Stonehenge is a cultural icon known around the world. Though we still don’t know exactly how many different functions the site had, we know this is where burials took place. The site has been long associated with the Druids, but radiocarbon dating from the 20th revealed that the stones were placed into their post holes 1,000 years before the Celts even entered England. We’re still discovering things about this famed site, but now a new road construction scheme aims to build 2 large traffic tunnels underneath the monolith- but not without a lot of controversy.

Stonehenge on a sunny day
Via: Cody Logan/Wiki Commons

The A303 road is famous for going across England’s southernmost areas. But, it’s also famous for being congested and for making the area around Stonehenge look less ancient and romantic, something the proposed restructuring of the road intends to help with. The new plans also aim to increase biodiversity around the site and to create grassy public right of ways for people to stroll along.

Improvements to the site to handle increased traffic- both vehicular and the influx of visitors to the area- have been in the works for many years. Rerouting car traffic is also anticipated to make for much quieter visits to the ancient site.

heavy road traffic around Stonehenge
Via: Pam Brophy/Wiki Commons

In late 2020 the scheme to place tunnels (one going each direction) underneath a 2-mile stretch underneath the monument itself has been approved by officials at a cost of £1.7 billion ($2.2B USD). But, critics have warned that tearing up the ground may lead to irreversible damage to archaeological finds that have yet to be discovered.

Indeed 2 more discoveries have already been found near Stonehenge since the project was approved. The burials of 1 adult and 1 child, each with funerary pottery, were found located near the western end of the stones.

proposed tunnel under Stonehenge
Artist’s rendering of the proposed tunnel. Via: Highways England

Many groups have been up in arms over the decision to dig under Stonehenge, but construction could begin as early as 2023 if no further barriers come up.

Currently the archaeological finds are being handled by Wessex Archaeology, who have been doing work at the site for the past 40 years.

proposed view form Stonehenge after tunnels divert car traffic
Proposed “after” view from Stonehenge if tunnel project is approved. Via: Highways England

Stonehenge was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. But, now UNESCO has warned that the current plans for the tunnels are not sound and will place the site in danger if given the green light. If the tunnels go ahead, UNESCO may withdraw Stonehenge from their World Heritage Site list.

Recently the decision has been brought under judicial review by opponents of the A303 tunnels. There will be a public Q & A following the the High Court challenge to understand if all impacts and protocols were legally examined before Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, signed off on the project.