Quest for the Missing Dead
In Part III we saw how the results of early analysis of the human remains recovered from Aubrey Hole 7 had permitted a provisional new Stonehenge sequence to be proposed. But Stonehenge is not the only megalithic site that has been robbed of its spiritual soul.
The Empty Long Barrows
We started the hot Somerset day with a trip to Wells Cathedral. The first church was established here in 705 AD and although the current buildings have undergone much restoration in recent times the first Cathedral was built between 1175 and 1490 AD. Ecclesiastical buildings dominate much of the town with the stunning west front of the Cathedral and its 300 medieval statues an inspirational sight. Around the time of the Cathedral's construction the 'Perlesvaus' or 'The High History of the Holy Graal' was composed by an anonymous author early in the 13th Century, originally written in Old French as a continuation of Chretien De Troyes' unfinished work 'Perceval, or the Knight of the Grail'. The mystical 'Perlesvaus' draws on archaic Celtic legend and some of the geographical references in the text are accurately reflected in the Somerset landscape which has led some commentators to argue that Perlesvaus, or at least its prototype, must have been composed at Glastonbury. This argument is encouraged by the fact that a fragment of the Perlesvaus manuscript was found at Wells Cathedral. The mysteries of the Grail will have to wait for another day for today we were bound for a much older and grander cathedral.
Sixteen miles and thirty minutes later we arrived at Stanton Drew. We dropped our pound coins into the honesty box at the gate, and from the car park at the end of a cul-de-sac walked down a short track and emerged at a field behind a farm. The size of the main circle immediately impresses and the fact that several of the massive stones are now recumbent is somewhat reminiscent of Arbor Low in the Peak District where the stones appear to fallen or had been purposefully pushed over.
Stanton Drew consists of three circles, the largest known as 'The Great Circle' of which 27 out of 30 stones survive, around 112m (367.5 ft) diameter, making it second only in size to Avebury and like its big sister, it was approached by megalithic avenues linking the smaller circles, North-east and South-west circles, 29.6m (97ft) and 42m (148ft) diameters respectively. The complex is completed by 'Hauteville's Quoit' to the north and the 'Cove' beyond the South-western circle behind the church in the garden of the village pub, the Druid's Arms. An enormous henge ditch 135m (443ft) diameter and 7m (23ft) wide once enclosed the Great Circle with an opening aligned to the North-east and the mid-summer sunrise.
Geophysical surveys in 1997 and 2009 have shown the remnants of a significant megalithic complex at Stanton Drew. Within the enclosure of the Great Circle a highly elaborate pattern of buried pits was found arranged in nine concentric rings of varying diameter from about 23m (78ft) to 95m (311ft).These pits are thought to have held hundreds of massive oak pillars, about a metre in diameter. The ring patterns are very similar to those found at Woodhenge, and the Sanctuary, near Avebury. Stanton Drew has not been excavated and still holds many of its secrets.
Stoney Littleton Long Barrow was only about another 15 miles away at Wellow so shouldn't take long to reach. Famous last words! We must have spent what seemed like hours driving around and up and down through the Somerset countryside around Wellow but no sight of the barrow. Having finally given up and decided to call it a day and head back we suddenly caught a brief glimpse of the corner of a sign to the barrow just sticking out of the vegetation at the side of the road. After descending down a long, single track emerging from under arched trees we came to a small car park opposite a house signed to the barrow. Crossing the stream we headed up hill to the left, overlooking the valley of the Wellow Brook. Walking along side a hedge on the hillside still with no sight of the barrow. Then we came to a signpost indicating the barrow was to the right. After crossing this stile to the right it suddenly came into view. And what a sight! After all that effort to find this place the sight of the barrow perched atop this hill was some reward.
In surprisingly good condition perhaps due it being off the beaten track and the difficulty in finding it but also due to the partial restoration in 1858 and again in the 1990's, the barrow is about 30m (98ft) long, 15m (49ft) broad and nearly 3m (9.8ft) high, the entrance is marked by the distinctive large fossilised ammonite on the left (western) door jamb. The internal chamber, reopened to the public in 2000, includes a transepted gallery grave associated with three pairs of side chambers and an end chamber. The gallery extends for about 16m (52ft) and just over a metre (3.3ft) in height, so don't bang your head like I did. This barrow has been in State care since 1884 and is one of the better known and most striking examples of a collection of long barrows referred to as the Cotswold-Severn group.
