Protests expected in run up to opening of £27m Stonehenge visitor centre
Two different protests are to be staged at Stonehenge in the run up to the opening of a new £27 million visitor centre on Wednesday.
One protest will involve people living in villages near the A303 who are worried about extra traffic using rural lanes while the other is about the display of human remains in one of the exhibitions in the soon to be open centre.
A spokesman for English Heritage said: “The display of human remains at the exhibition has caused some people who feel very strongly about it to protest on site.
"We respect their views and their right to peaceful demonstration, and have had useful discussions with them about how these protests can be accommodated.
“English Heritage believes that authenticity is important to tell England’s story. We use real objects and artefacts because we believe they are the best way for people to come close to history.
"We only use replicas when the real item is not available. Research shows that the vast majority of museum visitors are comfortable with, and often expect to see, human remains as part of displays.
“Stonehenge is the focus of a ceremonial and ritual landscape shaped by prehistoric people for over 1,500 years. The exhibition puts at its centre the people associated with it and as such, the remains have a rightful place in the exhibition.
“Our position is consistent with current museum practice across the UK and the presentation of human remains in the new gallery will follow strict guidelines set out by the UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport."
English Heritage Commissioners considered druid leader Arthur Pendragon’s request to use replicas very carefully in September 2013 but decided that the original plan should go ahead.
“The three sets of human remains on display have been in the care of scholarly institutions for at least 10 years and do not include any freshly excavated material," the spokesman added.
"All the three sets of remains have been scientifically dated: two sets are over 5,000 years old, one set is about 4,500 years old.”
English Heritage says it also respects people’s rights to protest about traffic issues. A spokesman said: “The project has widespread support but traffic problems on the A303 have caused concern in a few local villages.
"We respect people’s right to peaceful demonstration. Together with the police, we have had discussions with the Stonehenge Traffic Action Group (STAG) about how these protests can be accommodated.
“Their main concern is the congestion on the A303 near Stonehenge and the impact this has on nearby villages. Some people consider closing the A344 (a key part of the English Heritage scheme) has made the situation worse, so much so that drivers are abandoning the A303 in search of a faster route through local villages.
“We understand and sympathise with these frustrations, but the reality is that the A303 has long been a very busy road, even before the A344 was closed.
"The majority of traffic congestion on the A303 is caused by the year on year increase of cars using the road and by the bottleneck where the dual-carriageway becomes a single carriageway near Stonehenge.
“We agree that something needs to be done about the A303 but the decision rests with the Department for Transport. We have met with STAG, have discussed the matter with Wiltshire Council and will join with them in urging the Department for Transport to tackle this long standing problem.”
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