England is perhaps the only country in the world where you can’t throw a stone without hitting a henge. Yet many people still want all of these strange circles to be protected even if no one is quite sure what their original purpose was. That explains why a newly exposed circle known as the Cotton Henge is drawing controversy because the construction project that uncovered it would like to continue building a warehouse over it.
“The henge was known about prior to a planning application being submitted. One of the conditions imposed on the application as recommended by the archaeologist was that a scheme of works be developed that sets out how the developers planned to investigate and record their findings.”
If that sounds like politicians trying to cover their henge-uncovering behinds, you’re right. The East Northamptonshire District Council, whose jurisdiction contains Cotton Henge, points out that the 4,000-year-old monument (seen here) was discovered by aerial photographers in the 1970s and may not even be a henge in the first place. Previous studies in the 1980s and 1990s found no standing stones – not required but certainly something that would make it tourist-worthy – and no confirmed entranceway which would identify it as a ceremonial structure.
Also, the Late Neolithic (3000-2500 BCE) monument’s outer ditch, measuring 100 m (330 feet) in diameter, may or may not have had an outer bank — another henge requirement. However, it’s part of The Raunds Area Project which is investigating over 20 Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in the Nene Valley area in an attempt to determine their purposes.
Does investigation equate to protection from construction? That’s what the members of a different group – the Warth Park development project — want to know. While they were given approval by the council to build a large warehouse on the grounds, locals told the Northampton Chronicle that they knew nothing about the henge and have formed a Stop Warth Park website and Facebook page to draw attention to the development. (View of development area and protests here.)
As expected, both sides have their own archeologists defending their views. As Liz Mordue, archaeological advisor to Northamptonshire County Council, puts it:
“All work in Northamptonshire is undertaken against the background of the East Midlands Research Framework which enables us to focus our work on detailed research objectives and ensures that we achieve meaningful results, not only for the archaeological profession but also for the communities where the work takes place.”
Historians want to preserve the monuments, residents want to preserve the view and the property values, and businesses want to preserve the economy and profits. All they need now is to find an engendered species of worms living in Cotton Henge and everything will grind to a halt.
Who’s going to win the fight for Cotton Henge? Who deserves to win?