Other Sarsen Stones near Stonehenge and Woodhenge

5 02 2017

Sarsen boulders lie scattered in substantial “drifts” across the landscape of the Marlborough Downs near Avebury.

By contrast, close to Stonehenge there are almost none. This is one of the reasons why most archaeologists believe that the large sarsens for the monument were not locally sourced.

There are, however, a few examples of substantial sarsens dotted about Salisbury Plain within a couple of miles of Stonehenge. And there are tantalising hints that others used to exist.

The most obvious, and easily accessible, is the Cuckoo Stone. This stone is about 2m long by 1.5m wide by 1.5m thick and lies in the field immediately west of Woodhenge.

Cuckoo Stone

The Stonehenge Riverside Project excavated around the Cuckoo Stone in 2007 and discovered that the stone once had been set upright right next to the hollow in which it had originally formed.

Close by were two neolithic pits containing pottery worked flint, deer antlers and animal bones, dating to between 4000BC and 2000BC. A series of three burials were also found close by, dating to around 2000BC.

The stone remained a focus of activity right down to Romano-British times, and a small square wooden building – most likely a shrine – was built immediately to its southwest. Coins and pottery found in the ploughsoil date this to between 200AD and 400AD.

The other readily accessible sarsen is the Bulford Stone which lies in an arable field east of Bulford Village. It’s rather larger than the Cuckoo Stone at 2.8m long and again the excavation evidence shows that it too was once stood upright next to the hollow in which it formed.

It’s also closely associated with burials from the neolithic, the pottery found here dates to between 2300BC and 1900BC. The grave goods found were remarkable, including a flake of transparent rock crystal from either South Wales or the Alps and a “mini megalith” carved from a piece of limestone.

Bulford Stone.jpg

Lying in the northern ditch of a badly degraded long barrow within the Salisbury Plain military training area (and therefore not accessible to the public) are three more sarsen boulders.

They vary in size and – being half buried in the turf – are difficult to see, but the largest seems to be almost 2m long.

This long barrow was excavated by John Thurnam in 1864 who found an early neolithic burial on the original ground surface and an later Beaker burial just below the top of the mound.

Subsequent digging by the military in the early 20th century has almost obliterated the barrow but its outline can still be made out.

There is some debate about whether the sarsens lying in the ditch were originally part of the structure of the long barrow or if they were dragged there by farmers clearing fields at some later date. The stronger possibility is that they were part of the structure.

long-barrow-sarsens

John Britton in his “Beauties of Wiltshire (1801)” says:

“About two miles north of Amesbury, on the banks of the Avon, is Bulford. Near this village are two large stones of the same kind as those at Stonehenge. One of them is situated in the middle of the river, and, as I am informed, has an iron ring fixed in it; but the waters being very high I could not see it.”

Old OS maps of the area show where this stone in the river once lay, but sadly it has now been removed and its present location is unknown to this author (please get in touch if you have any information about or pictures of it):
location-of-sarsen-in-river-os
“…
an interment which was lately discovered above Durrington Walls, by a shepherd, who in pitching the fold, found his iron bar impeded in the ground : curiosity led him to explore the cause, which proved to be a large sarsen stone, covering the interment of a skeleton”

There are other references to large local sarsens from antiquarian reports – one is mentioned by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in the early 1800s:

… and another by the Rev. Allan Hutchins from about the same time:

“In a field, not far from the road which leads from the Amesbury Turnpike into Bulford, is a Barrow of chalk facing the parish and standing by itself… When I came nearly to the virgin earth in this Barrow, my progress was impeded by an immense oval sand stone, underneath which was a skeleton, a beautiful lance head, and a handsome drinking cup”

Perhaps there are still more to be found. Certainly it seems that sarsen boulders of “large” or even “immense” size are not unknown in this part of Wiltshire so maybe the idea that the sarsens of Stonehenge were brought from the Marlborough Downs shouldn’t be accepted at face value.

Here’s a view from Beacon Hill on the east side of Amesbury:

labelled-view-from-beacon-hill

… and here’s an overhead view from Google Earth:

locations-of-sarsens-around-stonehenge

Curiously the Cuckoo Stone, the Avon Sarsen and the Bulford Stone all lie precisely on a straight line, with the Avon Stone being 1500 yards from the Cuckoo Stone and 1450 yards from the Bulford Stone.

But that’s another story……….

Want to learn more and here more Stonehenge stories? Hire a local expert tour guide or join a scheduled group tour
The Stonehenge Travel Company based in nearby Salisbury are considered the local experts and conduct guided tours of the Stonehenge landscape. Stonehenge Guided Tours include photo stops of Durrington Walls and Woodhenge and their private group tours service offer trips from London, Salisbury and Bath.  Stonehenge Walks offer archaeological guided walking tours

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Woodhenge Henge Timber Circle – Amesbury, Wiltshire. A wooden version of Stonehenge?

