West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Burrow is sited just beyond present day Silbury Hill on the crest of a hill, its one of the largest barrows within the Averbury ritual landscape, being a hundred meters in length. However it is not a lone monumental burial barrow, as other lesser known ones exists in the proximity, excavation findings suggests they too were held in just as much reverence by the Neolithic people or our ancestors. Some even display a ritual continuity prior to a burial mound overlaying its predecessor area function. Nonetheless, West Kennet burrow has been very prolific and well reported on, above the others, in the quantity of human remains recovered. Interestingly carbon dating for its construction indicate a mid to late 4th millennium BC. Without taking into account the other long barrows which have been excavated or remain unexcavated today. The idea of it being contemporary with Windmill Hill dates or even related could possibly surface.
Various past writing exist, as do excavation reports from over the last hundred and fifty years. It appears to have been first investigated by John Thurnham in 1859, who reported on the furthest chamber, opposite its main eastern entrance. In this area at that time, Thurnham recorded six crouched remains five adults and one infant. If one consults another secondary source it’s been suggested these were seated skeletons leaning up against the back wall! Later excavations of the two north and south side chambers which revealed more internments mainly of disarticulated and sorted human bones from thirty adults, along with a very small number of artefacts.
What is so fascinating about West Kennet burrow is what can be learned and deduced from this monument. Depending on the era one is looking at via the records up to a point, the dominate thought patterns, be it in academia or within the revival of Druidism or Paganism will taint how its portrayed and understood.
Over the past thirty years various published interpretations have been slowly but surely moving towards a hypothesis relating to how Neolithic and later Iron Age people could have psychologically perceived and understood the abstract mechanics of passing over to the otherworld. For the people who built West Kennet burrow, it would suggest that the most important part of the human body was the bones within the human skeleton. Where these became a means via ritual where the living could contact the deceased ancestral spirits, these could be removed from the barrow either replaced afterwards or the sacred bones moved among the people resident in the landscape. The whole process is quite different to that used during the late Bronze Age and Iron Age, where cremations are the most excepted way of releasing a human spirit into the otherworld.
Interestingly a single cremation burial has been excavated or found at West Kennet Burrow, this is turn is probably associated with the closure of the monument. Interestingly it may also be relative to a change in the way which human beings at that time viewed nature and understanding there cosmology of the world while being dwelling in nature.
An individual contribution to the Avebury Project could assist to release from the archive additional information held on this monument.
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Off site Resources
Neolithic Burial Rites: New Archaeologyshare some tips on some types of information which can be gleaned from burial
West Kennet Burrow: Geophysical Survey 2001
Finds: Excavated items from West Kennet Burrow
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