Prehistoric Sites

Unleash your imagination and unravel the mysteries of time at our many prehistoric sites, stone circles, ritual landscapes, burial mounds, hillforts and settlements which span nearly four mysterious millennia of England's story.

Stonehenge is the most famous prehistoric monument in the world. Begun over 5,000 years ago, archaeologists still debate theories of its use and meaning. English Heritage has campaigned to enhance the visitor experience with a brand new interactive Visitor's Centre and plans for a tunnel concealing the busy A303.

Stonehenge is now considered to be part of a 'sacred landscape' which includes other historical and ancient sites. Another sacred landscape around Avebury Stone Circle includes Windmill Hill, The Sanctuary, West Kennet Avenue with its burial mound West Kennet Long Barrow, and of course the famous, enduring mystery of Silbury Hill.

So follow in the footsteps of your ancestors and see if you can solve the mystery of some of our most famous and ancient sites.

Under the guardianship of English Heritage, these prehistoric monuments of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites are among nearly sixty prehistoric sites we care for all over England. The earliest date from the Neolithic ('New Stone Age') period around 3,800 BC, when the 'First Farmers' began to create permanent monuments. These include 'causewayed enclosure' gathering places such as Windmill Hill, and 'long barrow' communal chambered tombs, where the dismembered remains of a small proportion of the population - selected why or how we don't know - were deposited in stone-built chambers. Originally these chambers were covered by long earthen mounds, as they still are for example at Belas Knap, Nympsfield and Uley Long Barrows, but elsewhere, as at Kit's Coty House in Kent, Trethevy Quoit in Cornwall and Arthur's Stone in Herefordshire, the stone burial chambers are now impressively exposed.

Next in time, around 3,500 BC, came circular ditched earthwork 'henges' including Mayburgh Henge and Hatfield Earthworks (Marden Henge). To these might later be added internal circles of timber posts (as at Woodhenge) or the most famous and legend-haunted type of prehistoric monument - stone circles. Imposing examples include Castlerigg Stone Circle in Cumbria, possibly one of the oldest, Arbor Low in the Derbyshire Peak District. Other notable examples are Stanton Drew Circles near Bristol; Avebury Stone Circle and of course Stonehenge itself. There, apparently uniquely, the standing stones were tooled to provide a smooth finish, and in their final complex arrangement topped by huge stone lintels, forming a continuous circle enclosing triple-stone 'trilithons'.

Archaeologists have recently discovered evidence that the builders or users of Stonehenge lived nearby at Durrington Walls. It is possible to explore the remains of similar prehistoric settlements which include Carn Euny, Chysauster and Grimspound, now isolated among West Country moorland.

For many millennia, the tools and weapons prehistoric people used were of stone or flint, mined from sites such as the hauntingly named Grime's Graves, the only Neolithic flint mine in Britain open to visitors. But by around 2,300 BC the introduction of metalworking into Britain ushered in the Bronze Age, when the focus also shifted from 'communal monuments' like long barrows and stone circles to round barrows for individual burials, often accompanied by rich grave-goods. We care for groups of these at Flowerdown Barrows and Winterbourne Poor Lot Barrows.

Later still, around 800 BC - the Iron Age - this new metal gradually replaced bronze for tools and weapons, which coincided with competition for land and an increase in tribal warfare. The emphasis now shifted again from burial mounds to ditched and ramparted defensive hillforts, including powerful multi-ramparted Old Oswestry, Uffington Castle and Maiden Castle, the biggest hillfort in Europe. Along with massive tribal power centres such as Stanwick Iron Age Fortifications, some of these were still in use when the Romans arrived in AD 43, ending the prehistoric period in England and ushering in a whole new era.

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