Visit date: 10th March 2013
Weather: Clear but very cold.
The field trip started at Salisbury Museum in the morning, where we were shown a variety of artefacts dating from the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, including the Bronze Age hoard found near Tisbury in Wiltshire.
Grid Reference: SU 1508 4337
Woodhenge today presents as a series of concentric rings of concrete bollards, marking the previous positions of what have been interpreted as wooden posts of varying widths. The diameter of the henge is 85m, with a 6m wide ditch 2.4m deep. There is a narrow berm separating the bank and the ditch (NMR SU 14 SE 6).
(For an excellent Kite Aerial Photograph used in my original report, please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamishfenton/7482293720/ )
Noted by Colt Hoare as a burial monument, the site of Woodhenge was first recognised as something unusual when it appeared on aerial photography (Figure 3) (NMR SU 14 SE 6).
|Investigation type||Investigation Details|
|19th Century||Recorded||Colt Hoare records the site as a large disc barrow, and it is known as such until 1925 (NMR SU 14 SE 6).|
|1926||Reclassification||Aerial photography shows cropmark of Woodhenge (Figure 3)|
|1926-8||Excavation||Maud and Ben Cunnington first excavated the southern half of this monument, uncovering what they interpreted to be six concentric rings of posts, with an encircling ditch described as being ‘unexpectedly large’ (Cunnington 1927 :93).Near the centre of the monument, the burial of a child was found, with another burial located beneath the bottom of the ditch, in a grave cut into it. The burial was dated by the presence of a Beaker, crushed into fragments (Cunnington 1929:42). The Cunningtons also established that the raised area in the centre of the mound was the original level of the ground, and that the ground surface had been removed from the rest of the monument (Cunnington 1927 :95), perhaps as part of the preparation of the area.
Cunnington also found that the timbers were later replaced with a stone setting, of which she found two stone-holes (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Distinctive Grooved Ware pottery, similar to that found at Durrington Walls (see below) was found (Wainwright 1967 :169).
|1970||Excavation||Further excavations, by Geoff Wainright, providing dating evidence from material from the ditch, giving a determination of 1867 bc ±74 (BM-677) and 1805 bc ±54 (BM-678) (NMR SU 14 SE 6).|
|2004||Geophysical survey||This located the northern terminals of the henge ditch, representing the entranceway of the monument (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).|
|2005-6||Excavation||A re-excavation of Maud Cunnington’s work by the Stonehenge Riverside Project found a further three stone-holes, forming a ‘cove’ arrangement (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).|
Chronology and Current Interpretation
Environmental evidence from Wainwright’s excavations in 1970 showed that before the monument was constructed, the area was long-established grassland (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Nevertheless, under the bank was found a tree-throw pit, into which was deposited Carinated Bowl pottery, dating to the early Neolithic, about 4000-3800 BC (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).
As discovered by Cunnington, the timber circle was eventually replaced with a stone ‘cove’ arrangement, and later excavations showed that this had multiple phases: the first being an arc of small stones facing west, which was then replaced by two larger stones (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Finds of Romano-British pottery above the ditch were interpreted by Cunnington to mean that the site was first cultivated in this period (Wilts SMR SU14SE319).
Pollard (1995) argues that the pattern of artefacts discovered at the various excavations is evidence for structured deposition at the monument, with deposits in the pre-monument pits and also deposits in the ditch occurring almost as soon as it had been constructed. The spatial arrangement of the deposits would also appear to be of significance (as shown in Figure 8) with different offerings in different sectors of the monument. Pollard suggests that the area that later was used for the monument already held significance and the monument was a formalisation of this.
The burials are interpreted as being a secondary usage of the monument, rather than its focus (Barrett 1994 :65). Instead there is a suggestion that the alignment of the entrance shares an axis with Stonehenge, but also aligns with a latterly-blocked entrance at nearby Durrington Walls, suggesting a relationship between the two monuments (Pearson et al. 2006 :234).
Grid Reference: SU 1503 4373 (centre)
Durrington Walls is a large Class II henge (had two opposing entrances) by the side of the River Avon in the parish of Durrington, Wiltshire. It has been considerably damaged by plough action, and the buildup of soil from ploughing obscures some of what is left (Wainwright 1967).
