An­cient plat­form 'dam­aged' dur­ing Stone­henge tun­nel work

The Guardian Australia - - Science - Pa­trick Green­field

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists have ac­cused High­ways Eng­land of ac­ci­den­tally drilling a large hole through a 6,000-year-old struc­ture near Stone­henge dur­ing prepara­tory work for a tun­nel.

The drilling, which is al­leged to have taken place at Blick Mead, around a mile and a half from the world­fa­mous ne­olithic ring of stones, has en­raged ar­chae­ol­o­gists, who say en­gi­neers have dug a three-me­tre-deep hole (10ft) through a man-made plat­form of flint and an­i­mal bone.

High­ways Eng­land have said they are not aware of any dam­age to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal lay­ers on the site caused by their work and will meet with the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team on Thurs­day, led by David Jacques, a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Univer­sity of Buck­ing­ham.

Be­fore the drilling in­ci­dents, ar­chae­ol­o­gists were con­cerned that the con­struc­tion of a tun­nel and a fly­over near the site will cause the wa­ter ta­ble to drop, dam­ag­ing re­mains pre­served in wa­ter-logged ground. The High­ways Agency agreed to mon­i­tor wa­ter lev­els as part of the project.

The 6,000-year-old plat­form through which a hole has been drilled pre­served the hoof prints of an au­rochs, gi­ant pre­his­toric cat­tle that are now ex­tinct. Jacques said: “This is a trav­esty. We took great care to ex­ca­vate this plat­form and the au­rochs’ hoof­prints. We be­lieve hun­ters con­sid­ered this area to be a sa­cred place even be­fore Stone­henge. These mon­ster cows – dou­ble the size of nor­mal cat­tle – pro­vided food for 300 peo­ple, so were revered.

“It the tun­nel goes ahead the wa­ter ta­ble will drop and all the or­ganic re­mains will be de­stroyed. It may be that there are foot­prints here which would be the ear­li­est tan­gi­ble signs of life at Stone­henge. If the re­mains aren’t pre­served we may never be able to un­der­stand why Stone­henge was built.”

Blick Mead is part of the Stone­henge and Ave­bury Un­esco world her­itage. A High­ways Eng­land spokesper­son said: “We are not aware of any dam­age be­ing caused to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal lay­ers. We no­ti­fied Prof David Jacques of the lo­ca­tions of our wa­ter ta­ble mon­i­tor­ing, and have ad­hered to guide­lines in car­ry­ing out the work. We have also kept Prof Jacques in­formed and we will be meet­ing him on site [on Thurs­day].

“Our as­sess­ments so far in­di­cate that con­struc­tion of the scheme will have no sig­nif­i­cant ef­fects on the Blick Mead area, and we are un­der­tak­ing this fur­ther hy­dro­ge­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The works have been un­der­taken in a highly pro­fes­sional man­ner, with an ar­chae­ol­o­gist on site and with due care be­ing ex­er­cised at all times.”

Pho­to­graph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

High­ways Eng­land have said they are un­aware of any dam­age.

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