Stonehenge & Monumental Stupidity

goyacaprichos43

A few days ago, we learned of plans to construct a tunnel to replace the current A303 at Stonehenge; since then, I’ve been left slack-jawed with sheer incredulity at some of the comments relating to this subject that I’ve seen on the internet. The least cretinous of these voiced outrage at the ‘fact’ that heartless engineers were for some reason planning to tunnel directly beneath Stonehenge itself with all manner of dire consequences for the monument, but how anyone with the most fleeting knowledge of the Stonehenge landscape could believe this for one moment is utterly beyond me.

After that, it went downhill rapidly, with assorted New Age Cassandras enigmatically thinking out loud and asking if anyone in authority had considered how ‘the resonance of the stones’ and broad variations on the same would be affected by the construction of a tunnel. As anyone who followed my Eternal Idol site will be aware, I’ve long had a great interest in fairy mounds, ghost paths, genii loci, Atkinson’s “numinous principle” and other such apparently nebulous & Byzantine matters, but when someone voices concern about the resonance of the stones at Stonehenge and how this resonance might be adversely affected by the construction of a tunnel, I have to admit that I don’t have the faintest idea of what they’re on about, nor do I intend to risk my sanity by making any effort to find out.

Occupying the madhouse for those who entertain a diametrically-opposed world view are those for whom the landscape is a dead and lifeless thing, utterly bereft of any intangible properties other than a potential for exploitation for purely practical purposes such as building roads or industrial estates. For such people, “…the Moon is despised as a burned-out satellite of the Earth…”, as Robert Graves observed in The White Goddess, and more than half the population of Iceland are uneducated peasants, so there the matter must rest.

Aside from any other consideration, these exchanges are futile because I truly believe we’re more likely to witness The Second Coming than any tunnel at Stonehenge, and in support of this belief I offer the contents of this BBC link from December 2002. So much for Stonehenge’s present and future; from now on, I’ll dedicate my efforts exclusively to studying its past.

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13 Responses to Stonehenge & Monumental Stupidity

  1. Dan Johnston says:

    The ‘resonance’ folks obviously think Stonehenge Apocalypse was a documentary not a sci-fi movie.

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  2. Dan H. says:

    To be honest, I think the debate on this ought to start and finish with the question of “How cheaply can we hide the A303 from sight of Stonehenge?

    To answer this, you need to consider the local topography. Stonehenge is about 100 metres above sea level; the river Avon at the Countess Roundabout is at 60 metres, more or less. This entire area is chalk, so the river is going to be at the height of the water table in that valley. The 60-metre level is the one thing you really need to remember, since if you tunnel below this level, the tunnel or cutting can only be kept dry by powered pumping, instead of natural flow.

    Chalk is not a strong rock. Only clays, and glacial tills are weaker under tension. Therefore, if you’re tunnelling in chalk under somewhere important and sensitive, you need as much depth of chalk between you and the surface as possible. Thirty-odd metres of chalk is not going to be enough to support the ground structure adequately, so any tunnel in the Stonehenge area will necessarily either be a cut-and-cover on the line of the existing road, or an expensive, deep tunnel that has to be kept powered to keep it free of water.

    A better option, perhaps, is not to tunnel the A303 at all, but instead to put it into a 20-metre deep artificial canyon, with the entire roadbed and supporting walls being one unit of heavily reinforced concrete, and the road being entirely above the 60-metre contour. Drainage is thus needed, but an extra-deep cutting means that a very large sewer and detention tank combined can be built under the road, and drained naturally to the Avon at one end, and the river Till at the other.

    Canyoning a road makes life a very great deal easier for road engineers. You don’t have to build in ventillation, which always must be powered. You don’t need all that much lighting. You don’t need as much fire supression stuff, as you can put a water main and hydrants along tracks at the top of the canyon, and fight a fire from above. Best of all, this option is about half the cost of a tunnel.

    The only real problem is that the new A303 absolutely must be a fast dual carriageway for this section, and indeed must be dual carriageway along all of its length.

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  3. ‘the resonance of the stones’

    As it happens, this would be the only objection which would provide an absolute reason for highway engineers to call a halt to it and to do something else. Having said that, it is somewhat unlikely that the people using this phrase have any idea why it could cause a massive problem for the engineers.

    However, it’s unlikely that it is a problem. I imagine that the people at EH and NT have already considered the effect, otherwise they would not have given their blessing.

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    • eternalidol says:

      I’m no engineer, Jonathan, but I imagine it would require an industrial array of outsize steam-hammers pounding away night and day directly beneath Stonehenge to make any difference as far as these particular ‘vibrations’ are concerned. The fault is mine, however, because I didn’t make clear the ‘mystical’ context in which I saw the term ‘the resonance of the stones’ employed.

