Thursday, 12 January 2017

What UNESCO actually says about the Stonehenge Tunnel Threat to The Winter Solstice Sunset

Full Description (IAU Extended Case Study format): Stonehenge World Heritage Property, United Kingdom

(Extracts from the document linked above)

..One of the most important features of Stonehenge – one that has been recognised since the 18th century when it was noted by the antiquarian William Stukeley – is that its principal axis of symmetry is aligned upon winter solstice (“midwinter”) sunset in one direction and summer solstice (“midsummer”) sunrise in the other...

Stonehenge WHP can and should be seen within a regional context of sites in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in north-west Europe that have astronomical alignments. These include monuments such as the Newgrange passage tomb, part of the Brú na Bóinne—Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne WHP, and various stone circles and monuments. All seem to have had some sort of funerary or ceremonial function, although astronomical practices in domestic contexts are also noted on occasion.

The monuments of the Stonehenge WHP provide the earliest evidence in Britain or Ireland of a consistent local practice of aligning monuments with some precision upon sunrise or sunset around the solstices. This is in contrast, for example, to the solstitial orientation of Newgrange, a “one-off” alignment among the Boyne Valley tombs; to the very broad pattern of orientation clustered around the intercardinal directions observed among Neolithic tombs and houses in the Orkney Islands; and to evidence that Early Neolithic long barrows in the Salisbury Plain area, in the vicinity of Stonehenge—which preceded the construction of the Stonehenge stone circle by about a millennium—followed a broad pattern of orientation within the sun-rising/sun-climbing arcs, between north-east and south...

In prehistory, one or more observers would probably have stood at an appropriate point and viewed the sun or moon appearing or disappearing behind a distant horizon at specific times of the year. Thus, clear and unobstructed sightlines and horizons are important to aid our understanding of how these monuments functioned...



There is a growing consensus that the midwinter sightline was more important than the midsummer one. Today the integrity of this sightline, and its intermediate ridge lines and final horizon, is marred. Looking out from Stonehenge, the first problem is the A303 (0.5 km), which runs relatively close to the monument, and presents a considerable visual and noise intrusion to this alignment. Moving further south-west, the round barrow known as the Sun Barrow—which is on the alignment and on the Normanton Down ridge line—is intact (0.9 km), but the sightline then quickly runs into the plantation known as Normanton Gorse (1.1 km), which obscures it. Still further south-west is another plantation known as The Diamond (2.2 km), before the alignment continues towards the place that would form the visible horizon from Stonehenge in the absence of intervening vegetation, at Oatlands Hill to the west of the A360 road (and outside the WHP) (4.4 km). This horizon is also obscured by yet another plantation, at The Park. The sightline probably ends at the site of a much later Iron-Age/Romano-British settlement. It is difficult to determine the exact place because the various obstructions mean that we must rely upon computer modelling.

The Stonehenge Avenue looking south-west (midwinter sunset) shares the same alignment, and the same issues apply regarding its integrity. On the initial approach towards Stonehenge along the Avenue from the “elbow” at Stonehenge Bottom, Stonehenge itself forms the horizon; the more distant landscape only appears during the final stages of the approach.


A retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (SOUV) was prepared for the Property by the State Party in 2011 and has been approved by UNESCO. The relevant parts of that SOUV in relation to astronomy are quoted here:

Statement of Significance


The Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites WHP is internationally important for its complexes of outstanding prehistoric monuments…

They provide an insight into the mortuary and ceremonial practices of the period, and are evidence of prehistoric technology, architecture and astronomy…

The complexes of monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury provide an exceptional insight into the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Together with their settings and associated sites, they form landscapes without parallel.

The design, position and inter-relationship of the monuments and sites are evidence of a wealthy and highly organised prehistoric society able to impose its concepts on the environment. An outstanding example is the alignment of the Stonehenge Avenue (probably a processional route) and Stonehenge stone circle on the axis of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, indicating their ceremonial and astronomical character…


Assuming that these were once largely clear in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, it is important to try and ensure that the sightlines are as clear as possible today. All plans should ensure that no further planting or development takes place along them.

No comments:

Post a comment