West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire

A long barrow is one of several different types of burial mound used through pre-history, and generally consists of a long earthen mound containing a passage. The long barrow at West Kennet, which is located about 1.5 miles (2.4km) from Avebury Stone Circle, extends to some 330ft (100m), and is one of the largest, best-preserved Neolithic burial chambers in Britain.

West Kennet Long Barrow was constructed around a core of Sarsen stones and then covered in a layer of flint and chalk rubble, extracted from two flanking ditches that have now been backfilled. At the western end of the passage, there is a small semi-circular forecourt behind the massive upright stones, and this would have been an area for burial ceremonies when the tomb was in use. But once full, all chambers and passages were filled with earth and stones, and the entrance was blocked, signalling an important finality to the use of the ancestral tomb.

The mound lies on an East-West axis (similar to that of 'modern' churches), and opens out into five chambers at the eastern end of the passage. When identifying the bones found at West Kennet Long Barrow, it appears that each chamber was used for a different section of the community. For example, bones found in the west chamber were predominantly adult males, and those in the south-west were children.

This Neolithic tomb appears to have been sealed c2000BC, and was not entered again until 1859. During excavation in 1956, the various remains of some 46 individuals were found within the chambers, but the burials spanned a long period of time, suggesting that it may have been the tomb for several generations of one important family. A mass of grave goods were also discovered, including tools, beads and pottery fragments, spanning the same sort of period.

Now fully restored, West Kennet Long Barrow provides a fascinating insight into the culture of these early people, albeit a little mysterious. Walking into a grave could be viewed as a bit of a surreal experience, but it is a good way of learning about our prehistoric ancestors.

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