Durrington Walls: The largest henge monument in Britain

20 05 2017

Immediately to the north of Woodhenge and spanning the A345 road is the largest henge monument in Britain – a massive banked and ditched enclosure over 400m across and nearly 1.5km in circumference.

Durrington Walls Aerial View

Long recognised on old maps as an ancient British Village, Durrington Walls’ true importance only became apparent in the late 1960s when the road through it was realigned on a straighter path. You can see the line of the old, smaller, road in the aerial photo running to the left of the new road.

A massive rescue archaeological dig carried out in advance of the roadworks, making use of large earthmoving equipment for the first time (rather than only spades, trowels and brushes), revealed the existence of two timber circles within, as well as evidence for a settlement dating back to the late Neolithic around 2,500BC.

Durrington Excavation Aerial

The scale of the ditch and bank is enormous – the ditch being over 6m deep, 7m wide at the bottom and 18m wide at the top, and the bank being over 3m tall and in places almost 30m wide.

Further excavations in the mid-2000s by the Stonehenge Riverside Project discovered the remains of Neolithic houses just outside the southeast entrance to the henge, other buildings – perhaps ceremonial in purpose – in the western half of the enclosure, as well as a short Avenue leading down to the Avon in the direction of the winter solstice sunrise.

Reconstructions of the houses were created at the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre, accurately based on the design and layout of those found at Durrington.

neoliothic houses

The archaeological evidence suggests that the settlement at Durrington Walls, which may have supported several thousand people, was relatively short-lived and perhaps was in use for only 50 years or so. The period of peak activity corresponds with the time when the large sarsen stones were erected at Stonehenge and so it’s believed that this was the place where the builders and their families lived while that monument was being constructed.

Careful study of the colossal amount of midden material left behind at the site shows that large gatherings were taking place, probably around the mid-winter time, with huge numbers of young pigs being eaten and their remains being deposited in feasting pits. Stable isotope analysis of tooth enamel proves that some of the animals were coming from as far away as the northeast of Scotland, Cornwall and the Lake District. This means that people were converging at Durrington from all over Britain, and suggests that Stonehenge was a “national” project rather than a local one.

A major geophysics research effort by the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, carried out in the last few years, discovered the existence of about 200 large features underlying the bank at Durrington Walls. The traces were such that they seemed to indicate the possible presence of buried stones all around the perimeter of the site.

In August 2016 a team of archaeologists excavated an area over two of these features to find out what the geophysics was telling them. Would the features prove to be large sarsen stones, which would overturn many ideas about the relationship of Durrington Walls to Stonehenge, or something else?

It rapidly became clear that in fact these features represented large pits with ramps leading into them which had been used to erect posts about 0.5m in diameter and perhaps 5m tall. Then these posts had been removed, after what seems to have been a very short time – perhaps less than a year—and the chalk blocks from the bank and ditch construction had fallen in, filling up the pits so that they appeared highly reflective features to the geophysics equipment.

The entire area was strewn with animal bone, including antler picks presumably used to excavate the pits in the first place, as well as pottery sherds and flint tools.

One interpretation is that as the settlement was going out of use, the people decided to memorialise the site by surrounding it with 200 large wooden posts but then changed their minds and embarked on a closing down project of constructing a huge henge bank and ditch instead, withdrawing the timbers for use elsewhere. It’s hard to be sure, especially since only two of the features have been exposed.

Durrington Walls is an integral part of the Stonehenge landscape and has a significance that were are only just beginning to appreciate. Trying to make coherent sense of its use by the people of the time is an ongoing task and there will be much more that we can learn in the coming decades.

For now, and to most people, it’s just a large field containing some sheep – but if you know a little bit about what lies beneath the surface it becomes a fascinating spot where you can walk in the footsteps of our ancestors from 4,500 years
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

More ways to explore the Durrington Walls and the Stonehenge landscape.
The Stonehenge Travel Company based in nearby Salisbury are considered the local experts and offer archaeological guided walking tours of Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and the greater Stonehenge landscape. Stonehenge Guided Tours offer tours from London and Bath including private group walking tours .  London Walks offer guided tours from London via the train. Stonehenge Walks offer 1 – 5 hour guided tours from the Stonehenge visitor centre throughout the year.  The Wiltshire Museum also offer guided walking tours throughout the year.

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The Stonehenge visitor centre and excellent English Heritage exhibition.

6 05 2017

From 1968 until 2013, the visitor facilities at Stonehenge amounted to a collection of brutalist concrete bunkers,  and a small car park almost opposite the monument alongside the old A344 road, with a subway below the road so that visitors could safely reach the stones. The old visitor centre was opened with much fanfare, and a ceremonial gold key.

subway opening 1968

key

As visitor numbers increased year on year these facilities (latterly expanded by the addition of some portakabins) rapidly became overwhelmed, eventually being described as “a national disgrace” in Parliament.

