Institute of Archaeology


Stonehenge tunnel splits archaeological opinion

14 December 2020

The decision to build a new road tunnel near the site of Stonehenge has led to diverse opinions both within, and beyond, the archaeological community.

Stonehenge (Photo courtesy of Aerial Cam Ltd)

Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology) was interviewed recently in the media following the UK government's decision to approve the construction of a two-mile road tunnel through the World Heritage landscape, home to a significant concentration of prehistoric sites and monuments. 

Mike is among a team of archaeologists who sit on the A303 Scientific Committee, which was established by Highways England to advise on the archaeological implications of the tunnel scheme. Mike and a consortium of 22 experts, including academics from other leading UK universities, originally responded to the consultation regarding the road tunnel in 2017. He also commented in the media previously on the need for the Stonehenge road tunnel plans to be scrapped in light of the significant discovery on Salisbury Plain of the largest prehistoric structure ever found in Britain.

Mike has now indicated that if the tunnel must be built, then all plough soil at construction sites should be sieved for artefacts and recorded. Others from the archaeological community do not agree, feeling such a task would not be feasible in terms of time and cost while there is also the argument that if the road tunnel must go ahead, it should be longer.

According to Mike:

The proposed short tunnel is going to damage the World Heritage Site which the UK government is committed to protect. The scheme has been condemned by UNESCO and by the UK's Planning Inspectors who said it would cause substantial harm and that adverse impacts of the scheme would strongly outweigh its benefits. The inspectors' recommendation to withhold consent for the short tunnel scheme has been over-ruled by the Secretary of State."

Construction of the tunnel is due to commence in 2023 and could take at least 5 years to complete.

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