Stoney Littleton Long Barrow is one of the country’s finest accessible examples of a Neolithic chambered tomb. Dating from about 3500 BC, it is 30 metres long and has multiple burial chambers open to view.
Chambered long barrows like this one mark an important stage in evolution of prehistoric society in Britain, when elites started emerging among early farming communities. While they are generally viewed as tombs, it is possible the long barrows functioned more as shrines, as there is some evidence of continued use even after burials were no longer made. Here, the presence of the ancestral dead would have facilitated contact with gods, much in the same way tombs in a medieval church would have.
While the barrow seems to have laid intact until around 1760, it was broken into by a farmer in search of building stones. Since then, much of the contents, including skeletal remains, have been lost.
The barrow at Stoney Littleton is considered one of the finest accessible examples of the ‘true entrance’ type of long barrow, where an entrance leads via a vestibule into a gallery or central passage with pairs of side chambers radiating from it. It has dry stone walls with a frontage of upright slabs, and the roof consists of overlapping courses of stone converging to a final covering of small slabs.
There are three sets of paired chambers, and a seventh chamber at the far end – the only known example of such an arrangement. In some later barrows the chambers open directly from the sides of the barrow, with the main entrance being a dummy, like the false doors in some Egyptian tombs.