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Durrington Walls
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Just before 2500 BC, when the great stones were being brought to Stonehenge, other henges – enclosures of chalk and timber – were being built within the surrounding landscape. The greatest of these was Durrington Walls, a massive enclosure over 470 m. (500 yds) in diameter on the west bank of the river Avon nearly 3 km. (2 miles) north-east of Stonehenge. Durrington is a more traditional henge, with a huge bank lying outside an equally massive ditch, but despite its size it is difficult to see from ground level.

There are four entrances to the enclosure, the most obvious one pointing south-east down towards the river. Excavations carried out between 1966 and 1968 revealed the ditch to be over 6 m. (20 ft) deep and 13 m. (43 ft) wide and uncovered the remains of two circles of timber posts, the largest 23 m. (75 ft) in diameter.

Durrington Walls

A view from above of House 851, one of the Neolithic houses excavated near the eastern entrance to Durrington Walls

1. Stake holes – the traces of small upright timbers, part of wattle walls originally rendered with chalky clay.
2. Floor – made of chalk, beaten flat and worn smooth by human feet.
3. Hearth – each house has one.
4. Slots for horizontal wooden boards, the traces of wooden beds, cupboards and other furniture ranged between the walls of the house and the chalk floor.
5. Pits – containing pottery, animal bone and flints. They were dug through or outside the house and may have been part of rituals to do with the abandonment of the house.

More recent excavations, from 2004 onwards, have shown that, like Stonehenge, Durrington has an avenue: a gravelled pathway, also with a solstice alignment, which runs from the southern timber circle through the south-eastern entrance and down to the river Avon. Close to this avenue – and preserved under the huge henge bank – clusters of small rectangular Neolithic houses were discovered. These date from about 2500 BC and each was about 5 m. (17 ft) across, with walls of wooden stakes and clay daub, and inside a rectangular floor of hard packed chalk, in the centre of which was a hearth. The space between the chalk floor and the outer wall may have been filled with wooden beds and cupboards. The rubbish that had piled up against the fences that separated the houses included huge quantities of animal bone, mostly young pig, suggesting large-scale feasting, particularly in mid-winter.

Durrington Walls

This pot, found at Durrington Walls, is in the distinctive style known as Grooved Ware, often associated with Neolithic henge monuments (now in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum).

It is possible that there were hundreds of houses at Durrington in about 2500 BC, making this the largest Neolithic village in Britain and Ireland. Although probably only occupied at certain times of the year, these may be the dwellings of the people who built and used Stonehenge. Other, more special houses, surrounded by deep ditches, like smaller henges, were found inside the main henge enclosure. The evidence of both everyday life and ceremony from excavation suggests that the houses and the great timber circles were built first, and that the huge ditch and bank that encircled and in some places covered them were a later addition.

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