A Guide to Woodhenge

Woodhenge like Stonehenge is located near our campsite here in Wiltshire. Thought to have been constructed during the neolithic period, it was formed of six ovals of standing posts, surrounded by a bank and ditch. Due to the sites deterioration over time, there is much speculation about how it looked and its purpose. What we do know is that Woodhenge was first discovered in 1925 by a World War One veteran fighter pilot called Gilbert Insall.

Insall was a connoisseur of aerial photography and recognised its importance for archaeology early on. Insall regularly flew from Netheravon aerodrome, one of many airfields that exist on Salisbury Plain. On one trip, he noticed circular patches in the fields that appeared unusual.

In the fields below him, Insall saw these dark circles in the crops as a pattern. Due to his knowledge of archaeology, he knew that they were most likely caused by the actions of people digging through the shallow soil into the chalk bedrock below. It is often easier to spot areas from the air even if they are barely visible on the ground. In fact, it is extraordinary how often these marks have lasted until modern times and just how clearly they still stand out.

Insall photographed what was the remains of the monument. It was located less than two miles from Stonehenge which due to the stones close proximity caused great interest in the archaeological community of the time. Questions started to fly – could it be another Stonehenge? From initial observations It was certainly about the right size and shape. The next step saw the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society begin to examine the site.

Led by Maud Cunnington, it was discovered within the henge was a series of six rings of small pits which were dug deep into the underlying chalk They labelled the rings of pits A to E working inwards from the outer ring.

These pits were in fact post holes for a series of upright oak timbers with the outer circle ring A holding sixty small posts. The next two rings inwards had the deepest and widest pits and presumably these held the largest timbers, ring B consisted of thirty-two large posts while ring C held the largest sixteen posts. Cunnington calculated that the tallest of these posts could have stood up to 7.5 metres above ground level. The post holes in rings D, E and F were much smaller and each ring held eighteen, eighteen and twelve posts respectively, all the pits and presumably the timbers, being roughly the same size.

Most of the 168 post holes held wooden posts, though there is evidence of a pair of standing stones having been placed between the second and third post hole rings. The deepest holes measured up to 2m and the height of the posts they held has been estimated at up to 7.5m above the ground. This sort of timber would have weighed around 5 tonnes and prompted similar logistical problems as the erection of the bluestones at Stonehenge.

What was it used for?

Early on into initial excavations, it was note that the long axis of the ovals fell along the line of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset in a similar manner to Stonehenge. It has been speculated that two posts were used to form a narrow corridor sightline through the monument to allow an observer a view of the sunrise on the summer solstice.
Towards the centre of the site and along the axis of the midsummer sunrise, a pit was found that contained buried remains. These were initially thought to be part of a sacrifice. However, recent re-interpretation of the grave also suggests that the burial was a later addition to the site, perhaps in the early Bronze Age when the timbers had already decayed.

The Cunnington’s also found the skeletal remains of a young man buried in a grave within the henge ditch towards the entrance as well as cremation remains in one of the post holes which have since been dated to between 2580-2470BC. Bones from wild and domestic animals were also discovered along with several carved chalk axes and cups – the axes would have no practical use and were interpreted as ritual objects. What symbolism this was however remains unclear although it is likely that Woodhenge bore significance to the astronomical events such as sun rises and sets at significant times throughout the year.

Need a place to stay?

Looking to book a place to stay for a trip to Woodhenge, Stonehenge and their beautiful surrounds? If you’re heading to Wiltshire to explore our ancient history, make sure you book one of our campsite spaces or log cabins. Our cabins sleep four in a double bed and two singles, so it’s ideal for a small family or friends get-away. 

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