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Historic England Research Records

West Kennet Long Barrow

Hob Uid: 220853
Location :
Wiltshire
Avebury
Grid Ref : SU1046067740
Summary : West Kennet Long Barrow is a Neolithic chambered burial mound situated just below the crest of a north east facing slope overlooking Silbury Hill. Recent radiocarbon studies have dated it to the 37th century cal BC and it was in use for at least a thousand years. The mound is trapezoidal in plan and measures about 104 metres in length, 25 metres at the widest point and 3.2 metres at the highest point. The forecourt is situated at the eastern end of the mound. Beyond this is the entrance into the mound, which leads to a 12 metre central passage with five small sub-circular chambers opening off it; a pair to each side and an end chamber. The chambers vary in size from 2 to 4 metres across with a maximum height of 2.5 metres. The long barrow was excavated in 1859 by J. Thurnam and in 1955-6 by S. Piggott, which included re-erection of many of the stones. The chambers of the long barrow were constructed of large sarsen boulders with drystone walling and contained the remains of at least 46 individuals including both inhumations and cremations. Many of the burials were incomplete - some bones were missing, while others had been grouped together in particular parts of the barrow. For example long bones and a quantity of vertebrae had been placed by the rear wall of the north west chamber. Pottery from the excavations included Windmill Hill type, Peterborough, Grooved Ware and Beaker sherds. The mound consisted of a core of sarsen boulders capped with chalk rubble cleared from flanking quarry ditches. These ditches, about 100 metres long and 5 metres wide, are now infilled but remain visible as earthworks. Final 'blocking' of the burial mound took the form of chalk rubble and other debris (including pottery, animal bone, flint implements and other objects) which was used to infill the passage and chambers. The forecourt at the eastern end was blocked with sarsen boulders and a 'false entrance' of twin sarsen uprights constructed.
More information : (SU 10466774) West Kennet Long Barrow (NR) (1)

Avebury 22 (see attached pamphlet). (2-3)

As described. The 104.0 metre long 3.2 metre high mound which shows much damage from previous excavations is now well preserved. There are no traces of the side ditches.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

The accepted name of the tumulus is West Kennet Long Barrow.
(a) (4)

A stone chambered long barrow aligned roughly W-E. Excavated in 1859 (5-6) and 1955-6 (6). Internal features consist of a central passage with a pair of lateral chambers on each side and a single end (ie west) chamber. These were all constructed of large sarsen boulders with drystone walling. The chambers and passage were roofed with large sarsen capstones. The mound consisted of a core of sarsen
boulders capped with chalk rubble cleared from flanking quarry ditches. The chambers contained the remains of a minimum of 46 individuals and included both inhumations and cremations. Most burials were incomplete - some bones were missing, while others had been grouped together in particular parts of the barrow, eg long bones and a quantity of vertebrae had been placed by the rear wall of the NW chamber. Pottery from the 1955-6 excavations is described
as featuring Windmill Hill and similar wares in primary contexts, with later material including Peterborough, Grooved Ware and Beaker sherds from later deposits. The pottery from Thurnham's excavations in 1859 was published by Cunnington (7). Some of this material found its way to the Royal Society of South Wales, Swansea, Museum (ref no. A.907.1) (8). The majority of finds from Piggott's excavations are in Devizes Museum. (6)

Final 'blocking' of the tomb took the form of chalk rubble and other debris (including pottery, animal bone, flint implements and other objects) which was used to infill the passage and chambers. The forecourt at the eastern end was blocked with sarsen boulders and a 'False entrance' of twin sarsen uprights constructed. Finally, three massive sarsen blocking stones were erected, across the front (eastern end) of the tomb. Piggot (6) suggests final closure occurred during the early 2nd millennium bc, with the tomb having been in use for up to 1000 years. The 1955-6 excavations ended with
re-erection of most fallen stones.

