Planning the future of a prehistoric find | Letters

The discovery of a neolithic ring of shafts near Stonehenge should not rule out a proposed new tunnel, writes Mike Pitts, while Phil Coughlin says the site will keep archaeologists busy for years to come

Your article suggesting that new discoveries are cause to stop a proposed A303 tunnel in Wiltshire is misleading (Scrap Stonehenge road tunnel plans say archaeologists after Neolithic discovery, 22 June). Were the tunnel to be built, works would be preceded by archaeological excavation. It is no secret that there are exceptional remains around Stonehenge. That is one reason why it attracts archaeological interest, not least that of Mike Parker Pearson, quoted in your article, who led recent excavations at iconic sites over seven years – including at Stonehenge itself, in a small dig of which I was a co-director. Neither he nor I would have a hand in tunnel digs were they to occur, but they would be held to the same high standards and would achieve the same thing: scientific, public gain at the expense of disturbing remains.

The only excavation that has yet happened so far at the site of the new find was done ahead of new housing developments. It is not logical for me, an archaeologist, to argue that my excavation is good and someone else’s is bad solely on the grounds of who pays for it (in the case of the tunnel, Highways England).

The arguments for and against the Stonehenge road alterations, and the potential costs and benefits, are complex, but an archaeological discovery far from any proposed roadworks has no bearing on the tunnel.
Mike Pitts
Editor, British Archaeology

• Your article on the Durrington Shafts (Vast neolithic circle of deep shafts found near Stonehenge, 22 June) mentions the early neolithic builders’ abilities in measuring and careful positioning, and the accompanying map certainly bears this out for the nine shafts to the north of Durrington Walls. However, of the remaining 11 shafts, only four are actually touching the circle surrounding Durrington Walls and the six in the south by west direction appear to have been dug late on a Friday afternoon after a particularly long session in what passed for a pub in those days.

No doubt discovering the real reasons for the accurate positioning of the northern shafts compared with the less accurate positioning of some of the southern shafts will keep archaeologists busy for many years to come.
Phil Coughlin
Houghton-le-Spring, Tyne and Wear

• This article was amended on 26 June 2020 to correct the picture caption. We wrongly described Woodhenge as Durrington Walls.


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