Woodhenge

History of Woodhenge

Woodhenge is an atmospheric Neolithic site, probably built about 2500 BC. It was originally believed to be the remains of a burial mound, surrounded by a bank and ditch almost completely destroyed by ploughing, but aerial photography detected rings of dark spots in a crop of wheat.

The shape of Woodhenge revealed by aerial photography
The shape of Woodhenge revealed by aerial photography

Excavations

When the site was excavated these dark spots proved to be empty sockets that had formerly held large upright timbers.

The timbers in the third ring seem to have been larger and more deeply set than the others, so the posts may have been the uprights of a large roofed building with a small courtyard or light-well in the centre.

It is much more likely that the site was completely open to the sky with the posts carved and painted like totem poles.

A reconstruction showing how Woodhenge might have looked in Neolithic times
A reconstruction showing how Woodhenge might have looked in Neolithic times © Historic England (illustration by Peter Lorimer)

Purpose

It is impossible to know for certain what the rings of timbers were for.

A structure similar to Woodhenge may have stood at the centre of Stonehenge before the great stone circle and trilithons were erected. Traces of two more have been found within the large enclosure known as Durrington Walls that lies just 230 feet (70 metres) to the north of Woodhenge.

The exact appearance, purpose and status of these structures remains unknown. It appears that they were timber temples, where rituals took place and offerings were deposited.

Two symbolic chalk axes excavated at Woodhenge
Symbolic chalk axes excavated at Woodhenge

Description

There are six concentric rings of post holes which are marked today by concrete blocks. The rings are oval-shaped, with the longer axis pointing towards the winter and summer solstice.

The circular bank and ditch surrounding the rings covered an area measuring 360 feet (110 metres) in diameter overall with a single entrance to the north-east.

Although these are hardly visible on the ground now, excavations in 1926–8 revealed that the bank was about 33 feet (10 metres) wide and that the ditch is flat bottomed, up to 40 feet (12 metres) wide and 8 feet (2.4 metres) deep.

Further Reading

Cunnington, ME, Woodhenge: a description of the site as revealed by excavations carried out there by Mr and Mrs B H Cunnington, 1926–8; also of four circles and an earthwork enclosure south of Woodhenge (Devizes, 1929)  

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