Stonehenge Pop Festival and Druids Ceremony Banned
AMESBURY, England (AP) _ An annual pop festival at the 4,000-year-old Stonehenge has been banned because ″destructive and violent elements″ were digging holes in ancient burial mounds and damaging the landmark, officials said Thursday.
″The land around Stonehenge, so rich in archaeological history, is being ruined,″ said John Cripwell, area director of the National Trust. ″We would be failing in our duty to the nation if we did not seek to end this festival.″
The English Heritage Commission, which cares for the monument, and the National Trust, which owns the surrounding land, announced that Stonehenge would be closed during the night of the summer solstice - the longest day of the year, June 21 - which is usually the climax of the pop extravaganza.
As part of the campaign to stamp out the 12-year-old festival, the ban also will affect white-robed druids who are sun worshippers and have gathered at the monument for a mid-summer sunrise ceremony since 1905. Once the pop festival has been eliminated, the commission said, the druids would be allowed to return.
Last year, a crowd of 35,000 people camped illegally near Stonehenge at the music festival’s climax on June 21. A record 270 people were arrested, many for offenses involving drugs, including LSD and cocaine, which were being sold openly.
″In recent years, the damage, both visible and as yet unassessed, has increased dramatically with the expansion of the illegal festival,″ Cripwell told a news conference.
Last year, he said, fences and 1,000 young trees were torn down, holes were dug into ancient burial mounds for latrines, rubbish pits and a substantial brick bread oven, and motorcycles were driven over the ancient burial grounds.
Dr. Chris Young, the English Heritage Commission’s principal inspector of archaeology, said festival-goers had also climbed on the monument itself - a double ring of 72 stones which has baffled scientists for centuries.
″The principal risk of damage is that you get an awful lot of people climbing up the stones, sitting on top of them and there’s the risk that they might actually fall over,″ he said.
The festival lasted for six weeks between May and July and the commission estimated damage at $25,000. Nigel Smith, legal advisor to the Wiltshire County Council, said the 1984 festival cost $150,000 to police.
″The festival has no organizer and is totally unmanageable on that scale. The festival has increasingly attracted destructive and violent elements,″ Cripwell said.
Smith said the National Trust, Heritage Commission and local landowners would apply to the High Court shortly for a precautionary injunction to prevent would-be festival-goers from trespassing. Though there are no official organizers, he said the National Trust had a list of about 50 ″prime movers″ in holding the festival.
An extensive publicity campaign has been launched, including posters in drug rehabilitation centers and announcements in magazines, to keep pop fans from coming to Stonehenge, located on Salisbury plain 83 miles southwest of London.
Cripwell said the commission and trust hope the warnings will work. If not, he said, police had agreed to take the ″necessary action″ to stop the festival.
The exact origin of Stonehenge has never been determined, though its construction and the alignment of its axis with the midsummer rising sun and the midwinter setting sun indicate an astronomical or religious connotation.