers be­lief that we can in­ject enor­mous quan­ti­ties of con­crete to build a tun­nel that will last at best 100 years and there­fore dec­i­mate a land­scape that has lasted for mil­len­nia.”

An­other site, “Su­per-henge,” was found less than 2 miles from Stone­henge in 2015. The mas­sive pre­his­toric struc­tures were dis­cov­ered be­neath a grassy bank. Hol­land calls the area “the most ar­chae­o­log­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant land­scape any­where in Europe.”

“Lose it to the tun­nel, and you lose our be­gin­nings,” he says.

Even the Druids are up in arms. They say that light pol­lu­tion at one end of the tun­nel will “ob­scure the view of sun­set on the win­ter sol­stice — one of the most im­por­tant dates at Stone­henge — when thou­sands gather to cel­e­brate the short­est day of the year,” ac­cord­ing to CNN.

The gov­ern­ment, though, is de­ter­mined to press ahead. The wider road will ease traf­fic, of­fi­cials say. And the tun­nel will bring a sense of quiet to the area, bring­ing visi­tors closer to na­ture as they wan­der the mys­te­ri­ous stones.

Na­tional Trust di­rec­tor He­len Ghosh said in a state­ment: “I know there will be some sad­ness that peo­ple will no longer be able to see the stones from the road, but visi­tors will once again be able to hear the sounds of sky­larks singing rather than the con­stant noise of traf­fic.”

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