Figure 6: Durrington Walls, plan of henge. Source: Wainwright 1967: Place XXVI
|Year||Investigation type||Investigation Details|
|1812||Recorded||Recorded by Colt Hoare (Wainwright 1967)|
|1918||Account published||As a result of a drainage trench being cut through the monument, Mr Farrer published an account of what could be seen of the bank, demonstrating that it was mostly obscured by a lynchet. Pottery identified by Maud Cunnington as part of a Beaker was found on an old land surface below the bank, along with burnt bone, flint and charcoal (Wainwright 1967).|
|1966-1968||Excavation||Work ahead of the construction of the A345 road unearthed two circular timber multiphase structures, with associated finds of grooved ware. These are known as the North and South Circles, with the South Circle having at least two phases (Figure 7). Dating evidence dates of 2050 ±90 to 180±148 bc (Wilts SMR SU14SE100)|
|2005-2006||Excavation||The Stonehenge Riverside Project carried out excavations at Durrington Walls, and re-excavated the South Circle and areas within and without the bank of the henge. They discovered the Durrington Avenue, leading from the henge down to the River Avon, and also what have been interpreted as the remains of Neolithic houses, post-dated by pits containing Grooved Ware dated to 2500-2400BC (Mike Parker Pearson et al. 2006).|
Chronology and Current Interpretation
The excavations in 2005 produced evidence of middens below the bank, interpreted as being evidence for gatherings and occupation at the site before the henge itself was constructed (Mike Parker Pearson et al. 2006). Structures interpreted as houses found beneath this midden layer were interpreted as being contemporary with each other and has been suggested as the possible settlement of the builders of Stonehenge (Pearson & Larsson 2007:140-2).
It is suggested by Parker Pearson et al. (2006) that Durrington walls was part of a landscape used to facilitate and commemorate passage from life to death: the living celebrate the recently-dead by feasting and by erecting a wooden post, perhaps for a kin group. The dead are given to the River Avon via the avenue that leads from Durrington Walls to the Avon, and make their spiritual transition down the River, to wend their way to the Stonehenge Avenue, and pass along this to the place of the eternal ancestors: Stonehenge. The idea of wooden structures as part of the world of the living, and stone being of permanence and ancestral dead is based in part on ethnographic work in Madagascar where this suggested structuralist duality was immediately recognisable to Ramilisonina as being part of the understanding of the world there (Michael Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998b; Michael Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998a).
The solsticial alignments of both Stonehenge and Durrington walls, being opposite, is given as additional evidence for the two monuments being part of a coherent ‘system’, with the journey to Stonehenge via the Avenue being aligned on the Midwinter Sunset, and the passage from the timber circle of Durrington Walls via the associated Avenue faces the Midsummer Sunrise (Parker Pearson et al. 2006 :239). They argue further that the association between death and midwinter, sunsets and general lack of light/darkness suggests that this point is the ideal point of the year for rituals involving death (Parker Pearson et al. 2006 :243). Whether this purported association between darkness and death is applicable to the Neolithic is difficult to assess, but arguably lends consistency to the overall theory regarding the oppositions of life:death, sunrise:sunset, to:from water.
Barrett, J.C., 1994. Fragments from Antiquity: Archaeology of Social Life in Britain, 2900-1200 BC, Wiley-Blackwell.
Cunnington, M.E., 1927. Prehistoric Timber Circles. Antiquity, 1(1), pp.92–95. Available at: http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/001/Ant0010092.htm [Accessed January 22, 2011].
Cunnington, M.E., 1929. Woodhenge. A description of the Site as revealed by Excavation carried out there by Mr & Mrs B. H. Cunnington, 1926-7-8, Devizes: George Simpson & Co., Devizes, Ltd.
Gibson, A.M., 2005. Stonehenge and Timber Circles 2Rev Ed ed., The History Press LTD.
Parker Pearson, Michael et al., 2006. Materializing Stonehenge: The Stonehenge Riverside Project and New Discoveries. Journal of Material Culture, 11(1-2), pp.227–261. Available at: http://mcu.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/1-2/227 [Accessed December 27, 2010].
Parker Pearson, Michael & Ramilisonina, 1998a. Stonehenge for the ancestors: part two. Antiquity, 72(278), pp.855–856. Available at: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/Ant/072/0855/Ant0720855.pdf [Accessed March 4, 2012].
Parker Pearson, Michael & Ramilisonina, 1998b. Stonehenge for the ancestors: the stones pass on the message. Antiquity, 72(276), pp.308–326. Available at: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/ant/072/Ant0720308.htm [Accessed November 5, 2010].
Parker Pearson, Mike et al., 2006. A New Avenue at Durrington Walls. PAST: the newsletter of the Prehistoric Society, 52, pp.1–2.
Pearson, M.P. & Larsson, M., 2007. The Stonehenge Riverside Project: excavations at the east entrance of Durrington Walls. In Matt Larsson & Mike Parker Pearson, eds. From Stonehenge to the Baltic : living with cultural diversity in the third millennium BC. Oxford: BAR international series. S1692, pp. 125–144.
Pollard, Joshua, 1995. Structured deposition at Woodhenge. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 61, pp.137–156.
Wainwright, G.J., 1967. The Excavation of the Henge Monument at Durrington Walls, Wiltshire, 1966. The Antiquaries Journal, 47(02), pp.167–184. Available at: http://www.journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0003581500013834.