21 01 2017

“A little further on the right of the road leading to Amesbury, we see the mutilated remains of an enormous Druid barrow”

This is how Richard Colt Hoare described Woodhenge in the early 19th century, and it continued to be viewed as a disc barrow (with the name “Dough Cover”)  until 30th June 1926.

On that day, Squadron Leader Gilbert Insall VC took an aerial photograph that showed a series of dark circular cropmarks inside the area enclosed by what had been regarded as the barrow’s ditch.

Insall’s photo is shown below, Woodhenge is just above left of the centre.

gilbert-insall-woodhenge

These marks later proved to be the surface traces of six concentric rings of postholes, uncovered by Maud and Ben Cunnington in their excavations between 1926 and 1928. These posts date to between 2600 and 2400BC.

When their excavations were over, they installed short concrete markers to show the positions and sizes of the postholes, using colour-coded tops to indicate which holes belong to each concentric ring.

These are the markers that are still in place today.

The monument shares the same solstitial alignment as Stonehenge, pointing to summer sunrise in one direction and the winter sunset in the other. This photo shows winter solstice sunset.

As well as the postholes, the Cunningtons also discovered two burials and evidence that at least two stones had been erected on the site. Subsequent investigations in the mid-2000s found three more stone holes which show that large sarsens had been erected after the wooden posts had disappeared.

woodhenge-winter-solstice-sunset

One of the burials was near the centre – that of a small child about three years old whose skull was broken. At the time that was interpreted as evidence of sacrifice although it’s also possible that the weight of earth on the body was the actual cause of the damage.

The second burial was in a grave in the bottom of the surrounding henge ditch, dateable by the fragments of Beaker pottery found within. The ditch dates to between 2400 and 2100BC.

Other pottery discovered at the site is the distinctive earlier Grooved Ware style from the time of Stonehenge and some fragments of a much older style that indicates activity at the site dates back at least to between 3,800 and 4,000 BC.

Woodhenge is on a low ridge that overlooks the River Avon to its east, and is due south of the huge neolithic henge of Durrington Walls. Along this ridgeline to the south is evidence of a number of other barrows and also structures that made use of large timber posts.

It’s been suggested that these “four posters” might be the remains of excarnation platforms – elevated wooden areas where the bodies of the dead would be placed to be defleshed by the elements and carrion birds.

The fields around Woodhenge are rich in other archaeological remains. Apart from those already mentioned there is a ploughed-flat long barrow to the southwest. Recent geophysical research by the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project has shown that beneath the ground surface there appears to be evidence of some kind of timber mortuary building.

woodhenge-longbarrow-geophys-comp

Access to Woodhenge is via a small slip road off the A345 north of Amesbury. There is a small, free, car park area and the monument itself is open at all times. The neighbouring fields immediately to the west (“Cuckoo Stone Field” and north (“Durrington Walls Field”) are owned by the National Trust and allow open access.

It’s well worth exploring this area to get a wider perspective of the landscape within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. The Ordnance Survey Explorer series map #130 “Stonehenge and Salisbury” shows the public footpaths.
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Circular walking route from Woodhenge to Stonehenge
This walk explores two major historic monuments, Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, in the heart of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Visit the National Trust site for this trail.

Durrington Walls and Woodhenge, Wiltshire: Walk of the week
The first of our new series of weekly walks, provided by the National Trust, is a ramble around mysterious Durrington Walls in Wiltshire, with views towards Stonehenge. Visit the Times Travel webpage

How to see Woodhenge on a guided walk
The National Trust are hosting ‘Discover Durrington Walls and Woodhenge’ events throughout the year. On this 3-mile walk, you’ll explore the secrets of Durrington Walls – once home to the builders of Stonehenge – and discover 6,000 years of hidden history with National Trust’s landscape guides. Visit the National Trust events page.  Booking essential

Hire a local expert tour guide or join a scheduled group tour
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

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Stonehenge: Up close. English Heritage Members Event. February 2017

26 11 2016

Gain a rare and fascinating insight into the famous World Heritage Site with an exclusive tour around the site led by one of English Heritage’s experts.

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Start the tour with exclusive early morning access to the stone circle at Stonehenge accompanied by our expert. Followed by a light breakfast we will then visit key archaeology sites including Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and The Cursus and learn more about the archaeological landscape and investigative work that has taken place in recent years.

A light breakfast is included. This event has been graded as moderate as there will be plenty of walking over uneven ground. Please dress for the weather as there is no shelter on site. Sturdy footwear is a must, as is a torch.

