Wayland’s Smithy, Oxfordshire, England

Wayland’s Smithy is a beautifully reconstructed Neolithic chambered long barrow situated on ‘The Ridgeway’, the oldest road in Britain. This ancient track has been in use for over 5,000 years, its elevated position boasts obvious advantages. As one walks along the Ridgeway towards Wayland’s Smithy its humbling to think of how many of people passed by this place and stood in reverence at the chambered tomb.

A long barrow is a trapezoidal shaped tomb and the county of Oxfordshire seems to be dotted with them. When the tomb was excavated in the 1960s it showed that an early timber chambered long barrow stood on the site, built between 3590-3550 BC. This wooden tomb had a paved stone floor and a single crouched burial was placed at one end, the remains of 14 other people were scattered in front of it. Analysis of the remains indicate that the bodies underwent the process of excarnation before burial. Excarnation can be found in many burial rites from Tibetan sky burial to Comanche platform burials. The process involves removal of all the flesh and organs prior to burial, leaving only the bones. This can be done in one of two ways, either leaving the body exposed to the elements and allowing the corpse to be scavenged, the other is undertaken by butchering the corpse by hand.

Either side of the entrance stand four sarsen stones, these are sandstones used in many megalithic sites in England. Excavations revealed the remains of seven adults and one child. in this tomb.

I always find it interesting how mankind’s relationship to these sites changes over time and it is important to note how the name Wayland’s Smithy came to be. The first documented recording of the name was in 955AD in a charter of King Edred, the tomb seems to have been of importance to the Anglo-Saxons who applied the name of a Germanic smith-god Wayland or Wolund to the site. According to legend if a traveller comes along the Ridgeway whose horse has lost a shoe, the traveller can leave both the horse and a silver coin on the capstone at Wayland’s Smithy. When the traveller returns the next morning the horse would have been re-shod by Wayland himself!

GPS: 51.56679, -1.59616

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