By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
Revered by pagans, hard-rock bands, and hordes of tourists each year, Stonehenge symbolizes our connection to the Earth—and the heavens. Now this 4,500-year-old monument is at the center of a struggle between preservationists and the gods of modern-day traffic patterns.
Developers want to tunnel under the area to widen and improve a nearby highway to alleviate traffic backups. Historians say the big dig, which is intended to remove the noisy and dangerous surface traffic, might crunch up evidence of a broader ancient settlement and a series of ceremonial sites, Roff Smith writes for Nat Geo.
The Neolithic developments began north of Stonehenge 5,500 years ago with the construction of a massive trench, nearly two miles long and several hundred feet wide. “Archaeologists believe the landscape was first regarded as special because retreating glaciers hollowed out furrows in the ground that, by coincidence, aligned with significant positions of the sun at the June and December solstices,” Julius Purcell writes for Nat Geo’s History magazine. (Subscribers can read it here.)
The Stonehenge bluestones, each weighing around four tons, were moved 140 miles from quarries in Wales to the site. These days, it is so close to the highway (below) that you can hear the traffic on video streams of the summer solstice.
Tunnel supporters argue that moving traffic underground will return the UNESCO World Heritage Site to its original landscape. “Visitors will be able to experience Stonehenge as it ought to be experienced, without seeing an ugly snarl of truck traffic running right next to it,” says Anna Eavis of English Heritage, the charity that looks after Stonehenge and more than 400 historical monuments around England.
What do you think? Let us know! Also, if you like this newsletter, sign up here or forward it to a friend.
Today in a minute
A compassionate nation: A legacy of crises have propelled ordinary Greeks to shore up their country’s insufficient safety net to help COVID-19 victims. Mobilized grassroots efforts are providing food and clothing to people stricken by the pandemic or the resultant economic downturn, Sharon Jacobs writes for Nat Geo. Some of these efforts began nearly a decade ago, when widespread increases in food insecurity and homelessness followed the nation’s debt crisis. The ethos has spread to some of Greece’s newer residents. “We have a responsibility to nature, to the community, to ourselves,” says Kareem Kabbani, who arrived in Athens in 2016 seeking asylum—and now is cooking meals for others in need.
Infant mortality: For more than a half century, the Ohio county encompassing Cleveland and its nearby suburbs has had one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the U.S. An organization dedicated to infant health has developed workplace bias and anti-racism trainings for three local hospital systems and trained over two dozen staff members in those institutions to conduct them. Cheryl Martin, who lost one child and had another premature birth who barely survived, got a doctor when she was pregnant a third time who told her she had a weakened cervix. He performed a minor procedure, ordered bedrest, and she delivered a healthy full-term baby, Jaenique Hurlock reports for Nat Geo.
Nevertheless, he persisted: China tried to silence poet Abduqadir Jalalidin. Beijing “disappeared” him inside a concentration camp in the northwestern part of the country. Nevertheless, he kept writing. Other political prisoners, among a reported one million people of a minority ethnic group imprisoned by the authoritarian government, committed his new poems to memory. And smuggled them out of the camp, the New York Times reports. “What road led here?” Jalalidin asks in one new poem. “Why do I have no road back home?”
R.I.P. Bruce Boynton: The Howard Law student was traveling. He was hungry. The restaurant at a Virginia bus station refused to serve Bruce Boynton in 1958 because he was Black. Boynton—and an attorney named Thurgood Marshall—took the case to the Supreme Court, which rejected segregation on interstate travel. That opened the door for the civil rights- advocating Freedom Riders of the 1960s. Writer Michael Harriott has this fascinating history of Boynton’s family, including his mom, Selma voter rights dynamo Amelia Boynton. Bruce Boynton, who died last Monday, was “a teaching lesson for all of us about how we can make a difference,” said U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, the second black federal judge to serve in Alabama. “All he wanted was a cheeseburger, and he changed the course of history."
Instagram photo of the day
From a lifeline to a toy: The orange life jacket that previously served as a lifeline during the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean is now a toy for a young boy who dives and plays near the shore on the Greek island of Lesbos. Many refugees have been sleeping outside since the Moria refugee camp, which had housed 12,000 people, burned in September. “The situation for the thousands of refugees who lost everything when the Moria refugee camp burned to the ground is terrible,” writes photographer Magnus Wennman. “It's a strange feeling to be in such a beautiful place and hell on Earth at the same time."
The big takeaway
The cranberry’s tart future: For centuries, Native people cultivated the cranberry up and down the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. One of only three fruits native to the continent (blueberries and Concord grapes are the other two), cranberries have been grown in bogs primarily in New England and Wisconsin, dependent on plenty of water, cold winters, and mild summers. Climate change may disrupt the growing season and push cultivation northward, writes Nat Geo’s Alejandra Borunda. Tabitha Eldridge, who has a 12-acre cranberry farm in Massachusetts, already is noting changes, and experts say that it may be too warm to cultivate the tart fruit in the Bay State by 2100. (Above, a worker harvesting cranberries in October in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec.)
In a few words
Did a friend forward this to you?
On Tuesday, George Stone covers travel. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, Rachael Bale on animal news, and Whitney Johnson on photography.
The last glimpse
Ancient hunting: Researchers have found 68 arrows, dating back as far as 6,000 years, on a high mountain ice patch in central Norway. That’s more arrows found than in any other ice patch in the world, say researchers. The ice patch is already revealing clues about centuries of reindeer hunting, and scientists are racing unlock more of its secrets amid rising annual temperatures. “The steady melting means archaeologists have to move fast while preserving as much information as possible,” Andrew Jacobs reports for Nat Geo. (Above, surveyors moving around areas of retreating ice; below, a Viking Age arrow from Norway with preserved iron arrowhead, sinew and protective birch bark for the lashings.)
Followup: Last week’s newsletter had a one-letter typo on the name for the Navajo Marines who played a key role in World War II military communications. That prompted notes from a squad of readers—and sent me down a rabbit hole on the amazing story of the Code Talkers. They had to develop and memorize a unique military code using their mostly unwritten Navajo language, and were sent to D-Day and other big battles for real-time secure communications, according to the National WWII Museum. “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima,” 5th Marine Division signal officer Major Howard Connor said. You can find Code Talkers exhibits in many places, including, as reader Susan Ward tells me, in the Burger King in Kayenta, Arizona, near Monument Valley.
History, dear readers, is everywhere.