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      • Probably Dennis. All structures have what is known as a natural frequency. When a vibration is introduced, the structure will dampen that vibration unless the inducing vibration happens to correspond to the natural frequency (and multiples thereof but to a lesser extent). When these two frequencies correspond, the structure will eventually be destroyed because each wave amplifies the effect in the structure (for an example of a failure, look up Tacoma Narrows Bridge)

        Larger trucks running through a tunnel will transfer ground borne vibrations (by three common processes) to the stone as they run over the movement joints within the tunnel.

        Just looking at it, I would guess that the frequency of SH is way too high to be affected by the slightly higher vibratory rate that will be caused by faster speeds and bigger trucks. I would guess that whichever consultant EH employed to find out the NF of Stonehenge must have looked at it and said that all is well?

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  4. Brian says:

    I am very concerned about this tunnel proposal and its long term effects on the World Heritage Site (WHS) as a whole. To those highly informed about Stonehenge it is evident from what appears in the media and on the web that politicians, transport professionals, transport enthusiasts, traffic blighted residents, and the so-called conservationist bodies EH and the NT, are all deploying the monument and information about it in a highly select selfish manner. Whether the short tunnel eventually goes ahead or not, the reputation of the monument and its future safeguarding is thereby being damaged, because the importance of the monument is vastly reduced in the public’s already uninformed eyes. This makes it all the more important that those that are truly interested in Stonehenge and the well being of the WHS, take the opportunity of the public consciousness being exposed to misinformation and selfish propaganda, to take issue with the false impressions that are circulating. This is a WORLD Heritage Site, not a parochial back garden that won the best blooms award – we need to preserve as much of the whole 3.5 mile wide site as possible without detriment to any of the many scheduled monuments and settings as well as those yet to be fully explored such as Blick Mead. Please sign and share the petition on 38 Degrees everyone – it may not happen Dennis, but please let’s make sure of it.

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    • eternalidol says:

      Very eloquently put, Brian. I personally believe the tunnel will be constructed when Hell freezes over, going on previous form, but it won’t do any harm to sign the petition and thank you for bringing it to our attention.

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    • “This is a WORLD Heritage Site, not a parochial back garden that won the best blooms award – we need to preserve as much of the whole 3.5 mile wide site as possible without detriment to any of the many scheduled monuments and settings as well as those yet to be fully explored such as Blick Mead.”

      That is unlikely to be a viable argument as part of an environmental impact assessment. The primary benefit of heritage, at least the one usually cited, is tourism and its associated economic benefit. From this perspective, the cut and cover option is highly likely to represent the lowest cost method of achieving all of the major aims: An improvement in the tourist experience at Stonehenge together with improved traffic flow around the site.

      If you take the view that there is some other overwhelming benefit to preserving the site, then the argument for that view must include a description of the benefit. For example, if you could show that Stonehenge signified some major step in mankind’s development, you would have a good argument for inclusion in an EIA to justify the additional expense of alternatives (such as those which would allow further archaeological investigation).

      However, the majority of experts on the monument appear to believe that Stonehenge had some sort of obsolete ‘ritual’ function associated with a undetermined astronomical significance (and even this has relatively weak supporting evidence). This consensus expert opinion is effectively an acknowledgement that Stonehenge has no known social importance to our society other than for its own sake as a curious historical relic.

      From the perspective of government, expert opinion is therefore against the case that you are putting forward. Not trying to be deliberately non-constructive, just describing a perspective on how all this may be seen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • eternalidol says:

        I understand precisely what you’re getting at, Jon, and I think you raise some very interesting points. At the same time, I have a question or two regarding what I suppose you’d call mechanisms or procedures, so if you have any thoughts on them, I’d like to hear them.

        When you write of an environmental impact assessment, I assume that such a thing has not yet been carried out as far as any proposed tunnel is concerned? Am I also to assume that some body or board or authority is about to embark on such a thing? If so, are the decision makers bound to consider notions aired by others in addition to their own appointed experts? Also, assuming that the amount of signatories to any petition opposing a tunnel were to number in the hundreds of thousands, say, would this figure make any difference to the outcome?

        There are a number of reasons why I ask these questions. After having thought about the matter for a few hours after I saw what you’d written, I concluded that on a good day, with a fair wind and the planets in alignment, I could indeed produce a written document that would place a greater value on Stonehenge than the one you describe i.e. a curious historical relic. On balance, given the popularity that broadly similar posts on Eternal Idol once enjoyed and given the fact that the media have commented favourably on many of my ideas, as you can see in the static page at the top, I’m inclined to think that I could produce an appreciation of Stonehenge and its landscape that a lot of people would enjoy reading and which would go a long way towards defining the value of Stonehenge and its landscape as far as modern society is concerned.

