Mind-Blowingly, Awesomely Fabulous! The Stonehenge Avenue Revealed

Its been a busy time of late in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. The junction between the A344 and the A303 has finally been closed and the new Visitor Centre is well underway. Our National Trust team are working hard  to improve access across the landscape and I’ve been  busy writing and planning for the installation of new interpretation panels  across the landscape incorporating the latest discoveries. Its an exciting time seeing the whole Stonehenge Environmental Improvements Project coming together.

But amid all of this activity one moment in particular has given me pause for reflection. I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the years to have experienced some top moments in the job I do and the last couple of weeks have produced another.  My top three (in no particular order):

  • Standing at the bottom of a deep ditch dug four thousand four  hundred years ago looking up at hundreds of thousands of tonnes of chalk above me inside Silbury Hill (the tunnel did nothing for my claustrophobia which wasn’t helped by having to carry a respirator!)
  • Finding Alexander Keiller’s trench on this year’s Avebury dig. It was a surreal experience standing, trowel in hand, where Keiller and his team had stood almost eight decades previously.

So what’s my third top moment ? Well its seeing the final section of the Stonehenge Avenue revealed in front of me. This archaeological miracle occurred because after many years of work and preparation the A344 – the road that once separated Stonehenge from its Avenue – has finally been stripped away.

How did I come to be involved? I’m part of the Archaeological working group that have helped plan, advise on and monitored the work in this most sensitive of locations. Needless to say getting things right was a huge responsibility. And over a period of many years an immense amount of head scratching and planning (by not just me, but also my colleagues at English Heritage and Wiltshire Council) has gone into it. So to see it happening, to finally be standing looking at the ditches of this last stretch of the Avenue, was  simply mind-blowingly, awesomely fabulous!

A team from Wessex Archaeology have been carrying out the fieldwork on the site to a strict programme designed to balance the desire to answer questions with the need to preserve and protect for future generations.

And what has it revealed? Well although the fieldwork has finished and analysis of the results will carry on for months to come we can now say with certainty that the banks and ditches of the Avenue were continuous all of the way from the River Avon right up to Stonehenge itself.

What happens next? Only a fraction of the Avenue that sat beneath the footprint of the road has been excavated. The remainder will be protected and the whole of this area re-grassed so that it will once again be possible to appreciate Stonehenge and its Avenue as a coherent whole.

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About Dr Nick

Dr Nick Snashall is Archaeologist for Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. She is fascinated by prehistoric stones, large and small, and their potential for unlocking the secrets of our past. Nick is co-director of Living with Monuments (an AHRC funded research project aiming to address our lack of knowledge of Neolithic settlement and non-monumental activity through targetted fieldwork and archival research into the Avebury region) and Ground -Truthing Stonehenge’s ‘Superhenge’: excavations at Durrington Walls (Current Archaeology's 2017 Research Project of the Year)

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