This walking path links Britain’s two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, and is as epic as the Inca Trail

The Great Stones Way is one of those ideas so obvious it seems amazing that no one has thought of it before: a 38-mile walking trail to link England’s two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, crossing a landscape covered with Neolithic monuments.

great-stones-way-map

The Great Stones Way is a route using existing paths through the Wiltshire Downs, starting just south of Swindon and ending up at Old Sarum, on the outskirts of Salisbury. As long-distance trails go, this one is quite short, making it perfect for an energetic long weekend, or for more leisurely exploration over a week.

What’s the attraction?
Walking the Great Stones Way takes you on a journey through a landscape steeped in history, allowing you to discover the extraordinary sights our ancestors have left us. These include Iron Age hill forts with commanding views such as Barbury Castle and Old Sarum, while optional loops take you past the Neolithic henges and stone circles at the combined UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury and Stonehenge. There is also the option to finish the walk at Salisbury’s majestic medieval cathedral. The first part of the trail heads south through the rolling open chalk downland landscape of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“I can’t help thinking how much better it is to arrive at Stonehenge on foot. The comparison that comes to mind, and which I know well, is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The experience of trekking to both sites is immeasurably richer, not just because you’ve “earned it”, but because both sets of ruins are only properly understood in the context of the sacred landscape that surrounds them.”

Stonehenge Guided Tours is proud to offer a Contours walking holiday following the ‘Great Stones Way’ Please visit our Stonehenge tour website for full details

We also offer  daily Stonehenge guided walking tours throughout the year.

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A major new archaeological find of causewayed enclosures and artifacts near Britain’s famous Stonehenge site is about to “rewrite” the history of the area and of northwestern Europe’s early inhabited history.

newobserver

Built 5,650 years ago—more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge—one of the enclosures appears to have been a major ceremonial gathering place.

The major enclosure’s precise original function remains a mystery, but the scant available evidence suggests that it was used for a mixture of ceremonial, religious, political, and mortuary roles.

According to a press release issued by a construction consultancy company involved with an unrelated new building project at the site, archaeologists have “discovered important new sites that rewrite the Stonehenge landscape” and which “predate the construction of Stonehenge itself.”

The remains, found at Larkhill and Bulford, were unearthed during excavations ahead of the construction of new British Army family accommodation.

About 70 enclosures of the type found are known across England and Europe, the press release continued.

The structure is one of the “earliest built structures in the British landscape,” and was used “for temporary settlement, as ceremonial gathering places, to manage and exchange animals, including the first domesticated cattle and sheep and for ritual activity.”

The Larkhill enclosure has produced freshly broken pottery, dumps of worked flint and even a large stone saddle quern used to turn grain into flour. The Neolithic period saw the first use of domesticated crops and this find provides evidence of this.

The Greater Cursus, an earthwork nearly 1.8 miles in length, is the longest structure. It connects and divides parts of the landscape, and separates the Larkhill causewayed enclosure from the place that became Stonehenge.

“The people who built the causewayed enclosure are the ancestors of the builders of Stonehenge and were shaping the landscape into which the stone circle was placed,” the press release continued.

“Their work shows that this was a special landscape even before Stonehenge was constructed. People were already living and working within what we now call the Stonehenge landscape and they were building the structures that would culminate in the Stonehenge complex of stones and earthworks.

Read the full story in the New Observer Online

Stonehenge Guided Tours offer daily tours of Stonehenge and custom private guided tours including Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape.  Stonehenge private access tours allow you to go onside the inner circle before or after the site is officially open. Join the Stonehenge experts and here all the many new theories.

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Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most famous prehistoric monument. It was built in several stages: the first monument was an early henge monument, built about 5,000 years ago, and the unique stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC. In the early Bronze Age many burial mounds were built nearby. Today, along with Avebury, it forms the heart of a World Heritage Site, with a unique concentration of prehistoric monuments.

 

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A great article by Professor of Archaeology, UCL – Mike Parker Pearson:

I led the team of researchers that discovered that Stonehenge was most likely to have been originally built in Pembrokeshire, Wales, before it was taken apart and transported some 180 miles to Wiltshire, England. It may sound like an impossible task without modern technology, but it wouldn’t have been the first time prehistoric Europeans managed to move a monument.

Archaeologists are increasingly discovering megaliths across the continent – albeit a small number so far – that were previously put up in earlier monuments.

Other ‘second-hand’ monuments

The best example of such a structure outside the UK is La Table des Marchand, a Neolithic tomb in Brittany, France, built around 4000BC. The enormous, 65-ton capstone on top of its chamber is a broken fragment of a menhir, a standing stone, brought from 10km away. The original menhir may be 300 years (or more) older than the tomb. Another fragment of this same menhir was incorporated into a tomb at Gavrinis, 5km away. This menhir, originally weighing over 100 tons, is actually one of the largest blocks of stone that we know of to have been moved and set up by Neolithic people.

La Table des Marchand. Myrabella/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Another example of a standing stone reused in a megalithic monument is an anthropomorphic menhir – a standing stone carved in the form of a human figure – incorporated as the capstone of another tomb at Déhus on Guernsey. Another megalithic tomb, La Motte de la Jacquille in western France, is built of dressed stones that have been rearranged into a new tomb but it is not known if they came from a different location or were an earlier version of the tomb rebuilt on the same spot.

