For over 40 years, Wessex Archaeology has undertaken important research in the area around Stonehenge now designated as a World Heritage Site. We have been the trusted archaeological contractors for the A303 improvement scheme since 1998, working in partnership with Highways England and stakeholders to meet the needs of this sensitive and precious heritage landscape.

 

History of work

1990s and 2000s

Between 1998 and 2003 we played a vital role in the development of proposals for the improvement of the A303.

In June 1999 the (then) Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions announced a decision on the preferred route for the A303 Stonehenge scheme. The scheme included the upgrading of the A303 to dual carriageway from Berwick Down to Amesbury, a new by-pass for the village of Winterbourne Stoke, a modified junction at Amesbury and a tunnel past Stonehenge itself. The proposed road seeks to improve traffic flow and remove the sight and sound of vehicles for visitors to Stonehenge.

Wessex Archaeology undertook archaeological surveys throughout the life of the A303 Stonehenge scheme and at this time was a sub-consultant to Mott MacDonald who were then the Highways Agency’s advisors. We also undertook fieldwork for Halcrow-Gifford who were part of the team appointed as ‘early design and build contractors’ recruited to build the road.

The surveys were undertaken with the full agreement of English Heritage (now Historic England) the National Trust, and Wiltshire County Council, They progressively increased the level of archaeological information surrounding the road corridor. The scope of the work included documentary searches, geophysical surveys (undertaken by GSB), fieldwalking, test-pit and auger survey, and test trenching. A series of reports was submitted to the Highways Agency to inform both the design of the road and for the Environmental Assessment necessary for the road.

A short publication about the Archaeology on the A303 Stonehenge Improvement was produced along with a series of specialist reports. The specialist reports are available to download below.

 

Current work

A decision on the application for a Development Consent Order for A303 Stonehenge was taken on 12 November 2020 and has now been issued by the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, following a six-month Public Examination in 2019.

To ensure programme timescales are maintained in the meantime, Highways England selected Wessex Archaeology to undertake its Archaeological Mitigation Contract work.

Work in advance of this scheme has involved more thorough archaeological investigations than for any other road scheme in the country. Investigations have followed all professional guidelines and what we’ve found is interesting but not unexpected.

We have undertaken geophysical surveys of the ground that would be disturbed by the scheme both within and outside the World Heritage Site, including the location for the new Longbarrow Junction and the whole of the Winterbourne Stoke northern bypass route.

Ground penetrating radar has also been used to look at what lies underneath the surface, in particular places within the WHS, and the topsoil has been systematically sampled with test pits and evaluation trenches to search for any buried remains.

The scale of these evaluation works included: 

  • 462 ha of new gradiometer survey of the scheme corridor in four phases
  • 23 ha of targeted ground penetrating radar survey
  • 20 ha of multichannel ground penetrating radar survey (western portal approach)
  • 1,777 topsoil test pits hand-excavated and sieved 
  • 440 trial trenches excavated and recorded

As part of the surveys we uncovered some interesting but not unexpected finds, including:

  • Flint knapping – evidence of the manufacture of stone tools at various places across the Scheme, but particularly at the Eastern Portal, Longbarrow Junction and the Western Portal Approaches. –
  • Beaker burials – crouched inhumation at Western Portal with Beaker-style artefacts (pottery, copper awl, cylindrical shale object) – pit containing infant bones and Beaker pottery
  • Neolithic & early Bronze Age activity – flint assemblages and EBA cremation burial at Longbarrow North – Early Bronze Age cremation burial at Parsonage Down
  • Late Bronze Age ‘C’-shaped enclosure at Longbarrow South

The archaeological evaluation results have confirmed expectations about the likely archaeological finds that will be made along the route of the scheme – these will be archaeologically recorded in advance of construction and will be published and made available to a wide audience.

All work was inspected on a weekly basis to ensure compliance with agreed specifications and standards, by the County Archaeologist. The members of the A303 Heritage Monitoring Advisory Group monitored the evaluation works within or affecting the World Heritage Site and the A303 Scientific Committee were also invited to visit these works.

 

Upcoming fieldwork

The construction programme has been designed from the outset to allow for the vast majority of the archaeological work to be completed before the construction work starts, leaving only work to existing roads or other inaccessible areas to be undertaken later.

Our current programme estimates that all works, including additional evaluation where required, and detailed excavation, survey and recording for all areas of archaeological potential affected by the scheme, will take approximately 18-20 months to complete.

Our works won’t end there either. In addition to an extensive programme of post-excavation processing, assessment, analysis and publication of our results, it is very likely that field archaeologists will still be required during the actual construction of the scheme itself (known as the Main Works).

 

Got a question about the scheme?

Try our A303 Archaeology FAQs page.

To find more information about the road scheme, visit Highways England’s website and follow them on social media:

Twitter: @A303Stonehenge

Facebook: A303 Stonehenge Community

If you are interested in the archaeology of the scheme, Highways England and Wessex Archaeology will be sharing information and updates through a dedicated website which will be launched in the coming year.

In the meantime, you can follow our social media channels:

Twitter: @WessexArch

Facebook: Wessex Archaeology

 

Highways England Press Office:

pressoffice@highwaysengland.co.uk

0844 693 1448

Wessex Archaeology Press Office:

press@wessexarch.co.uk

+44 3303 137100

 

Introduction to the book

ISBN: 978-1-874350-48-4

SOLD OUT - This book is now out of print 

This volume reports on the archaeological works undertaken between 1998 and 2003 as part of the A303 Stonehenge Improvement highway scheme promoted by the Highways Agency.   The A303 trunk road and the A344 which pass Stonehenge are widely agreed to have a detrimental effect on its setting and on other archaeological features within the World Heritage Site. Around Stonehenge there is noise and visual intrusion from traffic and also air pollution. Each year nearly one million people visit the World Heritage Site and surroundings, using visitor facilities intended to cater for a much smaller number.   Many plans that might improve this situation have been examined, involving partnership working across many organisations. Common to all these has been the aim of removing traffic from the area of Stonehenge and at the same time addressing highways issues with regard to road capacity and safety.   This volume sets out the objectives of the extensive programme of archaeological work that was undertaken to inform the planning of the highway scheme, the methods used, the results obtained, and to explain something of the significance of works which provided a 12 km transect across the WHS and beyond: the first of its kind ever undertaken. 

 

Specialist Report