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8 October 2006
Radical solution proposed for Stonehenge

After over 20 years of argument and countless millions spent on consultants and planning inquiries over the state of Stonehenge, a leading expert last night proposed a radical solution: do nothing. The government's long overdue decision on the roads which strangle the world's most famous prehistoric monument is ardently awaited by archaeologists and local residents alike, after two public inquiries and last summer's lengthy public consultation.
     Last night Professor Peter Fowler, an internationally acknowledged expert on the Stonehenge landscape and on World Heritage Sites management, washed his hands of the whole argument: "Since no sort of a tunnel is going to be built, the A303 should be kept exactly as and where it is, because neither widening it nor allowing it to career off sinuously to north or south is an option." Instead of the expensive and ambitious plans for a new visitor centre, car parks, paths across the downland and a land train for people who can't walk so far, currently being pursued by English Heritage which manages the site, and the National Trust which owns thousands of acres of surrounding land, Prof Fowler advocated low tech interpretation at several perimeter points, encouraging walkers, cyclists and horse riders to explore the whole site and its myriad monuments, not just the stone circle itself.
     Meanwhile, a novel solution to why the stone circle was built at all has also just been proposed: the oldest stones were transported 220km from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, because the bronze age builders believed the 'bluestone', blue-grey dolomite streaked with white feldspar, had healing powers.
     The suggestion that Stonehenge should be seen as a prehistoric Lourdes provoked dropped jaws and some outright laughter from archaeologists at a lecture at the Society of Antiquaries of London. However, Geoff Wainwright, former head of archaeology at English Heritage, and Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University, who have been researching and excavating in Wales for the last five years, insist that bluestones have been used to mark myriad spring heads and wells around the Preseli ridge. Many of these are regarded as having healing powers, and the belief the stone itself had special importance survived into Christian times when it was used for grave markers and ogham inscriptions.
     They argue that the bluestones at Stonehenge were retained at every stage of 1,500 years of remodelling the site, even when the far more impressive double decker bus-sized Sarsen stones were brought in, giving the circle its iconic outline. The many burials around the site may be of people who came for healing, they suggest - with the recently excavated Amesbury Archer, whose spine was contorted by rheumatoid disease, only one of the stones' more notable failures.

Source: The Guardian (7 October 2006)

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