West Kennet Long Barrow – an ancient burial mound

By: shortfinals

Jun 07 2011

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Category: British Isles, England, Great Britain, Museums, Prehistory, Wiltshire, World Heritage Site

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Aperture:f/8
Focal Length:30mm
ISO:200
Shutter:1/250 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

Around 5,500 years ago, the Neolithic people living on the chalk uplands of what was to become modern-day Wiltshire began work on one of the longest burial mounds in the British Isles (around about 100 yards long). Huge blocks of the local sarsen stone (also used at the nearby stone circle at Avebury) as well as limestone, formed the entrance at the eastern end of the tomb and the core of the structure. Chalk rubble was used to fill in the gaps between the larger stones, and this weathered into a form of natural mortar. The chalk came from ditches, dug at either side of the barrow. Inside the barrow is a long, central passage, with a series of five burial chambers at the eastern end, and a further (possibly later) chamber forming the western end of the tomb; this passage does not extend the length of the mound. I took this photograph of the eastern end of the barrow in order to show the two large ‘blocking stones’, the largest of which is around 8 feet high.

In use for around 1,000 years, evidence exists that up to 46 individuals were interred in the barrow. The structure was excavated in the 19th century, but a better survey was undertaken, using archeological methods (rather than just antiquarian ‘looting’) in 1955-56, by Stuart Ernest Piggott, CBE and his colleague, Richard Atkinson. Some of the finds are displayed locally at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devises, including a magnificent, decorated, European Bell Beaker from 2,500 BC, which was discovered intact. This piece of earthenware is regarded as one of the best of its kind in Britain. Strangely, most of the bones found did not form complete skeletons and there were indications that the blocking stones at the entrance had been periodically moved aside, and the tomb contents removed. This might have been for ritual or religious purposes.

Archeological evidence shows that this structure was used as a tomb for around 1,000 years, then, relatively suddenly filled in by ‘Beaker folk’. The Beaker culture which spread outwards from Central Europe was adapted and adopted by local Late Neolithic peoples across much of the continent. The idea that there was a mass migration of ‘Beaker people’ from a given centre, across a large area of Europe, has now been discounted and the cultural changes which gave rise to the distinctive pottery are seen as being spread by trade and ‘example’. Because of its cultural significance, the West Kennet Long Barrow is included in the ‘Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites’ area, which was designated in 1986 by UNESCO as World Heritage Site # 373.

The West Kennet Long Barrow is one of a superb group of archeological features (which includes the earthworks and circles at Avebury and Silbury Hill) set in the beautiful rolling chalk landscape of the Wiltshire Downs. I was fortunate enough to live nearby for around 10 years, and often took the opportunity to relax and enjoy the peace and tranquility of this unique place.

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