The area within a 2 mile radius around Stonehenge contains more than 300 Bronze Age burial mounds or “barrows”. Often these are clustered into what are termed “cemeteries” – groups of barrows that often occur along the ridgelines within sight of the stone circle. Almost all have been opened by investigators and treasure hunters prior to the 20th century and have had their grave goods removed.
The nearest ones to Stonehenge are within easy walking distance – 10 to 20 minutes away – and the views across the landscape are well worth the journey. Please don’t climb the barrows, tempting though it is, as they are easily eroded.
Less than a mile to the east lie the King Barrows under the beech trees on the horizon to the north of the A303 main road. These are amongst the very few barrows that have not been opened by antiquaries in the 18th or 19th centuries and are some of the largest and oldest.
Northwest of Stonehenge are the Cursus Barrows, a group that is easily accessible – being less than a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the monument field. These were all excavated by William Cunnington and Richard Colt Hoare in the early 19th century.
The double bell barrow in this group had previously been opened by Lord Pembroke in 1722 and it contained some very fine grave goods including a dagger; amber, shale and faience beads as well as a gold mounted amber disc which all accompanied the cremated remains of a young teenage girl.
Within the monument field itself, 100m east of the stone circle, sits a wonderful example of a bell barrow. It was excavated twice by Cunnington and on his second attempt he discovered a cremation burial within an urn along with a beautiful set of bone tweezers which are now in Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.
Visible from Stonehenge on the ridge south of the main A303 road are the Normanton Down Barrows, a huge linear cemetery of burial mounds. This group is on private farmland and so cannot be visited.
Within the group is a bell barrow catalogued as Wilsford G8 that contained some extraordinary items of gold and amber jewellery along with a ceramic incense vessel that is known as the “Stonehenge Cup” because of a perceived resemblance to the monument.
At the time of writing (October 2016), the items from Wilsford G8 are on display in the
Stonehenge Visitor Centre Exhibition, on loan from Wiltshire Museum.
Also in this group is the famous Bush Barrow – so called because it has a large bush growing out of the top of it.
The excavation of this barrow in 1808, again by Cunnington and Colt Hoare, found the body of an adult male laid north-south accompanied by one of the most spectacular grave assemblages ever found in Britain, including two lozenges of sheet gold, a polished macehead and 5 cylindrical bone mounts, bronze and copper daggers, and thousands of tiny gold pins used to decorate the hilt. All of the Bush Barrow finds are on display in Wiltshire Museum.
There is an interactive map showing all of the barrows which were investigated by Cunnington and Colt Hoare in the Stonehenge landscape at http://web.org.uk/barrowmap/
The Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Explorer Map 130 “Salisbury and Stonehenge” is an excellent reference for exploring the area, showing public footpaths and National Trust open access land.
This weeks article was submitted by guest blogger and local Stonehenge expert Simon Banton
Stonehenge Landscape walking Tours:
National Trust: Walk with an archaeologist: Durrington Revealed
Local Tour Operator: Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
Foot Trails: Full Day Stonehenge Guided Walking Tours
Tours from London: The Stonehenge Experts
Durrington Walls, Wiltshire walk of the week: The Daily Telegraph
The Stonehenge News Blog