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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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)

loop2

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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The Knotty Problem of the A303 and Stonehenge.

16 03 2017

For over 30 years people have been trying to come up with a solution to the problem of the A303 road that runs past Stonehenge. It’s a stretch of single carriageway road with a dual carriageway at either end. As a result it’s a traffic bottleneck, especially during holiday season, and people slow down to take a picture of Stonehenge as they drive by.

A number of options have been proposed – from upgrading the single carriageway road into a dual carriageway on the existing route, to a tunnel to hide an upgraded road from view. Tunnels have been suggested that range in length from 2km to 4.5km constructed either as “cut and cover” or “bored”.

Over 50 alternate routes – some that take the road entirely out of the World Heritage Site – have been put forward, so many that the map showing them all is called the Spaghetti Diagram.

A303routes
Most recently, a 2.9km long bored tunnel has been proposed which would run about 200m south of the existing A303. The tunnel would be below the archaeological layer, well away from Stonehenge itself and remove the view, noise and fumes of traffic from the immediate vicinity of the monument.

You’d think everyone would be delighted. They’re not.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) runs from the A345 road in the east to the A360 road in the west, a distance of 5.4km. A tunnel of 2.9km clearly isn’t long enough to span its entire width, and this means that the tunnel portals must be dug into the ground within the WHS itself.

On top of that, new lengths of road and new junctions must also be built within the WHS – at the western and eastern end of the tunnel – to link up with the existing roads.

When the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS was inscribed in 1986 they were recognised as Cultural Sites. At the time, there was no designation of “Cultural Landscape” but the inscription said:

Criterion (iii): The complexes of monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury provide an exceptional insight into the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Together with their settings and associated sites, they form landscapes without parallel.

The proposal to destroy large areas of the Stonehenge landscape with new roads and tunnel portals is what has upset a lot of people.

The Stonehenge Alliance is a group that represents the views of a number of organisations, their view is that the tunnel is too short and would cause “irreparable damage to the WHS”.

SA Leaflet

ICOMOS is an important heritage advisory group to UNESCO and it firmly objects to the current option for a 2.9km tunnel for the substantial negative and irreversible impact it would have on the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage site (WHS) of Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated sites.”

A group of 21 leading archaeologists who have worked in the Stonehenge landscape over decades says that the proposal has dreadful consequences for the world’s most famous archaeological site and its landscape setting.

The list of objecting organisations goes on and on – the Council for British Archaeology, the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, the Prehistoric Society, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Society of Antiquaries, the International Astronomical Union Commission on Heritage and Astronomy….

The National Trust, English Heritage and Historic England have also expressed very strong concerns over the positioning of the western portal and its approach road.

Historic England said The current location is very close to the Normanton Down barrow cemetery, one of the best preserved and most significant Neolithic and Bronze Age cemeteries in the UK. The portal would certainly have a significant adverse impact upon the setting of this barrow group and upon the OUV of the WHS.

The National Trust’s chief archaeologist for the WHS says, in an appendix to the Historic England report, The western portal is very close to the Normanton Down Barrow Group while both surface routes have adverse visual and aural impacts on the surrounding Winterbourne Stoke, Normanton Down, Lake and Diamond Groups (nearly a quarter of the identified key attribute groups).

The proposal actually places the western tunnel portal directly on the Winter Solstice Sunset line as seen from Stonehenge, and the new road leading away from it runs along this alignment.

Western Portal Trenching SMR Montage

Astronomers have viewed this idea as absolutely crazy.

Prof. Clive Ruggles, a leading archaeoastronomer and key figure in the interpretation of astronomical sightlines of ancient monuments across the world says there are serious concerns that the integrity of the SW sightline from Stonehenge could be permanently destroyed, eliminating forever the possibility of visitors to Stonehenge once again seeing the winter solstice sun setting behind the distant natural horizon along the axis of the monument.

The public consultation for the initial route proposals finished on the 5th March 2017. Highways England now have several months of work ahead of them to refine their proposal to take into account the more than 7,000 submissions they’ve received so far.

Local residents, holidaymakers and hauliers have suffered traffic problems along the A303 for over 30 years, so a solution that speeds up traffic is desperately sought by Government.

What’s crucial to bear in mind is that whatever solution is implemented, unless a route entirely outside the WHS is found, it will have a permanent impact on the setting of one of the most important landscapes in the world, and that we all have a responsibility to the future not to make a terrible mistake.