Radiocarbon dates obtained from human bone from the tomb range from 4825 +/- 90 bp to 4700 +/- 90 bp. These dates are discussed by Piggott and Atkinson (9) in terms of their context and implications for the length of time between construction and blocking. (5-9)

Additional references, mostly general discussion concerning Neolithic funerary monuments. (10-16)

An RCHME 1:2500 scale, level 3 air photographic interpretation project (Event UID 936869) was carried out on this monument in January 1992. The feature remains an extant earthwork and no changes were made to the record. The archive created by this project (Collection UID 936807) is held by RCHME. (17)

West Kennet long barrow was surveyed by staff of the RCHME Salisbury Office at the request of English Heritage in order to complement a geophysical survey. The monument is 100m in length, trapezoidal in shape, and orientated E-W, the broader E end containing the burial chambers. The mound is accompanied by a pair of side ditches, now almost obliterated by ploughing. The RCHME survey suggests that the long barrow is of at least two constructional phases since there is a noticeable bulge halfway along the longitudinal axis. This is also accompanied by a subtle change in the direction of the mound.

The complex sarsen and chalk structure at the eastern end consists of five sub-circular burial chambers opening onto an internal axial passageway. The mouth of the tomb is lined to the north and south by a semicircular facade of sarsen and limestone walling. (18)

The phasing and function of the West kennet long barrow have been reconsidered and reinterpreted by Thomas and Whittle. (19)

West Kennet long barrow is a Neolithic chambered burial mound situated just below the crest of a north east facing slope with views towards Silbury Hill about one kilometre to the north west. The mound is trapezoidal in plan and measures about 104 metres in length, 25 metres at the widest point and 3.2 metres at the highest point. The forecourt is situated at the eastern end of the mound. Beyond this is the entrance into the mound, which leads to a 12 metre central passage with five chambers. The chambers vary in size from 2 to 4 metres across with a maximum height of 2.5 metres. (21)

It is believed to have been built in around 3400 BC and used for at least a thousand years. (22)

A magnetometer survey was carried out on land around West Kennet long barrow. The survey identified the barrow ditches, some possible pits in dispersed groups to the east of the mound, and a large anomaly c. 45m to the south. However, the relationship of these features to the barrow remains uncertain. (23)

31 radiocarbon results from the West Kennet long barrow are presented within an interpretive Bayesian statistical framework in this report. Two alternative archaeological interpretations of the sequence have been provided, each with their own Bayesian model.
The authors' preferred interpretation describes the barrow as a unitary construction with a later series of human remains deposits in the chambers. Primary deposition in the chambers is followed by additional secondary deposition of some human remains and layers of earth and chalk. The latest identifiable finds from these layers are sherds of Beaker pottery. The Bayesian model for this sequence dates the construction of the long barrow (from the primary mortuary deposits) to 3670-3635 cal. BC, probably in the middle decades of the thirty-seventh century cal. BC. The last interments of this initial phase of use of the chambers probably occurred in 3640-3610 cal. BC. This suggests that the primary mortuary activity probably continued for only ten to thirty years. There was a break for more than a century and then the chambers were infilled from 3620-3240 cal. BC and continued into the second half of the third millennium cal. BC.
The alternative interpretation, takes into consideration that not all the deceased, dated from the primary mortuary deposits, were buried in the barrow in a fleshed or partially articulated condition - i.e. they could have died before the barrow was built. The Bayesian model for this interpretation, dates the barrow to either the thirty-seventh century cal. BC or the mid-thirty-sixth century cal. BC. This model is however unstable.
The source also contains a discussion of these results within the setting of the local region. (24)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1961
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source : A history of Wiltshire: volume 1, part 1
Source details : L Grinsell: Archaeological Gazetteer
Page(s) : 137
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 10
Source : The Neolithic cultures of the British Isles : a study of the stone-using agricultural communities of Britain in the second millennium B.C.
Source details :
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1954
Source Number : 11
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Powell, TGE et al. 1969. Megalithic Enquiries in the West of Britain
Page(s) :
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Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 12
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Ashbee, P. 1970. The Earthen Long Barrow in Britain
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 13
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Darvill, T. 1982. Megalithic Tombs of the Cotswold-Severn Region (Vorda)
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Source Number : 14
Source : The Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine
Source details : Barker, CT. The Long Mounds of the Avebury Region (pp7-34)
Page(s) : 08-Oct
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 79, 1985
Source Number : 15
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Joussaume, R. 1988. Dolmens For the Dead (Batsford, London).
Page(s) : 60-62
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 16
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Kinnes, I. 1992. Non-Megalithic Long Barrows and Allied Structures (British Museum Occasional Paper)
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Source Number : 17
Source : RCHME/EH/HE Aerial Photographers comment
Source details : Simon Crutchley/03-JAN-1992/RCHME: West Kennett - East Kennett Project
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Source Number : 18
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : RCHME Field Investigation May 1992 (DS McOmish)
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Source Number : 19
Source : Oxford journal of archaeology
Source details : Thomas, J and A Whittle. Anatomy of a Tomb - West Kennet Revisited
Page(s) : 129-156
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 5, 1986
Source Number : 3
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : S Piggott (1963) Ministry of Public Buildings and Works Guide: West Kennett Long Barrow
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Source Number : 20
Source : The English Heritage visitors' handbook 1998-99
Source details :
Page(s) : 100
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Source Number : 21
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details :
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Source Number : 22
Source : English Heritage Members' and Visitors' handbook 2008/9
Source details :
Page(s) : 121
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Source Number : 23
Source : The West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire: Report on Geophysical Survey
Source details :
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Source Number : 24
Source : Cambridge Archaeological Journal
Source details : Talking about my generation: the date of the West Kennet long barrow by Alex Bayliss, Alasdair Whittle, Michael Wysocki
Page(s) : 85 - 101
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 17 2007
Source Number :
Source : RCHME: West Kennet Long Barrow, Northamptonshire
Source details :
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Source : SU 16 NW 59 (West Kennett Long Barrow) (1974)
Source details :
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Source : West Kennet long barrow/pencil survey
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Source : West Kennet long barrow
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Source : West Kennet long barrow/ink survey
Source details :
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Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 MJF 17-JUN-74
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Source Number : 4a
Source : Externally held archive reference
Source details : Dept Of Environment Plaques
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Source Number : 5
Source : Archaeologia : or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity
Source details : J Thurnham
Page(s) : 404-421
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 38, 1861
Source Number : 6
Source : The West Kennet long barrow : excavations 1955-56
Source details :
Page(s) :
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Plates :
Vol(s) : no.4
Source Number : 7
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Cunnington, M. 1927. The Pottery from the Long Barrow at West Kennet
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 8
Source : The Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine
Source details : Barker, CT. Ben and Maud Cunnington: The Gower Collection
Page(s) : 232-4
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 80, 1986
Source Number : 9
Source : Antiquity
Source details : Gowlett, JA et al. The Date of West Kennet Long Barrow
Page(s) : 143-4
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 60, 1986

