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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 12 years, and often took the opportunity to relax and enjoy the peace and tranquility of this unique place.

Originally posted to shortfinals on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 06:46 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and PaganKos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I read that these were used as impromptu barns (6+ / 0-)

    for the many sheep that were raised in that part of the country.

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 07:01:05 PM PST

  •  Unfortunately, (8+ / 0-)

    when we were in Avebury it got too late to head over to the Barrow. But since we have to get to Glastonbury next time, we thought we'd try to swing by. :)

    Thank your stars you're not that way/Turn your back and walk away/Don't even pause and ask them why/Turn around and say 'goodbye'/Just wish them well.....

    by Purple Priestess on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 07:15:18 PM PST

    •  OK, THIS is what you do..... (9+ / 0-) down to the roundabout - rotary, if you must - (through Avebury, heading towards Stonehenge) on the old Bath Road. Make a left turn, which will take you to the Silbury Hill car park (its a PAY & DISPLAY.) Admire Silbury Hill!

      Cross the road, with care (!) and walk past the Hill, until you see a sign for the path to the Barrow. Go along the path (you go immediately past a nice garden with lovely liliacs) cross the stream, and do NOT be is at least another 1/2 mile and just over the ridge, so is out of sight.

      Let me know BEFORE you go!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 07:30:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  So that's what it looks like! (6+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this, shortfinals.  I had been wondering about it.

    When I sent my Yule short story to my friend in England, she was struck by one of the scenes in it.  She said she had experienced the same feeling of intense happiness and reassurance that "everything was going to be all right" last summer when she sat on the stones at West Kennet Long Barrow.  Ever since she told me that, I've been wondering what the site was like.

    What do you think Silbury Hill is?  Is it also a barrow or burial mound of sorts?  Have people had any out-of-the-ordinary experiences while climbing Silbury Hill?

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 07:41:23 PM PST

    •  Well, let's start with the easy one.... (6+ / 0-)

      Firstly, you can't climb Silbury Hill ! It is wired off, and since it is in a VERY fragile state ....I respect the official position (this doesn't mean that I haven't seen people climb it, but I would not.)

      Due to the extensive excavations made, it is fairly certain that NO burial exists within the Hill. Many have thought it to be the site for sacrifices, but no fragments of bone or charred stones have been found.

      Undoubtedly, I would say it would be unthinkable for there NOT to have been religious ceremonies of some kind on the summit - just not sacrifices.

      I also think that it may well have been a 'relay station' of sorts. A means of passing a light signal or waving a banner to signify when a ceremony had been concluded at Avebury in order to let others at Stonehenge know (and the reverse is also true). You would need another vantage point somewhere else (not necessarily artificial) to do this.

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 07:56:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Would this be the place (7+ / 0-)

    where Frodo and company ran into the Barrow wights in Lord of the Rings?

    We should not be fighting about equal pay for equal work and access to birth control in 2012. Elizabeth Warren

    by Leftleaner on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 07:48:46 PM PST

  •  These historical sites (8+ / 0-)

    speak to me in a very strange way I cannot explain.  I do not get the same feeling when I have visited the Indian mounds in Mississippi and other places.  Maybe there is more to this genetic stuff than we are capable of understanding.  I have long thought Jung was right about what he called "racial memories."  There is more information encoded in DNA than we may be capable of understanding with our rational minds.  

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 08:54:52 PM PST

    •  Indeed so! I have similar feelings.. (6+ / 0-)

      ...when I visit them!!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 08:57:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There is a feeling that comes... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ...with being at effigy mounds around here in south central WI.  In many cases the mounds are on high ground overlooking water, and my mind feels expansive in such locations.  I wonder whether the mound builders felt the same way and chose those locations because of that feeling.  In those plces, I feel that despite all the differences, we are more kin than not.

        I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble.

        by Joy of Fishes on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 05:18:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Yes. But I get vibes from both, since my (6+ / 0-)

      heritage includes both. But that is actually quite nice.

