An ancient burial site found near Stonehenge during excavation for a highway tunnel. Photo: Wessex Archaeology.

Archaeologists have uncovered vast troves of Neolithic and Bronze Age artifacts while conducting excavations for a proposed highway tunnel near Stonehenge. Among the new discoveries are Bronze Age graves, neolithic pottery, and what may have been a workstation for ancient industrial laborers.

“We’ve found a lot—evidence about the people who lived in this landscape over millennia, traces of people’s everyday lives and deaths, intimate things,” Matt Leivers, consultant archaeologist for the A303 road, told the Guardian. Wessex Archaeology is leading the exploration of the tunnel corridor, along with England’s highway authority. “Every detail lets us work out what was happening in that landscape before, during, and after the building of Stonehenge. Every piece brings that picture into a little more focus.”

The discoveries turned up in some 1,777 test pits and 440 trenches excavated about a mile to the east and west of the prehistoric stone monument. Among the finds is an unusual shale object, unearthed from the 4,000-year-old grave of a woman who died in her 20s or 30s, which may have formed part of a club or staff. Also found was a small beaker in the grave of an infant, marked by tiny ear bones. The possible workstation, a C-shaped enclosed space, was accompanied with pieces of burnt flint, which archaeologists say may indicate industrial processes such as metal- or leatherworking.

In November, an English transport official greenlit the new tunnel. It would divert the A303 highway, which passes very near the prehistoric monument and has become notoriously congested, to go underground. Running two miles and expected to cost £1.7 billion ($2.2 billion), the  project has met with heated opposition from preservationists, including legal challenges and protests. Preservationists say it could do damage to the archaeologically rich site, outweighing the possible benefits of putting passing cars out of sight and hearing. Other opponents warn that the digging could destabilize the earth in the region, causing the stone monument to shift, sink, or even fall over.

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