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Neolithic
Display Date : Built in around 3400 BC
Monument End Date : -3400
Monument Start Date : -3400
Monument Type : Chambered Long Barrow, Inhumation
Evidence : Earthwork, Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Early Bronze Age
Display Date : Early Bronze Age finds
Monument End Date : -1600
Monument Start Date : -2600
Monument Type : Findspot
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit

Components and Objects:
Period : Neolithic
Component Monument Type : Chambered Long Barrow, Inhumation
Object Type : CREMATION, ANIMAL REMAINS, VESSEL
Object Material : Pottery
Period : Early Bronze Age
Component Monument Type : Findspot
Object Type : VESSEL
Object Material : Pottery

Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : WI 3
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Guardianship Number
External Cross Reference Number : 39
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 327
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Wiltshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 100
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Wiltshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 100/158
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Wiltshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 100/158/323
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 21708
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : NBR Index Number
External Cross Reference Number : AF0932375
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SU 16 NW 59
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 220746
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 220868
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1090381
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1090390
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1090405
Relationship type :

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: AVEBURY & ENVIRONS
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date :
End Date :
Associated Activities : Primary, WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1678-01-01
End Date : 1685-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, WEST KENNET LONG BARROW (GREENWELL UN 62)
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1859-01-01
End Date : 1859-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1955-01-01
End Date : 1956-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SU 16 NW 59
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1974-06-17
End Date : 1974-06-17
Associated Activities : Primary, WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1991-01-01
End Date : 1991-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: WEST KENNETT - EAST KENNETT PROJECT
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 1992-01-03
End Date : 1992-02-28
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: AVEBURY WORLD HERITAGE SITE PROJECT
Activity type : FIELD SURVEY
Start Date : 1997-08-01
End Date : 1998-12-01
Associated Activities : Primary, WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2001-01-01
End Date : 2001-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2015-01-01
End Date : 2015-12-31