West Kennet Long Barrow
Forming part of the prehistoric complex of monuments in the Avebury area of Wiltshire, the West Kennet Long Barrow remains one of the most impressive and well-preserved Neolithic burial chambers in Britain. It is located a quarter-mile from Silbury Hill.
In use as a grave for over 1000 years the tomb is considered to have been constructed around 3500BC, eventually to be sealed in about 2200BC and protected by enormous screen stones that remain at the entrance to this day.
The barrow mound runs east to west for 100 metres in length, but the burial chamber itself occupies only a small portion of the whole, extending a mere 10 metres into the mound. This minor chamber, in fact, comprises 5 separate chambers, 2 to either side and 1 at the far end. It is possible to enter the barrow chamber via a narrow passage and walk where Neolithic man walked over 5000 years ago.
Excavated initially in 1859, and again from 1955-6, the remains of at least 46 bodies were discovered within the barrow. Partial body remains suggest that certain bones, especially those of the leg and skull, were removed, possibly to serve some ceremonial function elsewhere. The remains would also seem to indicate that initially, bodies were placed in the open air to rot before the sun bleached bones were interred at a later stage.
That so few bodies were apparently buried over such a long period of usage may suggest they represent members belonging to the ruling elite of the Avebury complex. The final burial to take place before the barrow was sealed, in the tomb's north east chamber, has revealed the complete skeleton of an elderly man, apparently killed by an arrowhead lodged in his throat.
At about the same time that the Avebury circle was desecrated by local residents in the 18th century, it appears that the West Kennet Long Barrow also suffered vandalism. The tomb had been broken into, contents removed and much valuable internal evidence lost forever.