Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Notes on Stuart Piggott and the West Kennet Long barrow

West Kennet Long barrow 

Yesterday two books came through the post, a friend had returned a Cornish book I had lent him, and with this book he also sent Stuart Piggott's report of the excavation of West Kennett long barrow, written in 1956 I have almost read it in a day so fascinated by the restoration of this old barrow.  Sixty years on, what we see to day is very different from what his excavation had to unravel, the sheer hard donkey's work that goes into an excavation, the destruction of this site over the centuries, the trackway carved out of its centre, the 'robber' holes as farm labourers tried to remove the smaller stones for buildings, walls etc.  The following illustration is neatly drawn, the second photo shows WKLB as first seen by Piggott, and the third as it is today.  Ideas change over the years, today's archaeologists will interpret very differently from yesteryear's, but we have a lot to be grateful  for from these early pioneer archaeologists and their enthusiasm.
Amongst his writing I came across the following, which I will note.

Isosceles triangle; If such a triangle, it is found that it's sides run through the stones forming the rear walls of all four lateral chambers, and that three of the stones involved (Nos. 10,27,33)  are coincident in angle with the triangle's sides.  The fourth (no.15) only slightly divergent.  The west chamber (at the head) falls symmetrically within the converging sides, its rear wall being 20 feet from the apex.
Such an agreement between the structures and a geometrical figure strongly suggests that the basic plan was in fact laid out in these terms.  Further symmetry in plan is shown by the regular tilt of the axis of the lateral chambers westward from a line at right angles to the passage axis by 15 to 20 degrees.  It is clear that some kind of  regular plan was envisaged, presumably to definite units of measurement and with a knowledge of ratios, and that building followed this plan so far as practical difficulties in handling large masses of stone allowed.

As my maths is so terrible, I vaguely understand the above, to believe of course the theory that there is a mathematical sum to be had from the moving of stones is more difficult.

East Kennet Long barrow

This long barrow remains unexplored, except by badgers, who live in its dark recesses amongst the stones below. One thing I did learn from Piggott is something of the nature of those stones and here I will quote...

EKLB appears to have a construction embodying considerable cairn material, for Dean Merewether recorded in 1849 that the proprieter of the barrow 'had caused a hole to be dug at the east end for the purpose of obtaining flints, but that he had found that it was made up of generally round and flat sarsen stones, which came tumbling so about the men'  Diary of a Dean in Proc.Salisbury Meeting Archaeology Ins. (1849) 98.

The EKLG is an overgrown but very large barrow, hardly to be seen for the trees, and the second photo is the badger hole, this time it is chalk that can be seen that is thrown out by the badgers.


  1. Fascinating stuff thelma. I was intrigued by not only the definite planning of the cairn building, but the inclusion of a triangular stone (and wondering about its meaning too). There is a triangular stone built into the middle of the stone wall of our undercroft here (in mum's flat - the wall between the kitchen and the bedroom). Deliberate. When Mike the builder was building up the stable wall for Maggie's stable, he put a triangular stone in there, for continuity . . .

    East Kennet I know nothing about. Thank you for highlighting it. We shall visit next time we are at Avebury.

  2. Hi Jennie, yes I was so pleased to read the Piggott report. As for triangular stones, the Avebury Avenue of stones has triangle stones facing square stones, this has always been seen as female and male stones, whether or not I don't know. But Roy in Cornwall is checking out all the triangle stone in the stone circles on Bodmin Moor, to see if he can come up with anything. Fascinating that triangle stones are still built into the walls such as your house, have to think about that one, continuing what tradition I wonder?

  3. I have no background for understanding archaeology--or the restoration of Oriental art, for that matter--but am often fascinated by your posts. I'm intrigued to imagine the wandering burrows of the badgers under the stones--perhaps generations of them have lived there.

    1. I once wrote of the badgers of .east Kennett, the long barrow sits above the small village there, and it is a very tranquil place amongst the chalk downs of Wiltshire. Hopefully these badgers are safe from killing, as the chalk lands are given over to wheat not cattle, and therefore Bovine TB is not a worry.