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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2017 Stonehenge Opening Hours, Entry Prices and Tickets.

2 01 2017

Stonehenge Opening Times and Entrance Prices.
English Heritage advise to expect a visit to last around two hours. Please see the table below for opening times for 2017/18, with some seasonal variability, and entrance prices for adults, children, families, seniors and groups.

visitor-centre2

The Stonehenge Exhibition and Visitor Centre

There is 10% discount for groups of 11 or more visitors paying together plus a free place for every additional 20 paying passengers. Free entry for coach driver and tour leader.

If you come by car you will park in the car park outside the visitor centre. It is free for people purchasing tickets to enter Stonehenge, there is a charge if you are not. Tour buses have their own separate coach park.

All Members of English Heritage or National Trust must show a valid membership card on arrival to be granted free parking and site access.

To enter the Stonehenge Exhibition at the Visitor Centre you need a full ticket to Stonehenge, anyone can access the café, gift shop and toilets though, for free.

Very Important!  Book Your Stonehenge Tickets in Advance 
To be assured of entering Stonehenge the best way is to reserve timed tickets in advance on the English Heritage web site or if you need more flexibility and without the time constraint you can purchase discount advance Stonehenge tickets here

Tickets to Stonehenge are booked by half hour time slot, the website showing you how many tickets are still available for your chosen date and time.

Note: you cannot reserve tickets on-line on the day of your visit, you must reserve before midnight latest on the day before. Only a very small number of tickets are held back each day for walk-up visitors.

Note: the last admission time is two hours before closing time of Stonehenge. Closing times are variable according to month of the year (see below)

Stonehenge Admission & Opening From 1st January 2017 – October 2017

Admission

Opening Times

Adult

£15.50

16 Mar – 31 May

09.30 – 19:00

Child (5-15)

£9.30

1 Jun – 31 Aug

09.00 – 20:00

Students/Seniors *

£13.90

1 Sep – 15 Oct

09.30 – 19:00

Family Ticket †

£40.30

16 Oct – 15 Mar

09.30 – 17:00

Last entry 2 hours before closing
Members of the National Trust & English Heritage enter free
Prices are valid until 31st March 2017* 16-18 yr olds + seniors 60+† 2 Adults and 3 Children

~ Closed 24th to 26th December

2017 STONEHENGE OPENING TIMES

1st JANUARY 2017– 31st MARCH 2017

Monday 9:30 – 17:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 17:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 17:00
Thursday 9:30 – 17:00
Friday 9:30 – 17:00
Saturday 9:30 – 17:00
Sunday 9:30 – 17:00

1st APRIL 2017 – 31st MAY 2017

Monday 9:30 – 19:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 19:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 19:00
Thursday 9:30 – 19:00
Friday 9:30 – 19:00
Saturday 9:30 – 19:00
Sunday 9:30 – 19:00

1st JUNE 2017 – 31st AUGUST 2017

Monday 9:00 – 20:00
Tuesday 9:00 – 20:00
Wednesday 9:00 – 20:00
Thursday 9:00 – 20:00
Friday 9:00 – 20:00
Saturday 9:00 – 20:00
Sunday 9:00 – 20:00

1st OCTOBER 2017 – 15th OCTOBER 2017

Monday 9:30 – 19:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 19:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 19:00
Thursday 9:30 – 19:00
Friday 9:30 – 19:00
Saturday 9:30 – 19:00
Sunday 9:30 – 19:00

16th OCTOBER 2017 ONWARDS
Opening times will be available nearer the time

For more information please visit the official English Heritage website

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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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Dynamic Diversity – the nature of working on a prehistoric archaeological site. #DurringtonDig

10 08 2016

The team has been digging for 8 days and ideas are continually evolving and being re-evaluated. What is exciting about this excavation is that no matter what day you visit or read the blog, you will hear something different from the previous day – and tomorrow will likely be different from today.

Theories, which can develop in tandem, are either abandoned, held on to, proved or disproved, or sit in the background quietly in wait. There are many specialists and highly experienced archaeologists on site who are all sharing and debating their ideas with each other – and if you’re lucky you may have caught them on site in deep discussion.

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Three different areas under excavation – different ideas for each one

Read the full story on the National Trust blog

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