History and Facts about Woodhenge and visiting for Free!
Located just two miles to the northeast of Stonehenge World Heritage Site in Wiltshire. Woodhenge is a Neolithic timber construction (with concrete markers today) that dates to roughly 2500 BC and is one of the many historic sites managed by English Heritage. It had been constructed to line up with the dawn on the summer solstice and consisted of six concentric ovals of standing wooden posts bordered by an outer bank and a ditch. Ben and Maud Cunnington excavated the site in 1927–1928. They marked the locations of the wooden posts with concrete pillars for tourists after the site was found via aerial photography in 1925.
What was Woodhenge used for?
The purpose of Woodhenge is still uncertain, much like the purpose of Stonehenge, but it is believed to have been used for various ceremonial and religious activities. Some theories suggest that it may have been a site for astronomical observations, marking the changing seasons and serving as a place for rituals and gatherings.
Archaeological evidence suggests that there were several burials at Woodhenge, which may have been part of a funeral or ancestor worship rituals. Other artefacts found at the site, such as pottery fragments and animal bones, suggest that it was used for feasting and other social activities.
However, so far, Woodhenge’s exact purpose and function remains a mystery, but we do know it held significant cultural and religious significance for the people who built it back in 2500 BC.
What does the name “Woodhenge” really mean?
“Woodhenge” is a modern term used to describe this prehistoric monument. It was coined by the archaeologist (Ben and Maud Cunningham) who excavated the site in the early 20th century, and is used to describe the wooden structure that resembles Stonehenge.
The name “Woodhenge” is a combination of the word “wood,” which refers to the material from which the monument was constructed, and “henge,” which is a term used to describe a type of prehistoric earthwork consisting of a circular bank and ditch enclosure. However, it’s important to be aware that Woodhenge is not technically a henge monument, as it lacks the critical characteristic of a bank and ditch. The name “Woodhenge” is somewhat of a misnomer, but it has become widely used to refer to the site over time.
How was Woodhenge found and excavated?
Squadron Leader Gilbert Insall saw odd patterns in a wheat field in 1925 while flying close to the Wiltshire village of Durrington.
In the image below he shot that day, several black blotches, concentric circles, and other markings were seen in the same field. It was believed that the more extensive site, called at the time “Dough Cover,” was a Bronze Age disc barrow. Insall was intrigued and returned the following year to take more pictures and unearth more of this historic site.
Ben and Maud Cunnington, along with their nephew Robert Cunnington, and a small group of workers started excavating the site in July 1926. Over the following two years, they spent 15 weeks excavating the site, revealing that the rings and dark areas on the photos were really postholes and an adjacent bank and ditch.
After ultimately buying the property, the couple put up painted concrete poles to draw attention to the location. Maud Cunnington wrote a thorough site report in 1929. She named the place “Woodhenge” because of its numerous parallels to the adjacent Stonehenge.
About the Cunnington family who excavated Woodhenge
The Cunningtons had already carried out significant prehistoric site excavations in Wiltshire when they began work on Woodhenge. Ben was a wine merchant by profession and a direct ancestor of William Cunnington, a well-known archaeologist. The latter had uncovered several barrows near Stonehenge in the early 19th century. Since then, the Cunnington family has served as Devizes Museum’s honorary curators (today Wiltshire Museum). Since 1887, Ben has filled this position.
The couple’s first excavation project was an early Bronze Age grave at Manton in 1906, which Maud documented for a book. Their teamwork structure was built by this. Ben would motivate the group of labourers, assist in digging the trenches, and greet guests when they arrived. The excavation report would be written by Maud, who also decided what should be dug and generally oversaw the workers. Maud would next examine the pottery and other discoveries.
More about Woodhenge… A Timber Temple
Woodhenge was an oval monument 40 meters (131 feet) long and 36 meters (118 feet) broad made of six concentric rings of wood posts of varied sizes. The two outer rings were made up of a lot of tiny, tightly spaced posts. The largest post ring, which had 16 posts with an average diameter of around 35 centimetres (14 inches) and was built using ramps, was closest to the centre. There were three smaller ovals of posts within this ring.
At least two bigger sarsen stones were later put on the southern side of Woodhenge, possibly after the wooden poles started to deteriorate.
Despite Maud Cunnington’s interpretation that Woodhenge was an outdoor construction, Stuart Piggott, an archaeologist, asserted shortly after that it was really a sizable communal complex. For a very long time, people embraced his beliefs. However, more recent digs at The Sanctuary, a comparable monument close to Avebury, have revealed that individual posts were occasionally replaced, suggesting that Woodhenge and that one were more likely free-standing constructions.
A ditch and exterior bank surrounded Woodhenge and may have been added later, creating a monument that was roughly 90 meters (295 ft) broad. To the northeast, there was just one entrance. This fronted the vast enclosure known as Durrington Walls, which was 70 meters (230 feet) away and had a modern community as well as additional timber buildings.
Although the exact date of Woodhenge’s construction is unknown, it is most likely from the late Neolithic era, approximately 2500 BC. Roughly the same time as the construction of these other monuments and the sarsen stones at Stonehenge.
