Beyond Stonehenge – Britain’s Most Ancient Sites
The Neolithic monument of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, built well over four-thousand years ago, may be the UK’s most famous prehistoric landmark, but there’s a great deal more to prehistoric Britain than this world-famous tourist trap. Those with an interest in the Neolithic history of the British Isles will find plenty of stunning sites with many of the most impressive being worlds away from the enormous crowds of Stonehenge.
In fact, Britain boasts some of the finest treasures of prehistoric cultures in the whole of Europe. Spanning from the southern coast of the UK to the remote Orkney Islands, a cultural tour of the country can easily become an epic journey of discovery. Here are some of the places to look out for, including some of the lesser known ones.
Skara Brae, Orkney
The bleak and windswept yet somehow strikingly beautiful and otherworldly Orkney Islands may not be the first place you would think of as a holiday destination. It is expensive to get to, remote and the weather is often atrocious. However, these islands are also home to some of Britain’s greatest prehistoric treasures.
More than five-thousand years ago and long before the great pyramids of Ancient Egypt had even been thought of; Skara Brae was a fully functioning village with solid stone furnished buildings, a drainage system and many other things resembling civilization. It is by far the most complete Neolithic village in Europe and the ruins are nothing short of astounding.
Dubbed Scotland’s Pompeii, Skara Brae was discovered in 1850 and excavated in the early decades of the twentieth century. In this fine example of prehistoric life, trapped in a time long forgotten, visitors will be able to see the excavated dwellings, marvel at fine examples of pottery, grooved ware and other ornamental and practical items from the time.
Silbury Hill, Wiltshire
Rising out of the picturesque countryside of the county of Wiltshire is Silbury Hill, a manmade chalk hill rising to 131 feet in height. Silbury Hill is one of the most famous of many Neolithic monuments in the region and it is also the highest of its kind in Europe. In fact, Silbury Hill is as large as some of the smaller pyramids in Egypt.
Silbury Hill is shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately, there have been very few artefacts ever discovered around the hill which could hint at its purpose. Although there have been many conjectures regarding its purpose, nothing is known for certain. Archaeologists believe that it was constructed around 4,750 years ago. It is the sheer size of the hill which makes it most impressive. Archaeologists have calculated that it would have taken around five-hundred men fifteen years to build.
Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire
The Uffington White Horse is one of the most unique prehistoric relics in the country. Where most people associate prehistoric culture with things like standing stones and ancient burial mounds, the Uffington White Horse is something completely different. At 374 feet in length, the Uffington White Horse occupies a hill on the Berkshire Downs. The sculpture is carved into the earth in the form of deep trenches filled with white chalk.
The best way to see it is from the sky, where one can appreciate the sheer enormity of this highly intact work of ancient art. The best way to view the hill is from the air. This is something which can be arranged through local companies which cater to tourists.
The White Horse is said to be around 3,000 years old. It is the oldest construction of its kind in the world, although many replicas and similar works of art have been created since, particularly in modern times.
Callanish Stones, Outer Hebrides
On the remote Scottish Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides lie the Callanish Stones, a site dating back to around 2800 BC. Although at a first glance, it looks quite similar to Stonehenge hundreds of miles away, Callanish is actually quite different. It has been found to be the site of a burial cairn since human remains have been discovered on the site. Although not proven, archaeologists suspect that the stones refer to a calendar system. The burial cairn itself was built sometime after the stones were erected.
The name “Callanish Stones” normally refers to the largest and most impressive monument, although there are many similar prehistoric sites in the island consisting of one or more standing stones.