        However, if I were to compose such a thing with a view to ultimately supporting any petition, I can immediately see several insurmountable obstacles on the very near horizon. To begin with, there are the Druids and the pagans who frequent and revere Stonehenge, but if they have one defining characteristic in addition to this, it’s that none of them can agree on anything else as far as Stonehenge is concerned. Worse still, if one grove or group or coven were to support any hypothetical document I might produce, then it’s inevitable that 99% of the others would ignore it for the reasons I’ve described.

        The same principle applies to the archaeological community, who argue among themselves just as ferociously as the Druids and pagans do, while it’s a fair rule of thumb to say that most pagans and archaeologists are opposed to each other anyway, from what I’ve seen. Having said that, I’ve never had to rely on the backing of any individual or group when I’ve published material before, because there have been many occasions when the media have generously picked up on, highlighted and disseminated what I’ve written. I want Stonehenge and its landscape preserved for the enjoyment of others long after I’ve gone, so I’m inclined to think that the best way I could contribute towards such an end would be to just write something and put it out there, rather than attempt to tailor my thoughts to fit in with the world view of any individual or group, regardless of how well-intended they too might be.

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  5. Here’s the link to the petition to keep the tunnel away from the Blick Mead/Vespasian’s Camp site if anyone wants to add their signature: https://www.change.org/p/the-rt-hon-patrick-mcloughlin-mp-secretary-of-state-for-transport-uk-government-save-stonehenge-world-heritage-site-2

    Aynslie

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  6. Hi Dennis. Couldn’t reply to your post for some reason so have chucked a reply down at the bottom..

    When you write of an environmental impact assessment, I assume that such a thing has not yet been carried out as far as any proposed tunnel is concerned?

    I don’t know the history of this so will have to make a few guesses based on what usually happens: When the alternative routes were published, each one will have had some form of EIA done. At that point, there would have been some form of public consultation on those assessments: This would have been the point at which major objections (eg based on additional benefits of not routing past the monument) could have been considered.

    The next stage will probably call for another consultation. However, because the consultation on routing has (probably) already been done, it is unlikely that the terms of any further consultation would allow you to write a response of the type envisaged (wait and see on this one).

    I’m having to guess, but the only thing that is likely to have an impact now would be a new discovery about the monument and/or its environs which is both endorsed by the acknowledged experts and also has some sort of benefit/detriment impact on the existing proposals.

    I’ve done a lot of this sort of thing.. send me an email if you want to work through any of the detail?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Brian says:

    What Dennis suggests about writing up what the site means and how it is valued, whether Stonehenge or some other site, can prove a very rewarding and potentially valuable exercise. I hope you do so Dennis.

    To respond specifically to Jon’s very relevant point, it is quite right to suggest that arguing on behalf of or through unscheduled sites would prove difficult, but it is not entirely without hope or invalid. I have already had this discussion elsewhere with the county archaeology department, and am in total agreement that the more detailed and accurate the information of the Historic Environment Record (HER), the more weight can be brought to bear on behalf of those sites in the Environmental Impact (EI) work that will no doubt proceed shortly. The problem will be to get this process underway by recording and reporting in the available timescale, then potentially seeking scheduling as soon as possible.

    In terms of the official process of interpreting what is important about the wider Stonehenge landscape and how it is to be best protected, that the detail is not unlike wading through treacle is just about the only thing agreed upon by the ‘experts’ brought together by English Heritage for this purpose. For those interested I include some links below, obviously no one wants to wade through anything unnecessarily, but it is worthwhile attempting to get to grips with ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ and what UNESCO interprets this as meaning. Being familiar with this cultural caveat for more than a decade informs my stance on the short tunnel question. My view aligns with that expressed by ICOMOS recently, when they stated quite categorically that no matter how much benefit a tunnel may afford one part of a World Heritage Site, it isn’t acceptable if it makes an adverse impact on other parts as tunnel entrances and infrastructure inevitably would.

    The petition Aynslie kindly provided a link to is the newly launched global version for those not in the UK that now stands at around 300 signatures, and this is added to the UK petition that now stands at over 12,000 signatures.

    Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Site WHS listing:
    http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/373
    Guidance on Heritage Impact Assessments for Cultural World Heritage Properties (ICOMOS, January 2011): http://tinyurl.com/mvbghw5
    Key documents and other links:
    http://www.stonehengeandaveburywhs.org/management-of-whs/key-documents/

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