West Kennet Long Barrow

This is another Neolithic chambered tomb, near Avebury. It’s significantly bigger that most of them. High enough in the open bit to walk around in (as you’ll see below). It’s also one of the oldest tombs. Actually, the List of oldest known surviving buildings on Wikipedia has it as the second oldest building in the UK (after the Knap of Howar) and the oldest in England (and older than Stonehenge & the Egyptian pyramids and everything else you’ve heard of probably). Which I didn’t realise at the time because I went to Avebury for a day trip and bought booked train tickets so I’d have about 2-3 hours in the village and therefore wouldn’t want to walk out to look at the barrow. Right…

Anyway, the panel at the site says: The long barrow was built in about 3650 BC by an early farming community, people who had arrived from Continental Europe only a few generations before. For about 50 years, they placed their dead into the different chambers, grouping them according to age, sex and perhaps social or family group. As new people were placed in the chambers, older burials were disturbed and the bones re-arranged. Over the next 1,000 years people regularly returned the long barrow, filling the chambers with earth, ash, chalk rubble and sarsen stones. Mixed with this material were pottery sherds, flint tools, and the bones of both humans and animals. Perhaps the barrow became a shrine to the ancestors or to the land itself. In the early Bronze Age, three large stones were placed to block the entrance and finally seal off the chambers.

The barrow is at the top of a hill. (You can maybe just see it if you click to get the large picture.) (You did know you can get larger pictures by clicking?) It is very long, about one hundred metres. Too long for the camera once it become close enough to see properly.

Some cremations and the partial remains of at least forty-six individuals – both male and female and of all ages – have been found inside, together with grave goods including pottery, beads and stone implements such as a dagger, dated to between 3000 and 2600 BC. The tomb was closed sometime around 2000 BC and the main passage filled with earth, stones, rubble and debris. The forecourt was then 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.
English Heritage

For comparison, the Averbury henge and stone circles were constructed about 2850-2200 BCE. So not built by the same people and not even used by the same people. The infilling seems to have started before or about the same time as the henge constrction started, and not that long after that was finished, the barrow was sealed. Burial barrows are just so last millenium. Or maybe the kids kept sneaking off to have parties in there, or cows were getting lost.

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Island Hopping: St Mary’s, the other bit.

Today I walked up to the other other side of St Mary’s. You’ll never guess what I found! OK if you’ve been paying attention you can probably guess.

But first, another entrance grave.

From the English Heritage panel:

Innisidgen Upper Burial Chamber
There are as many as 80 prehistoric chambered tombs known on the Isles of Scilly, but this is one of the best preserved. They are generally of the form known as ‘entrance graves’, and date from the Neolithic or the early Bronze Age. The name ‘entrance grave’ may be misleading, since this type of prehistoric monument is unlikely to have been constructed solely for burial purposes. Such ‘graves’ could also have functioned as shrines or as a focus of ceremonies. . . . Although nothing has been found in this chamber, the walls revealed traces of rough clay mortar, suggesting that it was once plastered and possibly even decorated.

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Lots of stones!

About halfway between Penzance and Land’s End by bus, you’ll find this lovely stone circle in a field.

This late Stone/early Bronze Age (2500-1500BC) stone circle is renowned for both its beauty and the stories connected to it. . . . The regularity of spacing between stones and its truly circular form make the Boleigh Merry Maidens unusual in Cornwall, however restorations in the C19th (on the orders of the land owner Lord Falmouth who wanted to avoid the fate which had befallen other nearby circles and stones, namely field clearance and their use in construction) led to some stones being put back slightly skewed. There are 19 stones in all, with a gap in the eastern section which is common to almost all British stone circles. In addition to the regular spacing, the stones were also obviously carefully chosen and positioned as they gradually diminish in size from the southwest to the northeast; this waxing and waning in size believed to mirror the cycle of the moon.
Cornwall Guide

As you can see it’s early in the morning. There’s just me and nineteen stones in a perfect circle.

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Orkney Day 6: Skara Brae and Skaill House

So Skara Brae is the main tourist attraction but it’s a bit hard to get to by bus. It’s on the far side of the main island and, at this time of year, there are three buses each week (Saturday, Monday morning and Thursday afternoon.) Well, six if you count the return bus. So it became the last thing I did while staying in Kirkwall.

On the way there, I took some photos from the bus because I wanted to show you how beautiful the loch was when it’s calm, and maybe some other things.


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Orkney Day 3: Some really cool stuff and lots of rain

Have you ever played Geoguessr? It’s a game using Google Street View, where you’re dropped into a random location and have to work out where it is. A few years ago, I found myself looking at this place

and I turned around to find a field bordered by stone walls and thought “I need to go here.” Here turned out to be  Birsay on Orkney. It took a few years but here I am on Orkney (which is beautiful and wonderful and I love it) but getting to Birsay seemed a little less likely.

You see, Birsay is at the far east of Mainland (the big central island) and buses are like 4 hours apart, and the main people come for is the Brough. It’s a tidal island, so it can only be visited around low tide and when I checked the tides times for this week, it was about 3.30 pm on Monday and quickly getting later each day after, which meant if I was going to get there, it had to be on Monday except… Well, let’s go back to Monday morning.

The two big tourist attractions on Orkney are Skare Brae and Maeshowe, or the area around Maeshow really. When I arrived I booked a ticket to Maeshow on Monday morning, before I’d checked the tide times but on checking distances and buses, if I was careful, I could do this area and get to the only bus that would get me to Birsay on time.

So that’s Maeshowe behind the cows.

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A Visit to Lots of Times All At Once

Today we’re visiting a place that calls itself one of the most important prehistoric sites in Shetland. Right there, on the first line of the guidebook. But first a little deour.

Past a cow.

To look at a croft, a small tenant farm. There are two rooms on the left, and a barn and byre on the right. Grass roof.

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