UNESCO Threatens Stonehenge with At-Risk Status

Highway Tunnel Construction Plan Menaces Monument

by Mariam Hale

On Salisbury Plain, two very different monuments to human achievement lie side by side: Stonehenge and the A303 highway. Stonehenge, as everyone knows, is an ancient and still mysterious monolith circle, long studied by archaeologists, admired by tourists, and revered by Neo-Pagans and Druidic revivalists. The A303, on the other hand, is an over-burdened stretch of highway connecting major traffic arteries to the north and south. Unfortunately, this highway also runs within a half-mile of Stonehenge itself. The route is heavily trafficked and often the site of long tailbacks caused in part by the tendency of drivers to slow down and stare when passing by Stonehenge, one of the world’s most recognizable historic sites.

For years, Highways England, the government-run company in charge of the country’s highways, has sought to undertake a major reconstruction of the A303, to relieve traffic jams by widening it from two lanes to four and by shifting a two-mile stretch of the highway to an underground tunnel. The problem? This tunnel would run directly through land adjacent to Stonehenge, potentially destroying still-buried ruins or other artifacts and imperiling its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last month, UNESCO issued a warning that, should the highway revision go forward as planned, Stonehenge would be moved to their list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, alongside other imperiled places such as the Florida Everglades, the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan and the medieval monuments of Kosovo. UNESCO’s concerns are founded on the projected changes to the site, and the risks those changes would pose to Stonehenge’s historic integrity and that of the surrounding region.

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