In a move which is bound to cause shock waves across UK archaeology, thePipeLine has learned that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is poised to announce plans for the UK’s largest ever metal detecting rally along the line of the proposed Stonehenge Tunnel. The move, which thePipeLine has been told has the backing of senior management at Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust as well as of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, will be announced after the Easter Bank Holiday. In the announcement it is understood that Mr Grayling will bill the rally as the Government’s latest initiative to promote the work of the tens of thousands of “citizen archaeologists” who go out metal detecting in the English countryside.
thePipeLine understands that the Stonehenge Rally will be built into the archaeological project design for the Stonehenge Tunnel which will come into effect once Highways England are given planning permission to build the A303 upgrade across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. It is also understood that the rally will be timed to coincide with the Midsummer Solstice, and will form part of a “People’s Festival” which will see New Agers, and Druids descend on the Wiltshire monument from all over Britain.
The initiative to involve hundreds of hobby metal detectorists in helping to survey such a high profile and sensitive archaeological landscape will be controversial among many archaeologists. However, responding to the news on behalf of the National Council for Metal Detecting, the organisation’s archaeological liaison officer, Andy Stone, told thePipeLine.
“It is fantastic news that our members, or for that matter anyone who owns a metal detector, will be able to get down to Wiltshire and help recover the history of one of Britain’s most important archaeological sites.”
Mr Stone added,
“The best thing about Mr Grayling’s decision is that, by opting for the short tunnel, the Government have made sure even more of the actual surface World Heritage landscape will be available for us to metal detect on before they build the dual carriageway.”
A mass metal detecting rally will form part of the Geophysical Survey along the line of the A303 at Stonehenge.
[Image Copyright: Olaf Priol for thePipeLine]
Sources at UNESCO, which has criticised the Government’s preferred option of building a short tunnel and dual carriageways across the World Heritage Site, told thePipeLine that the United Nations body would not comment on the plan to use metal detectorists to undertake part of the geophysical survey because the Highways England consultation on the plan was still underway and they themselves were awaiting the report of their own team which visited the site in March.
A spokesperson for Mr Grayling also declined to comment, stating the Government has a policy of not responding to leaked reports.
Mr Stone did however comment on the fears among some archaeologists that this could be the thin end of a wedge which could see professional archaeological “geofizz” experts replaced by hobby metal detectorists. He told thePipeLine that, in the view of the NCMD,
“It is nonsense to suggest this puts the jobs of archaeologists at risk. Everyone knows Stonehenge is a Stone Age landscape so the chances of our members finding anything significant with metal detectors is remote.”