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After endless consultations and arguments, with almost a dozen options being tabled and rejected, eventually a location was found over a mile and a half away to the west that was chosen for the new Visitor Centre. The A344 road past the monument was closed and grassed over, the old facilities and car park decommissioned and in December 2013 the new centre opened.

Designed by an Australian firm Denton Corker Marshall, with an initial budget of £27M, the intention was to create a building that sat quietly in the landscape and deliberately didn’t reference the form of Stonehenge in any way.

Its elegantly curved roof was to evoke the sense of a leaf lightly resting on angled columns that called to mind the trunks of trees in a wood, with dappled sunlight falling through the perforations at the roof’s edge and a gentle breeze cooling the central corridor between the two independent building “pods” below it.

For those that geek out on these things, there is one direct reference to Stonehenge – the tallest columns supporting the roof at the NE and SW corner are each the same height as the tallest trilithon at Stonehenge was when first erected 4,500 years ago.

new vc

new vc closeup

There are two major advantages over the old centre – firstly, the café is now indoors and secondly there is an excellent exhibition which showcases artefacts from both the Stonehenge landscape and the monument itself.

There are two major advantages over the old centre – firstly, the café is now indoors and secondly there is an excellent exhibition which showcases artefacts from both the Stonehenge landscape and the monument itself.

Entrance to the exhibition is included in the ticket price and this part of the Stonehenge experience definitely shouldn’t be missed – it helps to place the monument in context without overwhelming a casual visitor, but has enough detail to interest the nerdiest Stonehenge enthusiast.

There is a walk-in 360° video theatre which places you in the centre of the monument at all the major stages in its development, from 3000BC when the henge bank and ditch was dug along with the Aubrey Hole circle of 56 post or stone holes, through the arrival of the large Sarsen stones around 2,500BC, the final rearrangement of the Bluestones in 2,200BC and the 3 minute presentation brings you up to the modern day appearance complete with traffic flowing by on the A303. As the seasons change, you see representations of both summer solstice sunrise and winter solstice sunset as shadowy – almost ghostly – figures process around the circle.

A 360 degree virtual experience video display showing Stonehenge is played at  the new exhibition centre at Stonehenge in Salisbury, southern England

Passing through into the main exhibition space, you find five display cases containing genuine archaeological finds that are on loan from Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum (in Devizes) including some of the grave goods – flint arrowheads, bronze daggers, gold, amber and jet jewellery as well as ceramics – from the burial mounds along with the remains of two occupants. Both museums offer reduced price entry to Stonehenge ticketholders and each have recently enjoyed major upgrades to their own exhibition spaces.

exhibition cases

On one side is a huge dynamic video wall showing the evolution of the landscape and the sites of its key monuments over time, along the other are four large bronze models of Stonehenge at the main points in its evolution (feel free to touch the models, it’s encouraged).

As well as the permanent exhibition, there is a side gallery which houses temporary displays that are periodically replaced. Presently, the side gallery contains Julian Richards’ “Wish You Were Here” exhibition of Stonehenge collectibles and memorabilia down the ages, from postcards through Druidic regalia and some bizarre items that have used the Stonehenge image as part of their marketing. This includes phone cards, stamps and a wonderful brass Trilithon-topped crumpet-toasting fork. No such collection would be complete without a copy of the Spinal Tap Trilithon-shaped single record, and sure enough it’s here too.

Staff and volunteers in the exhibition are happy to explain the items on display in the main hall and the side gallery, so don’t fail to take advantage of their knowledge.

neoliothic houses

These houses were built by experts from the Ancient Technology Centre on Cranbourne Chase and a cohort of keen volunteers, some of whom can often be found in the houses giving demonstrations of ancient skills. It’s only by attempting to replicate the work of our long-dead ancestors that we gain new insights into the subtler aspects of their lives – the houses (not mere “huts”) are spacious, comfortable, sturdy structures and with periodic maintenance will easily last 25 years or more.

The new Visitor Centre may be a building that divides opinion, but within and without there are some fantastic displays that give a genuinely fresh perspective on Neolithic and Bronze Age life.

Just outside the visitor centre, at the back, sits the collection of replica Neolithic houses that are closely based on the remarkable archaeological discovery of such buildings at nearby Durrington Walls – the probable settlement site in use when the large Sarsen stones were being erected 4,500 years ago.

Entrance to Stonehenge is now managed through timed tickets and advance booking is the only way to guarantee entry on the day and time of your choice. By booking in advance you will also benefit from an advanced booking discount. It is also possible to purchase advance Stonehenge tickets here to beat the lines.

