Ancient Wessex News and Information
Ancient Wessex News and Information

West Kennet Long Barrow

The West Kennet Long Barrow is a Neolithic tomb or barrow, situated on a chalk hill in farmland, near Silbury Hill, near Avebury in Wiltshire, England. At 328 ft (100 m) long, West Kennet Long Barrow is the second-longest barrow in Britain. (East Kennet Barrow being longer.)

The construction of the barrow is said to have commenced about around 3650 BC, some 400 years before the first stage of Stonehenge. It was used for a short time as a burial chamber, 30-50 people were buried before the chambers were blocked. You can enter the barrow which is made of sarsen stones and chalk rubble. The main entrance is in the east, with a central passage leading 18 metres to 5 small burial chambers, 2 on each side and one at the end. It appears that bodies were buried in social groups: the west chamber was mainly for adult males; the northeast and northwest chambers for mixed adults; the southeast for the old and the southwest chamber for children. Only one skeleton was found complete. The stone burial chambers begin at one end and extend only 40 ft (12 m) into the barrow. The rest of the barrow is composed of sarsen boulders and chalk, quarried from two parallel ditches that run along each side of the mound. The ditches are now mostly filled in, but were originally 12 ft (3-4 m) deep.

Archaeologists think that the barrow was built in two phases.

Radiocarbon dating indicates that the West Kennet Long Barrow was used as a burial ground for over a thousand years, from about 3700-3500 BCto 2200-2000 BC. The tombs contained grave goods of various kinds, including pottery of various kinds (fragments of 250 different vessels were found), beads made of bone, stone and shells, flint tools, and animal bones. The pottery spans a long range of time, from the Earlier to Late Neolithic periods.

The history of the West Kennet Long Barrow begins with the antiquarian John Aubrey, who also excavated the Avebury circle. He included a sketch of the barrow in his unpublished Monumenta Britannica (c1665). William Stukeley, made more accurate drawings of the barrow in 1720-24, showing the ditch and stones.

You can park at a lay-by along the A4 that is signposted for West Kennet Long Barrow. It is on the right side as you head east on the A4 from Avebury. From the lay-by on the A4, the barrow itself is reached by a 1/2-mile long uphill footpath. West Kennet Long Barrow can be reached on foot from Avebury (about 1.5 miles) or Silbury Hill (1 mile). West Kennett, Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 1QH

There is a holy well at the base of the hill, called Swallowhead Springs, which is one of the sources of the River Kennet. To reach the well, follow the line of the fence west at the foot of the hill. A faint trail follows the fence and ends at a copse of trees, and the well is in the centre of the copse.

West Kennet Long Barrow
West Dennet Long Barrow (From 3700 BC); Public Domain

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