Seahenge left to the waves again as protester halts the removal men

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The Independent Online
THE SAGA of Seahenge descended into near farce yesterday, when work to excavate the 4,000-year-old Bronze Age monument from a Norfolk beach was halted again, after a protester sought support from the Health & Safety Executive.

Mervyn Lambert, who owns a large local plant hire firm and donated pounds 2,000 to a campaign to keep the tree circle where it is, used his mobile phone to tell the HSE that mechanical diggers being used for the operation did not conform to the necessaryregulations.

After hasty consultations over the hole, many more mobile calls and a lot of leaning on shovels, contractors and archaeologists bowed to his argument and left the monument to the encroaching tide for another night.

Earlier, work had been disrupted by local objectors and Druids, until legal action stop-ped them occupying the site.

Yesterday was supposed to have been the most exciting of the dig, when the upturned oak tree root that stands in the centre of the circle was going to be pulled up and removed for preservation.

This is thought to have been an altar used either for sacrifices or a place where bodies of the dead were placed to speed their journey into the next world.

Workers from Norfolk County Council Archaeology Unit had already spent an hour scooping clay and water from around it and taking samples for analysis when the diggers were moved into final position, and speculation as to what might be underneath was reaching a climax.

David Miles, chief archaeologist for English Heritage who was overseeing the operation, had just explained that the bodies of new-born baby sacrifices had been found under stone circles he had excavated in Israel, when the latest storm to hit the project erupted. Mr Lambert suddenly shouted: "It's illegal! This whole operation is totally illegal." Then he quoted a string of regulations involving the jib markings and lifting capacity of the five-ton diggers. Poor Mr Miles could only blink in surprise.

He was not having a good day, having already been buttonholed by a bare- footed lady claiming to have an injunction and letters of objection from no less than the Queen and the Duke of Norfolk in her multicoloured bag.

She claimed that the circle was a Christian monument and that to remove it was "wicked and sacrilegious".

As events gathered pace she read aloud a poem she had composed on the subject, while simultaneously Mr Lambert gave an animated version of his views to television cameras and two RAF Jaguars screamed overhead on a low-flying exercise.

"This is very spiritually traumatic," said a woman with flowing red hair, clutching the Druidic symbol of a bunch of oak leaves with feathers intertwined.

Eventually, Mr Miles emerged from his hard-hatted conference to put the bravest face possible on the fiasco. He explained that the diggers had been chosen to minimise damage to the beach, and that the team had always known they would be working close to their limit.

"Now that the full size of the trunk has been revealed it is a bit bigger than we expected it to be," he said. "So we have decided to err on the side of caution and bring in a machine of larger specifications."

A 20-ton digger had already been ordered and will be on site today, he added.

Mr Lambert was, nevertheless, jubilant. "It was fated to be. I woke up this morning and I knew it wouldn't be moved today," he said. "We have now achieved 4,000 years and one day. No one knows what will happen tomorrow."