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Kennet Long Barrow is situated on a ridge one-and-a-half miles south of Avebury in Wiltshire. The photograph at right, taken from a point on the Ridge Way near the Sanctuary, shows the placement of the barrow within the surrounding landscape and the low ridge upon which it sits. The site was recorded by John Aubrey in the 17th century and by William Stukeley in the 18th century. Aubrey describes it as "On the Brow of the hill, south from the west Kynnet" (i.e. the River Kennet, see Silbury Hill for some comments on this stream), and adds that it is "without any name." Stukeley observes that "It stands east and west, pointing to the dragon's head on Overton-hill." The barrow is marked on Stukeley's drawing of the 'great stone serpent' of Avebury in which one can also see Overton Hill (also called The Sanctuary by Stukeley). The barrow was dug into in in 1859, and properly excavated in 1955-56.
It originally consisted of a trapezoid mound 330 feet long formed of a core of sarsen boulders and a capping of chalk rubble from two flanking quarry ditches. At the eastern end of the mound is an elaborate megalithic structure of five chambers opening off an axial passage. The entrance passage is fronted by a semi-circular forecourt with a flanking facade of massive sarsen uprights aligned along a north-south axis.
The interior with the chambers are located off the axial gallery. A minimum of 46 individuals of all ages and both sexes, together with many pottery sherds, flint implements, beads and other objects, were discovered in the course of excavation. The burials evidently took place over a considerable period of time. It appears that a number of the bones, mainly skulls and thigh bones, were abstracted from the tomb at different times, possibly for ritual purposes.
At some point the chambers and passage were filled with chalk rubble and the semi-circular forecourt blocked with a filling of sarsen boulders. At this time, it seems, a 'false entrance' of twin uprights was erected, and three massive blocking stones placed in line across the entrance to the forecourt. This final blocking and closure of the tomb appears to have occurred around 1600 B.C.E.
Stonehenge is surely Britain's greatest national icon, symbolizing mystery, power and endurance. Its original purpose is unclear to us, but some have speculated that it was a temple made for the worship of ancient earth deities. It has been called an astronomical observatory for marking significant events on the prehistoric calendar. Others claim that it was a sacred site for the burial of high-ranking citizens from the societies of long ago. While we can't say with any degree of certainty what it was for, we can say that it wasn't constructed for any casual purpose. Only something very important to the ancients would have been worth the effort and investment that it took to construct Stonehenge. The stones we see today represent Stonehenge in ruin. Many of the original stones have fallen or been removed by previous generations for home construction or road repair. There has been serious damage to some of the smaller bluestones resulting from close visitor contact (prohibited since 1978) and the prehistoric carvings on the larger sarsen stones show signs of significant wear.
In its day, the construction of Stonehenge was an impressive engineering feat, requiring commitment, time and vast amounts of manual labor. In its first phase, Stonehenge was a large earthwork; a bank and ditch arrangement called a henge, constructed approximately 5,000 years ago.
It is believed that the ditch was dug with tools made from the antlers of red deer and, possibly, wood. The underlying chalk was loosened with picks and shoveled with the shoulderblades of cattle. It was then loaded into baskets and carried away. Modern experiments have shown that these tools were more than equal to the great task of earth digging and moving.