The Rituals and Offerings At Woodhenge
Numerous artefacts were discovered during the initial excavation at Woodhenge, including Grooved Ware ceramics, carved chalk items, antler picks, animal bones, flint tools, pieces of human bone, and at least one cremation. The purposeful insertion of things into the ditch on each side of the entrance, around the posts, and into the hollows left after the posts had rotted away were all part of the site’s rituals. A collection of ten antler tools left behind by the Neolithic people who excavated the ditch were also discovered during excavations in 1967, which took place across the canal.
In contrast, not many items were found at Stonehenge, and it appears that the monument was kept tidy. At Woodhenge, it seems that various rituals and object placements were happening, possibly with people moving through or around the monument in predetermined ways.
Two or three-year-old kid was interred at the site’s centre (now marked by a flint cairn), and a young man was buried in the ditch. It has been determined that this burial from the ditch dates to the early Bronze Age, between 1760 and 1670 BC. Sadly, the child’s bones were lost during the excavation, but the burial date was probably close.
A Landscape of Monuments
Similar to the Stonehenge stone circle, Woodhenge’s oval timber circle is oriented north-east to south-west. The monument was probably constructed to line up with the midsummer dawn since the horizon towards the south-west, which is the direction of the midwinter sunset, rises to prevent any views of the sunset, while to the north-east there is a clear view.
The Southern Circle at Durrington Walls, another adjacent timber monument, was oriented toward the midwinter sunlight. Maybe the intention was for people to go from these monuments to Stonehenge at different times of the year for similar objectives. Before the massive henge monument was built, we know that the community at Durrington was a location where people travelled great distances to assemble for feasting and midwinter festivals.
What is nearby Woodhenge?
At the centre of a significant religious landscape lies Woodhenge, which is undoubtedly connected in some manner to Stonehenge.
Along with Stonehenge, surrounding ancient sites also include:
A location where individuals who participated in rituals in the region spent a portion of the year camped up and partially overlapped Woodhenge. It was a location for feasting, and the kinds of animal bones discovered even provided suggestions as to the season. A lot of fresh information about Stonehenge is being revealed by the excavation at Durrington Walls. At this location, people congregated and feasted as long ago as 4,500 years ago. When the population of the entire island of Britain was less than 10,000, up to 2,000 individuals may have camped up near Durrington Walls at one point. At this location, the National Trust has mapped out a cross-country hike between Neolithic settlements.
It is Europe’s largest prehistoric man-made mound. It is larger than the Pyramids, measuring 525 feet in a circle and about 100 feet in height. Its abrupt and unexpected arrival in a primary-level rural region is stunning. However, the purpose of the hill has never been adequately uncovered, and it will always be a mystery. It is located on the outskirts of Avebury, another Neolithic centre, roughly 15 miles from Woodhenge.
The Avebury site, one of Britain’s most extensive and most intricate Neolithic ceremonial landscapes, features a stone circle that partially encircles a village, procession avenues of stone monuments, a circular henge of banks and ditches, and a museum dedicated to the marmalade heir and archaeologist Alexander Keiller, who not only purchased the site to save it but also carried out scholarly excavations there.
The Novichok poisoning investigations are centred in Amesbury and the neighbouring city of Salisbury. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia had both been poisoned by a Russian nerve toxin in March 2018 but recovered. Two other people were unintentionally poisoned in July, probably as a result of being given a used perfume bottle that contained Novichok. Dawn Sturgess, a British woman, was one of them, and she later passed away. The origin of the toxin is still being looked into. It is generally best to exercise extra caution while handling any discovered things in this region until all the information is in. Families with little ones who could be enticed to hold sparkling things and little bottles ought to stay away from the area for the time being.
Visiting Woodhenge for Free!
Woodhenge is just a 5-minute car journey from Stonehenge or you can walk from Woodhenge to Stonehenge, which is approximately 2.5 miles (postcode for sat-nav is SP4 7AR). It is a lot smaller than Stonehenge but is just as fascinating, and the fact it was only found 100 years ago is impressive. The great thing about visiting Woodhenge is that there is no cost to enter and to get up close and touch; there is also free parking at the car park right opposite the site. So while you can’t get up close to touch the Stones at Stonehenge, you can get up close to Woodhenge and touch them all for free! Many people visiting Stonehenge will often take the walk or drive to Woodhenge and see the famous timber circles.
Interested in checking out some of our…
STONEHENGE TOURS BY COACH
All of our full-day and half-day London to Stonehenge Tours involve central London pick up and drop off at the end of the tour. Visitors will travel in a luxury air-conditioned coach with a knowledgeable guide to assist them on their tour of the best attractions in the UK. Often it’s an early start, so you want to travel comfortably; many coaches include free wifi to keep in touch during the journeys, look up what’s to come or share your experiences online. You don’t need to worry about parking far away at Stonehenge either when travelling on one of our luxury coaches as the coach parks near the main car part and just a short walk to the visitor centre and main entrance.