Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Unfinished Road

Traces of an 18th Century abandoned road project are visible in the Stonehenge landscape, running roughly west-northwest from the southern end of King Barrow Ridge across Stonehenge Bottom towards the Cursus Barrow Group.

Just visible running from bottom right to top left, cutting across the Avenue and petering out at the Cursus Barrow Group

Looking back from the Cursus Barrows towards King Barrow Ridge, the line of the old road is clearly visible in the snow
This road was begun sometime in the 1760s as an abortive attempt at a toll road from Amesbury to Warminster before the turnpike on the line of the old A344 immediately north of Stonehenge was built.

Where this unfinished road crosses the dry valley of Stonehenge Bottom, it does so on a considerable embankment.

The Unfinished Road's embankment causeway across the dry valley of Stonehenge Bottom, looking southeast
Much debate has been had about what happened to the missing stones of Stonehenge. Even if we assume that the monument was never completed "as designed", it is clear that there are large fragments of stones on site which implies that the missing parts of them have been removed.

Furthermore, authors like Stukeley have mentioned the existence of stones at Stonehenge which they either observed for themselves (and included on their plans) or had heard tales about, but which are no longer there.

I've often wondered whether it is possible that some of these missing stones were broken up and used for causeway embankments across the (now usually, but not always) dry valley of Stonehenge Bottom.

We know there has been undermining digging activity at the monument since at least the medieval period and that numerous named roads and tracks have criss-crossed this landscape's soggy valleys since the 15th century (eg the "Wiltway" and the "Woodway"). Is it so unreasonable to suppose that outlier or fallen stones might have been robbed away and re-purposed to allow people to walk dry-shod along the wet parts of these routes?

Short of excavating the embankment, I'd thought it would be unlikely to find any particular evidence until today when I spotted a lump of sarsen sticking out of the embankment of the unfinished road during that golden hour near sunset when sarsen glows pinky-orange.

It's not huge (about 9" x 6" x 6") but it does look very like the kind of reddish sarsen that is in use for some of the trilithons at the monument - eg: stone 54 - and it's not a natural "lump" but shows signs of battering.

Was this once part of one of the stones of Stonehenge?