If you are short on time and would like to join an organised guided tour of Stonehenge, it is possible to do this from London, Salisbury or Bath. You can even arrange for local expert guide to meet you at the visitor centre for a guided walking tour.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Loop in the Landscape Workshop. Stonehenge Event 13th / 20th May.

3 05 2017

Take your imagination for a walk in this outdoor writing workshop in the Stonehenge Landscape. Working with award-winning poet Holly Corfield Carr, you will explore the ancient contours and hidden corners of the World Heritage Site, learning how to use field writing techniques and observational excercises to draw inspiration from even the smallest rock. (13th and 20th May at 2pm £5)

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This event is generously supported by the National Trust and English Heritage and tickets include parking, refreshments, access to Stonehenge and a return journey to the Visitor Centre on a shuttle bus.

All ages and writing experience welcome. We are keen to meet local residents from Amesbury and Salisbury and the surrounding areas, as well as National Trust and English Heritage members.

Participants will have the chance to have their writing published as part of loop, a book of poems, photographs and walking routes celebrating life in the landscape around Stonehenge and Amesbury, the UK’s longest continuously-occupied settlement. For more information, please visit loop.org.uk.

looproutemap.jpg

Please be advised that the workshop will take place on the move and we will be walking at a gentle pace across 4km of uneven ground so please wear suitable footwear, clothing and sunscreen if appropriate. There will be regular breaks for writing and sitting on chairs which will be provided and the workshop will end with refreshments in the Neolithic Huts at the Visitor Centre.

More details: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/loop-in-the-landscape-tickets-33924131992

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2017 Stonehenge Summer Solstice Open Access Arrangements.

30 04 2017

Stonehenge is an ancient prehistoric site which has been a place of worship and celebration at the time of Summer Solstice for thousands of years.

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This important site is seen by many as a sacred site – if you are planning to visit for summer solstice we ask that you please respect the stones and each other.

English Heritage is pleased to provide free Managed Open Access to Stonehenge for Summer Solstice 2017 and ask that if you are planning to join us for this peaceful and special occasion that you follow these Conditions of Entry. These are written to ensure enjoyment and safety for everyone attending summer solstice at Stonehenge.

Please note to reduce risk to those attending and to the monument itself, alcohol is not allowed in the monument field during summer solstice.

DATES AND TIMES

TUESDAY 20th JUNE 2017
ACCESS TO MONUMENT FIELD 19:00hrs
SUNSET 21:26hrs

WEDNESDAY 21th JUNE 2017
SUNRISE 04.52hrs
MONUMENT FIELD CLOSES 08:00hrs

The Solstice Car Park opens at 19:00hrs on 20th June with last admissions at 06:00hrs (or when full if earlier) on 21st June. The car park will close at 12.00 noon on 21st June.

ADMISSION, PLANNING YOUR JOURNEY AND PARKING
Admission to the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge is free of charge.

We strongly recommend travelling by public transport or arranging to car share with friends. You can also request or offer a lift to Stonehenge by following this link.

Please note parking charges apply.

Further details, and information to help you plan your journey, including details of local accommodation providers, will be published on these pages shortly, along with other helpful advice for summer solstice.

Stonehenge Guided Tours are offering their usual small group tour from London and Solstice Events are offering their annual pilgrimage from Bath.

Visiting Stonehenge this year for the Solstice Celebrations?

Please read this blog:
Respecting the Stones

Follow @St0nehenge @EH_Stonehenge @VisitStonehenge @HighwaysEngland and @Wiltshirepolice for #summersolstice updates on the night.

If you are unable to visit Stonehenge on the Solstice you can watch our LIVE PERISCOPE STONEHENGE BROADCAST

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Stonehenge – more than a ring of stones.

16 04 2017

Toni-maree Rowe - Writer

Stonehenge – a name that evokes a great many emotions in a great many people.  For some it is a place of pilgrimage, a place to connect with the ancestors and for others it is seen as a tourist trap or something to tick off the bucket list.  For centuries it has captured our imagination; never has a heritage site been so controversial – something which continues to this day.  In this post it is not my intention to give a full on thesis about Stonehenge, there are plenty of books/websites who do this already.  Instead it is simply an overview of what is currently understood about the site, its surrounding landscape and my own personal thoughts.

Stonehenge is situated on the Salisbury Plains, to the south is the busy A303, a main road between the south-west and London, and for many years the equally busy A344 ran alongside the site. …

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BREAKING NEWS: Geophysical survey reveals secret chambers and corridors underneath Stonehenge.

