No visit to Wiltshire could possibly be complete without viewing at least one of the many awe-inspiring prehistoric sites to be discovered within the county. There are a multitude to choose from but below is a small list of some of the most well-loved Prehistoric sites in Wiltshire.
Wiltshire is a county of vast plains, towering chalk downland and bucolic rolling green hills interspersed with pretty chocolate box villages strewn along meandering chalk streams. There are also numerous attractive towns, such as the market town of Marlborough and the impressive city of Salisbury that literally ooze history from every brick and stone.
It’s also a place where you can find an astonishing amount of prehistoric monuments intermingled with the present day creating a rich tapestry of mankind’s evolution over the millennia. In fact, the area between Amesbury and Avebury has the densest concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains within England.
The low acidity levels of the chalkland within the region has led to the preservation of numerous prehistoric artefacts and important discoveries such as the Amesbury Archer. This is in direct contrast to other regions of the country such as Bodmin and Dartmoor where the acidity within the soil has destroyed virtually all vestiges of early settlement apart from the stone used for building and flint scatters.
This iconic monument is probably one of the best-known prehistoric sites in Europe if not the entire World. Stonehenge is a UNESCO world heritage site and receives over 1.5 million visits per year. (It’s particularly busy during the summer months.)
There are many theories as to why this 5,000 year old Henge was constructed, including that of a burial site, but to date there’s no concrete answer.
The stone circle is certainly impressive, especially when you think that some of these stones were transported over 150 miles from the Preseli Hills in Wales.
This is the lesser known relative of Stonehenge and is found approximately two miles to the north-east. The site is not as impressive visually as Stonehenge as the upright timbers are long gone, but is absolutely worth a quick visit (and it’s free!). The henge is made up of stubby concrete posts marking the positions where the wooden timbers would have stood upright in the now empty sockets.
No one knows the original purpose of Woodhenge, which dates to c.2,300 B.C.E. However, the grisly remains of a young child’s body, with its head split open by an axe, was discovered in the centre of the henge indicating that some form of ritual sacrifice took place within.
3. Durrington Walls
Just a stone’s throw from Woodhenge is an area known as the Durrington Walls, the site of a sizeable Neolithic village which potentially covered a large area of the valley with dwellings having been discovered both within and outside of the enormous henge that can be seen on the horizon of the photo above.
4. Old Sarum
With stunning views over the Wiltshire Plains it’s hardly surprising that our forefathers chose Old Sarum as the site to construct a pretty awe inspiring Iron Age hill fort dating to c. 400 B.C.E.
Old Sarum is probably best known for its association with the motte and bailey castle constructed by William the Conqueror and Salisbury’s first cathedral that was consecrated in 1092. In the early 13th century a new cathedral was constructed some two mile south and a town was formed around it leading to the present day city of Salisbury (New Sarum).
5. Silbury Hill
The mysterious Silbury Hill can be seen from a distance rising up against the horizon. It’s the largest artificial mound to be found anywhere in Europe and nobody has a clue as to quite why it was constructed.
It stands at almost 40 metres high and is constructed from approximately half a million tonnes of chalk – quite awesome when you consider it was completely built by hand between 2,400 – 2,300 B.C.E.
Sadly, due to erosion, it’s no longer possible to ascend this intriguing Neolithic hill, but there is a one mile circular footpath around it offering wonderful views.
6. West Kennet Long Barrow
Not far from Silbury Hill, in the middle of a field on a chalk ridge, you’ll find the West Kennet Long Barrow. It was constructed c.3,650 B.C.E. ( c.400 years before Stonehenge) and is believed to have been in use as a ritual site for about a thousand years.
During an archaeological excavation carried out in the 1950s some forty-six skeletons were discovered ranging in age from young to old.
At 100m it’s one of the lengthiest Long Barrows to be found in Britian.
The largest prehistoric stone circle in Britain, the sheer magnitude of the Avebury complex is awe inspiring! Just like Stonehenge, just twenty miles away, rather frustratingly, the original purpose is unknown but believed to be for ritual or ceremonial purposes.
The Avebury complex was constructed over 4,500 years ago during the Neolithic period and includes a massive henge, three stone circles and an avenue.
At Avebury, there’s a lot to see and is definitely value for money. The Neolithic monument is entwined in part by the charming village of Avebury where the Church of St. James dates back to c.1000A.D. and Avebury Manor, which has recently been renovated, is also open to the public.