West Kennet

Cotswold-Severn Cairn (Chambered Long Barrow) - Wiltshire

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VR Tour


SV 10508 67743 (GPS 46min)
Visited July 1999

Despite the depredations of time the West Kennet chambered long barrow is still a very impressive monument and is well worth visiting. Construction began around 3600 BC, a core of sarsen boulders was gradually covered with chalk rubble dug from the long trenches on either side of the barrow. The final shape is a 2.5m high,100m long trapezoid tapering out from the narrow end to the full width of the splendid facade. The facade is formed by a row of tall sarsen stones aligned N-S, this curves in at the centre, forming a forecourt which contains the entrance to the burial chamber. At some point, two huge "blocking stones" were erected across the forecourt in line with the sides of the facade, preventing direct access. The passage into the barrow is 10m long, ending in a terminal chamber, on each side of this passage are the entrances to two side chambers. 
The burial chamber was in use for at least several hundred years, serving as a communal repository for the remains of many people. When excavated in 1955-6 the remains of 46 individuals were discovered, it seems that the choice of chamber used was based in part, on the age and sex of the individual. The terminal chamber being used for adult males, the inner two side chambers mixed adults, and the outer two chambers for the old, and children. The skeletons were not complete, the most commonly absent parts being skulls and thigh bones. The final sealing of the barrow consisted of filling all of the chambers and the passage with chalk rubble, and then the filling of the forecourt with sarsen boulders.
After the 1950s excavation, the facade stones were re-erected, the burial chambers and passage stabilised, and several new roof sections containing skylights were added. 
A monument of this stature would not be complete without an apparition, and this one has two, the barrow is said to be visited on midsummer's day by a ghostly priest and a white dog, no doubt going completely unnoticed amongst the throngs of visitors these days.

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