1 04 2017

Most people are unaware of the underground chamber that lies beneath Stonehenge.

geophys wide.png

The six entrances to it are clearly visible in the recent geophysical survey, arranged as a squashed hexagon with linking corridors between them, leading to the antechamber located below the North Barrow and the main room directly below the stone circle.

Col. William Hawley’s excavations of 1926 revealed the existence of the entrances and corridors, but he didn’t investigate further as he was already in his mid-70s and had been abandoned by the workers assigned to assist him.

The records of this discovery existed only in Hawley’s personal notebooks, which lay unexamined until the mid 1950s.

In 1958, under the pretext of re-erecting a collapsed Trilithon, Richard Atkinson’s team made extensive excavations in the centre of the circle in an attempt to break through to the main room after the route via the antechamber was discovered to be blocked by a massive sarsen stone.

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While the waiting crowd’s interest was held by the struggle to put back up two massive uprights and a correspondingly huge lintel, the real work in the centre circle continued for 4 months and 1 day.

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Very few photographs exist of what was found once the chalk capping of the main chamber had been breached, but Atkinson’s archive was badly catalogued so it has been difficult to attribute photos to positions with any kind of accuracy.

A particularly tantalising, but unlabelled, photo has emerged.

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Atkinson never published what he found, in fact his only report of the extensive 1950s excavations and restorations were two popular books – one called “Stonehenge”, and the other called “What is Stonehenge? A Guide for Young People”.

Towards the end of the project the decision was taken to fill the main room, antechamber and access corridors with concrete to prevent the collapse of the monument above.

Was this a cover up?

As far as the world’s press and the public were concerned, the project had been a huge success – a Trilithon that had collapsed in 1797 had been restored along with stones from the outer circle that had fallen on the last day of 1900. Publicity photos showed Stonehenge “restored” to something approaching its former glory.

concrete

Occasionally an photograph appears on eBay claiming to be from the archive of Atkinson’s benefactor Sir “Polo” Divans, the likely recipient of any finds from the main chamber. This is one of a peculiar object from his collection.

Occasionally an photograph appears on eBay claiming to be from the archive of Atkinson’s benefactor Sir “Polo” Divans, the likely recipient of any finds from the main chamber. This is one of a peculiar object from his collection.

orgone.jpg

The six entrances were left unsealed but capped with metal covers at ground level – these can easily be found in the grass – and once a year there is a stress test of the concrete infill to ensure no subsidence or cracking has occurred. This is achieved by pumping chemical smoke in at one entrance and checking for leaks at each of the other five.

smoke outlet

Bizarrely, there was a Doctor Who episode filmed at Stonehenge in 2010 entitled “The Pandorica Opens” that used the idea of an “Underhenge” beneath the monument.

Perhaps someone on the production or writing team had some inside knowledge of what really lies beneath. The rest of us will never know for sure.

Thanks to local historian Simon Banton for sharing this ground breaking story

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Walk with an Archaeologist: Durrington and the Stonehenge Landscape Revealed

25 03 2017

Durrington Walls is beginning to give up its secrets and here is your opportunity to join Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the World Heritage Site on a half day exploration of this enigmatic site to find out the latest discoveries.

Durrington_Walls

“Follow in the footsteps of the people who built and used Stonehenge and visit the ancient places, prehistoric monuments and former settlements surrounding the famous stone circle. The National Trust cares for over 800 hectares of land within this World Heritage Site and visitors can wander freely across the grasslands. Step back in time and discover what lies beneath.”

Follow in the footsteps of the people who built and used Stonehenge and visit the ancient places, prehistoric monuments and former settlements surrounding the famous stone circle. The National Trust cares for over 800 hectares of land within this World Heritage Site and visitors can wander freely across the grasslands. Step back in time and discover what lies beneath

Durrington Walls is beginning to give up its secrets and here is your opportunity to join Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the World Heritage Site on a half day exploration of this enigmatic site to find out the latest discoveries. Neolithic expert and archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall has been working in this globally important landscape for many years. During this gentle 3 mile walk, she will paint a picture of what life was like when Durrington Walls was a thriving and busy village supporting the builders of Stonehenge, and she’ll explain how the latest discoveries are revealing the secrets of our ancestors.

8th April 2017.  Booking essential.  Visit the National Trust website for more dtails

More ways to explore the Durrington Walls and the Stonehenge landscape.
The Stonehenge Travel Company based in nearby Salisbury are considered the local experts and offer archaeological guided walking tours of Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and the greater Stonehenge landscape. Stonehenge Guided Tours include photo stops and private group walking tours with transport from London.  London Walks offer guided tours from London cia the train. Stonehenge Walks offer 1 – 5 hour guided tours from the Stonehenge visitor centre throughout the year.

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Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge News
http://www.StonehengeNews.com








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