Some of our most ancient historic features include burial mounds or 'barrows', henges and standing stones. These were built thousands of years ago and give us a fascinating insight into the lives and beliefs of our ancestors.
Henge Monuments and Stone Circles
Henge monuments were created in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. They are unique to Britain, none having ever been found anywhere else. Henges are roughly circular areas, surrounded by a ditch and bank, sometimes associated with arrangements of wooden posts or stones. Some have a single entrance, while others have two at opposite sides. They vary tremendously in size, some being very large structures 400 metres across.
No domestic refuse has ever been discovered at these sites and their precise locations, sometimes aligned to movements of the sun and moon, suggest that they were used for religious ceremonies. Maumbury Ringsis an example of a Dorset henge. It was later remodelled into an amphitheatre by the Romans.
There are four small stone circles in Dorset with three on the South Dorset Ridgeway. Like the henge monuments, they were probably ceremonial sites.
Long and Round Barrows
Barrows are mounds of earth used for burial. There are two main types - long barrows and round barrows.
Long barrows are long mounds of earth, sometimes over 90 metres long, were made by Neolithic people around five thousand years ago. They contained burial chambers made of stone or wood in which the bones of the dead would be laid. It is thought that elaborate burial rituals may have taken place at the barrows. There are more than sixty long barrows in Dorset.
Round barrows are much smaller, roughly circular mounds of earth were created later than the long barrows, by Bronze Age people. Some contained bones but later ones contained cremated remains. While the long barrows contained multiple burials, the round barrows seem to be individual burials or small numbers of remains and often contained 'grave goods', such as beakers and daggers. Most round barrows have been excavated and many have been damaged through history by people searching for grave goods. It is estimated that there were around 2,000 round barrows in Dorset, but many have been destroyed.
Barrows, Henges and Stones to visit:
Many of the barrows, henges and stones in Dorset are on private land and inaccessible, but here are a few places you can visit:
- Poor Lot barrow cemetery
- Kingston Russell Stone Circle
- Nine Stones, Stone Circle
- Hambledon Hill Long Barrow
- South Dorset Ridgeway
- Maiden Castle
- Hardy Monument