Durrington Walls was a large Neolithic settlement and later a henge enclosure within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. It is 2 miles north-east of Stonehenge in the parish of Durrington, just north of Amesbury. Excavations on the site by a team led by the University of Sheffield, support an estimated community of several thousand, thought to be the largest one of its age in north-west Europe. Its diameter is 500m, making the henge the largest in Britain and recent evidence suggests that it was a complementary monument to Stonehenge.
What visibly remains of Durrington Walls today is the ‘walls’ of the henge monument – in fact the eroded remains of the inner slope of the bank and the outer slope of the internal ditch. This now appears as a ridge surrounding a central basin. On the eastern side the separate ditch and bank are much more discernible although badly eroded by ploughing. Originally the ditch was some 5.5m deep, 7m wide at its bottom and 18m wide at the top. The bank was in some areas 30m wide. There were two entrances through the bank and ditch – at the north western and south eastern ends. There may also have been an entrance to the south and the north east, although these may have been deliberately blocked. The henge enclosed several timber circles and smaller enclosures – not all of which have been excavated. Several Neolithic house floors have been found next to and under the eastern bank of the henge. Their density suggests that there was a very large village on the sloping river bank on this side.
The henge sits on high ground that slopes south east toward a bend in the River Avon, and is thus considerably higher at its north western side than at its south eastern edge. The south eastern entrance is roughly 60m from the riverbank.
The henge has two roads passing through it – an old toll road, and a modern banked road constructed in 1967. In the past military barracks were constructed at the north eastern end of the henge, and some houses are constructed on the western bank. The land on the western side of the toll road is owned by the National Trust, forming part of its Stonehenge Landscape property. It has free entry.
Although there is evidence of some early Neolithic activity at the site, most of the structures seem to have been built in the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age. At some point c. 2600 BC, a large timber circle was constructed. It is now known as the Southern Circle. The circle was oriented southeast towards the sunrise on the midwinter solstice and consisted of four large concentric circles of postholes, which would have held extremely large standing timbers. A paved avenue was also constructed on a slightly different alignment – towards the sunset on the summer solstice – that led to the River Avon. This feature is similar to the Stonehenge Avenue. A large timber post lay on this orientation, about as far away from the circle as the Heelstone is from Stonehenge.
At a similar time, but likely after the circle and avenue were constructed, a village began to develop around the site. Excavations have revealed seven Neolithic house floors on the eastern side of the bank. Some of these floors were located underneath the henge bank, suggesting that settlement came first. The density of some of the houses suggests that there are many more house floors under the field east of the henge, along the banks of the River Avon. One of the homes excavated showed evidence of a Cobb wall and its own ancillary building, and was remarkably similar in layout to a house at Skara Brae in Orkney. The other houses seem to have had simple wattle and daub walls. Evidence also suggests that the houses continued to the north of the site.
It is probable that the village surrounded a large, circular, open area that contained the Southern Circle and several smaller enclosures, including two houses set within timber palisades and ditched enclosures that appear to have been kept clean.
Sometime later, perhaps 200 years after the circle was first constructed, another two concentric rings were added, and the henge enclosure was constructed. A ditch some 5.5m deep was dug, and the earth used to create a large outer bank some 30m wide and presumably several metres high. Several features of the village, including houses and midden pits, were built over. The henge seems to have been built in one continuous operation, not in phases, as there is no evidence of soil or turf developing in the bank. The ditch also seems to have been dug in sections, perhaps by different groups of labourers. Estimates of the number of people required to create the henge vary from 4000 – 6000. At a similar time, another large timber circle and henge were created immediately south at Woodhenge.
It is unknown when the site fell out of use. It was re-occupied during the Iron Age, when a settlement and field system was established inside the henge. A large drainage ditch was also dug above the north eastern entrance, possibly to complement the field system.
Extract from Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia - June 2013 - with minor changes
Looking north along the western banks of Durrington Walls. This is a huge earth banked circle, far larger than the more famous nearby Stonehenge or Woodhenge. It is thought to have housed a Neolithic settlement of a few thousand people, the largest of its kind in North-West Europe. It features an avenue aligned to the winter solstice and is believed to have been a complementary site to the earliest phases of Stonehenge. One theory is that the Stonehenge users lived here, and the link between them along the River Avon represents the transition from life to death.