15th February 2017 (7.30am – 12.30pm) £45 per person

This is an English Heritage ‘Members only’ event.  Please visit their website for more details

HOW TO BOOK
Tickets are available now by calling English Heritage direct on 0370 333 1183.

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Ever wondered where the builders of Stonehenge lived? Discover Durrington Walls with a landscape guide.

25 10 2016

Discover Durrington Walls.  Join the National Trust landscape guides to explore the secrets of Durrington Walls – once home to the builders of Stonehenge – and discover 6,000 years of hidden history (2.5 – 3 mile walk).

16th November 2016 at 1pm

Event ticket prices
Adult £8.00
Child £0.00

Booking details
Call National Trust Direct: 0844 249 1895
More details on the National Trust website

Why did the builders of Stonehenge choose Salisbury Plain?

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Exploring Prehistoric Wessex

1 10 2016

Visit atmospheric and inspirational sites and museums and follow a trail from Avebury and Stonehenge to Dorchester and Maiden Castle.

1. SILBURY HILL prehwsxmap
The largest man-made mound in Europe, mysterious Silbury Hill compares in height and volume to the roughly contemporary Egyptian pyramids.
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Details on English Heritage website

2. AVEBURY
With its huge circular bank and ditch and circles of standing stones, Avebury is at the centre of a remarkable ritual landscape. Visit the Alexander Keiller Museum and Avebury Manor.
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Details on National Trust website

3. WINDMILL HILL
Causewayed camp, set on a commanding hilltop above Avebury. Used for rituals, feasting and trading.
Details on English Heritage website

4. WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
The most impressive and accessible Neolithic
chambered tomb in Britain.
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Details on English Heritage website

5. WILTSHIRE MUSEUM
See Gold from the Time of Stonehenge in our award-winning new Prehistoric Wiltshire displays. See the spectacular treasures of the people who held their ceremonies at Stonehenge.
Open 7 days a week. Satnav: SN10 1NS
www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk

6. STONEHENGE
The most sophisticated stone circle in the world, at the centre of a remarkable sacred landscape. Includes the cursus, a 3km long earthwork and the Avenue – a processional way lined with the Winter solstice.
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Details on English Heritage website

7. DURRINGTON WALLS
A massive henge, the site of the recent discovery of Neolithic houses, where the people who gathered from across Britain to build Stonehenge may have lived.
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Details on National Trust website

8. OLD SARUM
The original site of Salisbury – a Norman castle and cathedral, set within the impressive ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort.
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Details on English Heritage website

9. SALISBURY MUSEUM
Stunning new Wessex Gallery of Archaeology
featuring the famous ‘Amesbury Archer’
and unique finds from Stonehenge,
Old Sarum and Durrington Walls.
Open Mon – Sat & Sun (in summer). Satnav: SN1 2EN
www.salisburymuseum.org.uk

10. ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY CENTRE
Visit for special Open Weekends and Ancient Days. Experience the realities of daily life in the past and learn ancient skills and crafts in an authentic landscape
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Ancient Technology Centre website

11. DORSET CURSUS
The banks and ditches of a Neolithic cursus runs for six miles, surrounded by barrow cemeteries. Contact in advance to arrange a tour and to visit the private museum at Down Farm.
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Dorset Cursus

12. KNOWLTON HENGE
An impressive Neolithic henge, with a Norman church built inside the bank and ditch.
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Details on English Heritage website

13. DORSET COUNTY MUSEUM
Discover the story of Dorset’s rich landscape
unfolding in a range of fascinating displays.
Find out about Maiden Castle and the stunning
Bronze Age finds from nearby Clandon barrow.
Open Mon – Sat & Sun (in summer). Satnav: DT1 1XA
www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

14. MAIDEN CASTLE
The largest and most complex Iron Age hillfort
in Europe. Multiple ramparts once protected
an important settlement, but the site has 4,000
years of history, from a Neolithic causewayed
enclosure to a small Roman temple.
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Details on English Heritage website

HOW TO GET HERE BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT
You can use coaches, trains & buses to visit many of these sites & museums.
Swindon – train connections & the
No.49 bus to Avebury & Devizes
Devizes – coach from London &
the No.2 bus to Salisbury
Salisbury – train connections, the Stonehenge Tour
bus service & the No.183 to Blandford Forum
Dorchester – train connections & the
No.184 from Blandford Forum

WHERE TO STAY
Details of quality assured accommodation:
http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk
http://www.visitdorset.com

SPECIALIST TOUR OPERATORS
Stonehenge Guided Tours (London)
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours (Salisbury)
Wessex Guided Tours (Bath)

The Stonehenge News Blog





Fundraising Event: A talk by Mike Parker Pearson ‘Stonehenge and Durrington Walls: new research’

18 09 2016

Archaeological excavations are being carried out in 2016 at Durrington Walls and in Preseli, to shed yet more light on the mystery of Stonehenge and its stones. Was there a ‘superhenge‘ of standing sarsen stones at Durrington Walls that dwarfed Stonehenge?

mppWas Stonehenge itself actually a ‘secondhand monument’, built from bluestones brought from an earlier monument in west Wales? New advances in scientific methods, both in the field and in the laboratory, are also helping archaeologists find out more about the people who built Stonehenge, how they lived and why they went to such effort to build this remarkable structure.