      I definitely understand what you're saying. I think Jung might be correct that our DNA may encode more than we know...


      Everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul. -- Sam Mockbee ~~~For handmade silver jewelry, click here.~~~

      by Lorinda Pike on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 09:43:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The amount of so-called 'useless' DNA.. (4+ / 0-)

        ..just didn't make sense, anyway.

        Btw watch out for more things of a geologic nature! (I took it as a minor)

        Kind regards


        'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

        by shortfinals on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 10:42:28 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, cool! I'll look forward to that. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I'm glad we have geology in common!

          Everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul. -- Sam Mockbee ~~~For handmade silver jewelry, click here.~~~

          by Lorinda Pike on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 10:53:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think you would be astounded if you could ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Lorinda Pike

            ....could study the Peak District. The Carboniferous limestone is magnificent, hiding the deepest caverns in Britain ('Titan' is 1,000ft vertical drop), but rare minerals abound. The Romans extracted silver and lead (and possibly the semi-precious form of fluorite known as 'Blue John')

            I'll be producing some diaries on gritstone millstone production, the spectacular Winnats Pass (a collapsed Carboniferous limestone reef), the highly geologically unstable Mam Tor, and various other topics.

            'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

            by shortfinals on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 12:19:46 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Scientists are actually finding out (4+ / 0-)

      that there is more to DNA than they initially suspected. I don't know if they will find "racial memories" in there eventually, but they've begun studying the expanses of "junk dna" next to identified genes and find that their influence on activation of genes can make what look like identical genes in different species actually produce different effects.

      This explains it better than I just did, lol

      Moderation in most things.

      by billmosby on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 10:24:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shortfinals, Otteray Scribe

      On a month-long visit to Paris some years ago, we had to temporarily vacate the tiny flat we were borrowing, so we got onto a train and headed for the centre of the country, to explore for a weekend. When we got off the train at Gien, we headed into town and saw the back of a large statue in a 'roundabout' park. My companion asked idly " I wonder who this is ?" and I - without an iota of fore thought - said - "Vercingortorix", just to be a smart-alec.

       We were surprised to discover that it truly WAS ! I didn't know anything about that area and we were so broke that we picked it because it was what we could afford for train fare. It would have been a good guess,   i mean, the guy was holding a spear ! but the way it just popped out of thin air and into my mouth was interesting and strange. I'd read the name somewhere, but did not know anything about the man and his epic struggle with Rome. I looked him up 'toot sweet' !!

       The rest of the stay there was the usual touristy mix of fun and stimulus overload - but I kept having odd, numinous 'moments' down at the river and in the woods. I brought a couple of small smooth stones from the river back with me to remind me of it.

      “Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!” Julian Bond

      by Dvalkure on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 08:15:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A mound I've been to: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shortfinals, Joy of Fishes

    Miamisburg, Ohio mound.

    I went to a class on plutonium calorimeter measurements there in the early 90s. To the nearby DOE facility named after the Mound, that is. The DOE facility is no longer in use and is being cleaned up.

    I went up on the mound and found a picnic table on the flat top of it. Hmmm.

    One interesting feature of the building I studied in at the facility: The top floor is numbered 1, and the bottom floor is 7. The top floor is at ground level. That building was built early during WW II when nobody was sure that the Germans wouldn't soon be bombing Ohio, so we were told. So they built this building (which I think, but am not certain, was an early part of the Manhattan Project) largely as an underground bunker just to be on the safe side.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 10:16:24 PM PST

  •  One of the memorable walks (5+ / 0-)

    when I visited that part of the UK was from Avebury to West Kennet Long Barrow on a perfect late spring evening. In the US it's easy to think of them as isolated monuments, walking down that long avenue with the standing stones past Silbury Hill makes you realize that it's all part of one complex. But what was it about? Why was it built? I suspect knowing the answers to those questions would not dispel the sense of mystery palpable even in daylight.

