The Stonehenge Cursus, also known as the Greater Cursus as a smaller example lies to the west, is a long rectangular earthwork that runs for about 3km (1.8 miles) on an east-west alignment. Its width varies from 100 to 130 metres (109 to 142 yards) and it consists of a bank with an external ditch.
Although similar cursus monuments exist in England and many theories have been put forward, we do not know the purpose of these mysterious monuments. They generally survive only as shallow banks and ditches, or cropmarks visible only from the air.
A Sporting Arena?
The antiquarian William Stukeley, who first recorded the Stonehenge Cursus, believed it had been used for chariot racing by the ancient Britons and gave it the name of 'cursus' from the Latin term for race course. Looking at the outline of the site in the landscape, it does indeed look like a circuit of some sort, although the rounded ends that Stukeley recorded did not exist.
A Path for the Dead?
One theory suggests that cursus monuments may have served as a processional ways, making permanent a route across the landscape. Others have suggested that it was a barrier to movement, dividing different parts of the land.
The Stonehenge Cursus is aligned on an early Neolithic long barrow at its eastern end. The ditches were dug out again up to a 1,000 years after they were first constructed, between 2800-2400 BC. Later, early Bronze Age barrows were built in a linear cemetery alongside the Cursus.
This shows that the Cursus remained important over a long time span, from the early Neolithic to the early Bronze Age.