Archaeologists have known for many years that some of Stonehenge’s bluestones (the shorter stones in the monument) were reused. Two are lintels reused as standing stones, and two others have vertical grooves that show they were part of a wall of interlocking standing stones. Until now it was thought that these were evidence of reuse just within Stonehenge which was first built around 2900BC and rebuilt circa 2500BC (at this point, large local sandstones known as “sarsen” were erected). It was then rebuilt again in around 2400BC and 2200BC.

However, we identified the actual quarries in Pembrokeshire, Wales (around 3400BC and 3200BC) that the bluestones came from. This is a period before prehistoric people were building stone circles (normally dating from 3000BC onwards) so we also think it is very likely that the bluestones originally formed a rather different type of monument from a stone circle.

People in western Britain and Ireland at this time were building Neolithic stone tombs known as passage tombs – Newgrange in Ireland is the best known example. So it is just possible that there is a dismantled passage tomb somewhere near the bluestone quarries. That’s what we will be looking for in 2016.

Stonehenge – an unusual distance

An interesting outcome from a recent conference in Redondo, Portugal, on prehistoric megaliths and “second-hand monuments” is that – while some megalithic stones for monuments in Portugal and elsewhere were brought as far as 8km from their sources – the vast majority of Neolithic stone monuments throughout Western Europe were built less than 2km to 3km away from their stone quarries. So Stonehenge is a major exception to this rule, as its bluestones were dragged around 290km. This makes it unique for prehistoric Europe.

How the stones were moved from Wales to Stonehenge is something of a mystery but our excavations at one of the Welsh quarries reveals that the trackway leading from the outcrop was too narrow for rollers to have been used. Instead, we think that monoliths were loaded onto wooden sledges and dragged over logs and branches laid rail-like in front of the sledge.

Some archaeologists have speculated that Stonehenge’s bluestones must have been thought to have had special properties – as musical “gongs” or healing stones – for them to have been sought out from so far away.

But we think it is far more likely that the bluestones were derived from quarries in close proximity to each other – within 2km to 3km – and brought together to build a local monument in Pembrokeshire. Scientific analysis of strontium isotopes in the teeth of people buried in the Stonehenge area reveals that many of them have values consistent with growing up in western Britain. So the stones may have been brought by people migrating from Wales, bringing their ancestral monument as a symbol of their history and identity. Strontium isotope analysis is currently being carried out on the people actually buried at Stonehenge when the bluestones were erected, and we await the results to see if they show a similar picture.

It’s also possible that the bluestones were put up somewhere on Salisbury Plain before they arrived at Stonehenge. For example, one of the bluestones never quite made it to Stonehenge and was dug out in 1801 from the top layer of a Neolithic burial mound called Boles Barrow, near Warminster, also in Wiltshire.

Although this tomb was first built around 3700BC, it seems to have gone through modifications, of which adding a layer of large stones (mostly local sarsen stones and this one bluestone) happened at the end of its use. So we don’t know precisely when it got there but it may have been set up as a burial marker before the rest of the bluestones were erected at Stonehenge.

Rebuilding tombs and other megalithic structures as second-hand monuments is only now turning out to be recognised in various parts of western Europe as archaeologists start to look more closely at the detailed aspects of construction. Simple expediency of finding suitable stone does not explain sites such as Stonehenge and the Table des Marchand – they were most likely incorporating aspects of the past which had rich historical resonance for them.

Mike Parker Pearson

Professor of Archaeology, UCL

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10-day exploration of ancient sites from Stonehenge to the Aran Islands.

Across the lush landscapes of England and Ireland lie some of the most important and intriguing prehistoric monuments in the world. In the company of local archaeologists, authors, and historians, uncover the stories of Neolithic and Bronze Age civilizations—and the mysteries of their legacies—as we make our way from Stonehenge to Ireland’s Bend of the Boyne, the Aran Islands, and more. –

National Geographic Trip Highlights

Take an insider’s tour of legendary Stonehenge and its adjacent sites with a local expert.
Explore the boglands of Céide Fields, a 6,000-year-old site excavated by archaeologist Seamus Caulfield.
Delve into the heritage of the Aran Islands with the director of the islands’ college.
Take a walking tour of the Burren National Park with a local author and discover Bronze Age sites amid this otherworldly limestone landscape.

This superb 10 Day Expedition Tour includes:

Avebury and Stonehenge (Day 3)
Step back thousands of years among remarkable megalithic monuments at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Avebury and Stonehenge. At Stonehenge close up
Avebury, stroll around the largest stone circle in the world, excavated in the early 20th century by archaeologist Alexander Keiller. Examine the site’s standing megaliths with a local expert, and examine artifacts found here at the Alexander Keiller Museum. Walk past Silbury Hill, Europe’s largest man-made, prehistoric mound, on the way to the Neolithic chambered tomb at West Kennet Long Barrow, which predates Stonehenge by some 400 years. Then head to legendary Stonehenge for an insider’s tour with local expert Pat Shelley. Visit the adjacent sites of Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, where the site’s builders are believed to have lived, and learn about recent discoveries that have shed light on the mysteries surrounding these sites. –

Learn about prehistoric civilizations with a seasoned archaeologist

2015 Tour departures:
June 06th – 15th
June 13th – 22nd
September 05th – 14th

Mysteries of Prehistoric England and Ireland Tour can be booked direct via the National Geographic Expedition Website

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