The first recorded opening was in about 1760 when a local farmer forced his way into the gallery through the roof to obtain stone for road mending, and for some time afterwards the site remained accessible to local people who entered it and removed human bones. The first recorded archaeological exploration was in 1816 by a party led by Reverend John Skinner and Sir Richard Colt Hoare. After gaining entry through the hole made in 1760, they recorded finds of various human bones in “a confused heap of bones” in the chambers. Skinner’s Journal record of the excavation of 24/25 May 1816, revealed a week later that men from the local colliery broke through the closing slab, entered the barrow, and helped themselves to some of the bones and anything else which appealed to them. Two crania from the barrow are now on display in the City Museum, Bristol. 
Much interest has been generated recently by the appearance of a crop circle in the field next to the barrow in June 2010; we were here in early July and failed to notice it, but then again we were preoccupied with the barrow.
The gallery is said to be orientated toward the mid-winter sunrise and must be a striking sight as the soft morning sunlight flows down the gallery and caresses the end chamber. However, due to the elevated position, the sunrise does not penetrate the barrow until it is fully above the horizon a couple of hours after the dawn sunrise. The setting of the barrow, high on the hillside above the Wellow Brook, must be a spectacular sight on a moonlight night. Inevitably you are drawn into this barrow. I was apprehensive at first, after all this was an ancient tomb, but before you know it you're crawling on hands and knees down the gallery, banging your head as you go, compelled to reach the far end and look back at the light shining in. On reaching the end chamber I didn't feel as though I had caused any violation; on the contrary although the barrow was very atmospheric it felt welcoming. But I don't think I would want to be in here at midnight. Then it dawns on you as you look into the empty chambers that these once contained the remains of ancestors loved and cherished by their families. Stoney Littleton was empty.
A couple days later and we left the Somerset cider country and made our way across to Wiltshire and West Kennet Long Barrow on the south side of the A4 opposite the enigmatic mound of Silbury Hill. We parked at the English Heritage car park by Avebury and walked alongside the Winterbourne brook toward Silbury. As we approached the huge mound of Silbury the long barrow came into view on the horizon, reminiscent of the hillside setting of Stoney Littleton. We crossed the busy road and headed up the track from the layby uphill to the barrow.
West Kennet barrow is another 'transepted gallery grave' of the Cotswold-Severn group with burial chambers at the eastern end of a 90m (300ft) long mound. A facade of large upright stones leads through a small courtyard to the main gallery from which four chambers, two on either side, open off from the gallery with a final chamber at the west end.
Radiocarbon dating indicates that the West Kennet Long Barrow was used as a burial ground from about 3700-3500 BC to 2200-2000 BC. It seems to have been constructed in two different stages: the earthen long barrow section, which dates from the earlier Neolithic and then the stone passage and chambers added during the later Neolithic period.
The antiquarian John Aubrey included a sketch of the barrow in his unpublished Monumenta Britannica, c.1665. Around this time, the barrow had been looted by a local doctor for the purposes of making a medical concoction. A certain Dr. Toope wrote to Aubrey in 1685 and said that with the aid of some workmen he had obtained many "bushels" of bones from the barrow, "of which I made a noble medicine that relieved many of my distressed neighbors."
William Stukeley illustrated the systematic destruction of the Avebury megaliths in 1724 and no doubt during this period of devastation it is likely that further intrusions were made and human remains removed from the West Kennet tomb. In 1859, Dr. Thurnam excavated four and a half metres into the west burial chamber in a search for ancient skeletons for his publication, Crania Britannica (1865). He removed all the bones he found in the west chamber totalling six individuals, predominantly adult males but including an infant's skull.
The Ancient Monuments Act 1882 finally put an end to the wanton destruction of these megalithic sites around Avebury but failed to stop the archaeologist's trowel. Stuart Piggott and Richard Atkinson carried out the most recent excavations of the West Kennet Long Barrow in 1955-56. These excavations revealed the previously undiscovered four side-chambers of the tomb, which were found pretty much the way they were left around 4000 years ago containing the remains of about forty individuals, with fewer skulls than bodies, interred in social groups: the northeast and northwest chambers mixed adults; the southeast the elderly and the southwest chamber for children. 
Used as a burial ground for over a thousand years, recorded excavations of the chambers of West Kennet Long Barrow has yielded the remains of about 46 individuals. And unknown quantities removed during the last few hundred years.
From West Kennet Long Barrow there is a fantastic view of Silbury Hill, were no human remains of any kind have been discovered to date, they even look as though they were constructed at the same height. Oddly some long barrows such as those at South Street and Beckhampton Road in Avebury have been found not to contain any human remains at all. Nearby on private land is East Kennet long barrow with no recorded excavations, where perhaps the ancestors still rest in peace.
Like Stoney Littleton long barrow, West Kennet is now empty: violated by mankind for centuries, the spirits had long fled this place.
Next Part V: The Destruction of the Sanctuary
1. L V Grinsell, Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Department of the Environment Guide Book 1982
2. A summary of the finds made from excavations at Long Barrow in West Kennett Wiltshire.
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