3.2 The palisade enclosures

Parker Pearson and Ramilisonina start their journey at the timber (land of the living) West Kennet palisade enclosures: a feasting place where people could have gathered and prepared themselves through ritual for entry into the land of the dead (Whittle 1997). From inside enclosure 2, assuming that the posts extend to around 6m above ground (Whittle 1997, 154), the only external monument that can be seen is Silbury Hill, the top of which is visible from the south-east end of the enclosure. This view is possible because the enclosure is orientated in a north-west/south-east direction, towards Silbury Hill; it is also of interest that the internal structures are placed at the south-east end, that is, the end from which Silbury Hill can be seen. If the palisade enclosures represent the place of the living, as the absence of views over any of the surrounding long barrows or places of the ancestors seems to suggest, then the view to Silbury Hill might suggest that it was regarded as a symbol of the living: this idea will be further discussed below. However, one might also argue that the enclosure's shape and orientation are due to its proximity to the Kennet river.

Figure 3

Figure 3: View to palisade enclosures.

Whittle (1997) suggests that the main entrance to palisade enclosure 2 would be in the south-east, to the east of the Structure 4 radial. The viewshed from this entrance area shows a very limited field of view. On approaching the area from the south-east one would be shepherded towards the enclosure entrance area, and therefore toward Silbury Hill, which would be seen above and beyond the entrance: the Structure 4 radial blocks movement to the west and south-west, enclosure 1 and the start of the West Kennet Avenue block movement to the north, and the outcrop of higher land between West and East Kennet long barrows blocks movement to the south and south-east (Fig. 3). Therefore people entering the area of the Kennet valley would be funnelled into the West Kennet palisade enclosures before they could proceed to any other part of the complex. From within the enclosure, views to the surrounding long barrows are blocked; however, to the east the Sanctuary can be clearly seen on Overton Hill on the horizon. It is with this separation, and protection from the monuments of the dead, that preparations in the form of ceremony and feasting could have taken place before setting out onto the journey into the land of the dead.

Figure 4

Figure 4: View from palisade enclosures.

On leaving the palisade enclosure, one is again shepherded in a specific direction. The radial and the hills to the south prevent movement to the west and south, and enclosure 1 and the avenue prevents movement to the north (Fig. 4). The choice is then between proceeding back along the way one entered the area or to enter the Sanctuary. The view of the route used to enter the enclosure is somewhat restricted but the Sanctuary stands prominently on top of Overton hill. One might argue that the path to the Sanctuary is also figuratively barred by the Kennet and by the elevation of the Sanctuary above the viewer; however, this is the beginning of a journey from the land of the living to the land of the ancestors and there is much ethnographical evidence to suggest that rivers or streams often represent boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead, and that hill tops can also be seen this way (Bradley 2000, 26). The Sanctuary, being partly constructed of stone, would have signified the first steps in entering this other world. Indeed, the architecture of the Sanctuary appears to welcome entry from all directions, but then funnels out into the West Kennet Avenue for the next stage of the journey, a further indication that a specific route is being prescribed.


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Last updated: Tues Oct 27 2009