Blog: understanding the Stonehenge landscape
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On a windy day in late January 2020, we joined National Highways Cultural Advisor, Jim Hunter and independent archaeologist, Mike Pitts on a walk around the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. With a combined 30 years of experience in heritage, they chatted about the future of Stonehenge and how the road works will change our understanding of the site.
This is the first in a series of blogs covering a range of topics, from the planning of excavations to the future of visiting Stonehenge.
Jim Hunter (JH): Mike, we’ve walked across the southern half of the World Heritage Site and are now standing across the A303 from Stonehenge. The walk across the Downs is one of the best walks in the area. But then we reach the road and can’t go any further.
The new scheme is going to take the current road and sink it into a tunnel. How is that going to change the experience?
Mike Pitts (MP): Well the first obvious thing is that all these cars and the road and the noise will just disappear. The project will transform the World Heritage Site for all of us exploring the landscape.
The road has a big effect on us walking, but it’s also affected archaeology. Almost all the excavation and research by archaeologists has been on the side of the road where the stones are. But the southern half is more interesting countryside. It has better remains and is a more attractive natural landscape.
When we can walk over the tunnel, and move between the two halves of the World Heritage Site, it will change our view of the landscape and lead to a completely new understanding of Stonehenge.
JH: I agree. People think of National Highways as only building roads, but there are all kinds of things we do with road works that involve archaeology, the environment and air quality.
People perhaps think we’re going to harm those things, but we do our very best to prevent harm, and even improve where we can. With the A303, what we’re doing is putting the road into a tunnel, to allow people to experience the site as a whole.
Mike Pitts is an independent archaeologist, freelance journalist and author of Digging up Britain. He first worked in the Stonehenge landscape in 1979 and can be found online at mikepitts.wordpress.com or on Twitter @pittsmike.