Woodhenge, Dorchester, Oxfordshire

Timber Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SU 5775 9513

Also Known as:

  1. Dorchester 3
  2. NMR NUMBER: SU 59 NE 53
  3. Site no. 371.21.1

Archaeology & History

Dorchester's Woodhenge in the cursus
Dorchester’s Woodhenge in the cursus

Although ascribed as a wooden ‘henge’ by archaeologist Jean Cook, the site is more accurately a simple timber circle.  Cook (1985) described this little-known “Wood Henge” monument, as she called it, sat inside the lower southeastern end of the impressive Dorchester Cursus monument.  The site was obviously of some ritual importance, for a variety of reasons.  It was excavated in 1981 and,

“it consisted of a ring of large pits enclosing an area some 18m in diameter.  The site was situated along the central axis of the (Dorchester) cursus, presumably influenced by the alignment.  The pits, which varied in size, had each contained a wooden post, in three instances consisting of an entire trunk of an oak tree.  All the posts were burnt in situ, presumably during some form of destruction ceremony.”

Groundplan of site

When Alex Gibson came here a few years afterwards to re-examine the site, his work and that of Richard Bradley (1988) also found the place to have been an elliptical ‘ring’ of once-upright timber posts.  Although Gibson (1998) later gave a confused version of where the site actually was (wrong grid-refs), his brief description gave us an outline of what was once here:

“An oval of 12 postholes containing the carbonized remains of 13 posts which had been burnt prior to the placing of cremations in the upper fills of the postholes.  The SW posthole contained the remains of two posts in the same socket.  There is a possible entranceway, marked by a wider gap between posts, in the NW.”

But this last line appears to be pure speculation. I’ve not read the longer archaeological accounts of this ‘wood henge’ and adjacent sites (Bradley & Chambers, 1988; Gibson 1992), which should give greater details about the site as a whole.  The Pastscape site gives the following information:

“A pit circle comprising a sub-circular arrangement of 12 pits was excavated in the early 1980s in advance of work on the Dorchester by-pass. The site lay within the Dorchester Cursus (SU 59 NE 5), circa 400 metres northwest of its southeastern terminal. The long axis of the pit circle was the same as that of the cursus. Each of the pits had held a timber upright, and some if not all had been burnt in situ. An air photograph of the site had suggested the presence of a central pit but this feature proved to be a natural pocket of sand. Six deposits of cremated bone came from various post pipes. Other finds included a handful of potsherds, one possibly of Early Bronze Age date, some animal bone fragments, and a few flints. Radiocarbon dates from cremated bone and charcoal centred on the mid 3rd millennium BC, with one slightly later.”

References:

  1. Bradley, R. & Chambers, R., “A New Study of the Cursus Complex at Dorchester-on-Thames, in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, volume 7, 1988.
  2. Cook, Jean, “The Earliest Evidence,” in Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  3. Cook, Jean & Rowley, Trevor (eds.), Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  4. Gibson, Alex, “Possible Timber Circles at Dorchester-on-Thames,” in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, volume 11, 1992.
  5. Gibson, Alex, Stonehenge and Timber Circles, Tempus: Stroud 1998.
  6. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Woodhenge

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Woodhenge 51.652067, -1.166262 Woodhenge

Litton Cheney, Dorset

Timber Circle / Earthworks:  OS Grid Reference – SY 556 917

Getting Here

From Litton Cheney go north up the White Way road until it meets the main A35 crossroad.  Go across the road, then get over the fence on your right and onto the rise in the hill.  These earthworks, or timber circle remains, are under your feet!

Archaeology & History

Lay-out of site by O.G.S. Crawford, 1939
Lay-out of site by O.G.S. Crawford, 1939

Shown on modern OS-maps as an ‘earthwork’, but ascribed elsewhere as a timber circle, when Stuart & C.M. Piggott visited and surveyed this site in the 1930s, they thought it to be the remains of stone circle.  Found on a prominent rise in the landscape with excellent views all round here, the Piggott’s description of the site told:

“It consists of a shallow ditch with internal bank, enclosing a somewhat oval area measuring 75 feet from north to south, and 63 feet from east to west. The ditch, which lies on the southeast, where the ground has been disturbed, does not reach a depth of more than about one foot, while the bank rises nowhere above 2.5 feet. It is possible there was an entrance on the southeast, but the bank is disturbed at this point. On the crest of the bank on the southwest are 3 almost circular depressions, some 6 feet in diameter, and placed 20 feet distant from one another along the circumference of the bank. Another similar depression is on the northeast, while yet another may have existed in the disturbed portion of the bank on the southeast.”

It was these finds which led them to suppose a ring of stones originally surmounted this small hillock, twelve in all.

Lay-out of the circular remains, by O.G.S. Crawford
Ground-plan by O.G.S. Crawford

Another site — which they called ‘Litton Cheney 2’ — was found less than 50 yards to the east of here by a Mr W.E.V. Young and the Piggotts.  These remains comprised of, “a very shallow and regular ditch surrounding a circular area 47 feet in diameter.  A single sarsen lies on the inner lip of the ditch on the southeast” which, they thought, may have been the solitary remains of yet another stone circle. Three other sarsen stones were found 90 feet south of here, but they were unsure whether they related to the circle or not.

Archaeological remains from here dated from 2200-1400 BC and local researcher Peter Knight (1996) thought that the sites ascribed here as megalithic rings to be correct.  He also found that tumuli visible some 5 or 6 miles southeast of here, on top of Black Down Hill (where the Hardy Monument’s found), “marks out the winter solstice sunrise.”  A dip in the horizon to the northwest, he claims, also marks the summer solstice sunset from here.  Knight also mentions how “both Litton Cheney sites lie close to a ley line going to the Nine Stone Circle and beyond.”

References:

  1. Knight, Peter, Ancient Stones of Dorset, Power: Ferndown 1996.
  2. Piggott, Stuart & C.M., ‘Stone and Earth Circles in Dorset,’ in Antiquity, June 1939.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  50.723702, -2.629663 Litton Cheney timber circle