Join Mike Parker Pearson for an evening lecture to hear about the latest exciting developments in Stonehenge’s story.

Salisbury Museum: Thursday, October 13th, 2016 – 18:30 to 20:00
Booking required. Please contact the museum.~

The Stonehenge News Blog





Sights to visit around Stonehenge.

4 03 2016

While Stonehenge is by far and away the superstar of southern England, and no visit to Wiltshire is complete without touring it, Stonehenge is in fact just one of many ancient sites in the area. Indeed, the surrounds of Stonehenge contain the most densely-grouped collection of neolithic sites and monuments within England – and more are being discovered all the time. It’s thought that the nearby settlement of Amesbury (believed to be the oldest in Britain) was a major cultural centre during the island’s ancient days. If you’ve got some time to spare during your Stonehenge trip, and want to take in some of the area’s other sights, here are a few suggestions:

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Within Walking/Cycling Distance Of Stonehenge – Woodhenge, Durrington Walls, The Cuckoo Stone

In all fairness, you can strike out in pretty much any direction from Stonehenge and hit archeological gold – although you may not always recognise it as such. Just be careful not to wander into the path of the military (who train on Salisbury Plain). If you’re cycling, be sure that you’re properly prepared for historically significant (but nonetheless unexpected) bumps and tumbles! Woodhenge, less than four miles from Stonehenge, is an odd sight at first glance. However, once you understand what you’re looking at, it becomes much more impressive. It’s thought that this was once a large burial mound with a complex system of banks and ditches (now eradicated through ploughing). Thousands of years ago, six concentric rings of wooden posts may have supported an enormous building. Today, the position of these posts are marked with stumps. It’s an atmospheric and very interesting place! A short walk away from Woodhenge is Durrington Walls – a recently discovered monument which in its heyday would have dwarfed Stonehenge. The ‘Walls’ were formed by lines of enormous stones, which could possibly have formed a processional way leading to Stonehenge itself. There’s not masses to see there now, but it’s still a lovely area! West of Woodhenge is the Cuckoo Stone – a sarsen boulder lying on its side. It was once a standing stone, the origins of which remain a matter of debate. It’s an enigmatic piece of history in a very atmospheric location.

Salisbury – Old Sarum, Salisbury Museum

Old Sarum is a wonderful visit for anyone with an interest in history. It’s the site of Salisbury’s oldest settlement – a hilltop fort commanding absolutely incredible views over Wiltshire. There’s an iron age hillfort to walk around, the remains of a castle to admire, and an absolutely breathtaking panorama which will give the camera-happy everything they could ever dream of. There are also plenty of events put on by English Heritage throughout the year, giving people the opportunity to really step back in time! Down in Salisbury itself, the Salisbury Museum is packed full of fascinating finds from all over the county. It’s a well laid-out and beautifully explained museum, with some truly intriguing exhibits. You can find it just opposite Salisbury Cathedral – which it itself a beautiful and interesting building.

A Short Drive Away – Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill

A 40 minute or so drive from Stonehenge is Avebury. Managed by the National Trust, this ancient stone circle sits in a Neolithic landscape incorporating avenues of standing stones, a henge, and an enormous stone circle in which a village was once situated. The stone circle itself is the largest in the world, and contains two smaller circles. A short walk away is West Kennet long barrow, which can be entered by those who are neither claustrophobic nor fearful of our long-dead ancestors! Then, of course, there are the round barrows with which the landscape is littered, and the curious structure of Silbury Hill. Silbury Hill is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe, and would have taken similar effort to construct as its contemporary pyramids in Egypt. It was clearly important to those who built it – although, unlike most barrows of its kind, it contains no burial. Its purposes remain perplexing, but its presence is both beautiful and fascinating! Anyone with an interest in Stonehenge and its ilk, particularly those who enjoy the mystery of the structure, will find much to whet their appetites at Avebury and Silbury!

There are Stonehenge tour companies who operate guided tours of the area and the Visit Wiltshire webiste lists the best ones.  If you want to explore the Stonehenge landscape with a local expert then we recommend ‘The Stonehenge Travel Company

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