    Thanks for this post -- it brings back great memories.

    A couple of pics, one of the long barrow:

    and one from it, looking toward Silbury Hill and Avebury (can't believe they built a town in the middle of it!)

    (Oh yeah, this is photobucket -- haven't figured out resize on it. Click to "view image".)

  •  I've been inside the West Kennet Long Barrow (5+ / 0-)

    when we've stayed in Wiltshire. The ancient sites in the UK are the dearest things there, to me. It must be a very different experience growing up by something five millenia old. One's cast on human history would (eventually) be altered by this presence. Even the recent historical artifacts of the British Isles are remarkable from a US perspective. One of my former pre-medical students studied ancient Scottish poetry during a year abroad, and described "walking up stairs that were older than my country." [Needless to say, with that kind of awareness in everything he did, the student got a great letter. Actually, he's an MD now :)]

    I'm not sure why, but the Avebury stone circle and that whole area just resonate with me in a special way, more so than other ancient sites in the UK. Thanks so much for bringing back those memories. We will go there again.

    We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
    Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

    by pixxer on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 06:48:38 AM PST

    •  Blessings to you & yours! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pixxer, Dvalkure, Joy of Fishes

      I revisit my old haunts ever year..and have lots more to write about for you!

      I remember being in the Texas Panhandle, and taking a tour of a State-owned farmhouse (this was in 1979). Our guide proudly explained that the kitchen we were standing in was the original building, and that this part of the house was '95 years old'.

      Afterwards, I explained to my host that the reason that I didn't go 'ooh and ahhh' as some did, was because my house back in the U.K. was around twice that age, and the little church of 'St Mary the Virgin' opposite, dated from 1235.....

      A visitor from OK, told me that everything was slow in the UK because it felt like you were wading through concentrated history up to your knees! I knew what he meant....

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 07:20:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Westerners vs Easterners (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shortfinals, Joy of Fishes

        A Friend from Montana came east for the first time and his main impression of New England was - " So many cemeteries !" He was impressed by the large cemeteries that stretched on and on and how, even walking in the woods, we'd come across an old, tiny family burial place in the middle of nowhere. It took  awhile to realize that he was coming from a place where Europeans have only been living ( and being buried ) for 100 years. So, even New England seemed ancient to him. And full of dead people !

         We'd be driving around and he'd say " Yup. More dead people."

        “Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!” Julian Bond

        by Dvalkure on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 08:28:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The comment I frequently make... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          shortfinals, Joy of Fishes

 my midwest neighbors and colleagues is the classic one of "In Europe they think 100 miles is a long way. In America they think 100 years is a long time"

          •  A friend (who, when I was living in Derby)... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Joy of Fishes

            ....asked me if I would like to see he and his family for tea, on their way up to a gathering of the Clan Burns in Edinburgh - I, of course, insisted thay they plan on spending some time with us and staying overnight to break their journey.

            He replied that there would be no need; they were landing on Wednesday morning at Heathrow, driving to Bristol to see the Great Eastern (he liked ships), staying overnight, then going to drive to Bath (Roman Baths, etc), Stratford-upon-Avon (usual stuff) and see both the old and new Coventry Cathedrals, before arriving with us around 3pm - then progress to their hotel in Edinburgh that night! 'Its only 330 miles total, and 260 miles from you to Edinburgh'. I said, 'I'll have your beds ready'.

            Needless to say, they arrived on our doorstep about 7pm, looking like they had just driven from Georgia....utterly worn out! I showed him the phone, and got him to postpone his arrival in Edinburgh to the following night.

            It's not the distance, it is the narrow, winding roads, plus the many junctions, plus the sheer VOLUME of traffic.  My friend said, 'We skipped Coventry, completely'. I told him we'd discuss a sensible itinerary in the morning!

            'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

            by shortfinals on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 09:16:10 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Next time you revisit.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shortfinals, Joy of Fishes

    ... hoist a pint for me in the Red Dragon. :)

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