Avebury



image 1 This description of Avebury has the following headings: World Heritage Status, Avebury History, Associated Sites and Visitor Information.

World Heritage Status

The site at Avebury received World heritage status in 1986 along with Stonehenge. It is one of the most important megalithic monuments in Europe. The lengthy span of time it was used and the vast size of the whole complex give testimony to the fact that the Avebury temple was perhaps one of the most significant sacred sites in all of Britain.

It comprises an enormous circular earthwork, 400m wide, with a deep external ditch whose circumference is over 1200m. Inside is a 400m diameter circle of immense standing stones, and inside that there are two more stone circles each 100m in diameter which may have been temples. Additional placed stones increase the complexity and world- wide appeal of this complex monument. From Avebury there run two stone avenues, each of which had about 100 megaliths. Altogether there were some 600 megaliths including those of the Sanctuary.

Avebury History


The stones which are sarsens from Eocene sandstone beds 26 million years old, were brought from the Avebury Hills 3 miles east of the monument. The first were being assembled from about 2600 BC, and all the stone circles, stone avenues and earthworks went up during the ensuing 5 centuries. Begun in the agricultural Neolithic Age, Avebury was completed in the Early Bronze Age by a community of so-called Beaker Folk, noted for setting drinking vessels (beakers) in the graves with their dead.

The construction of the Avebury complex must have required enormous efforts from the local inhabitants. The sarsen stones, ranging in height from nine to over twenty feet and weighing as much as 40 tons, were first hewn from bedrock and then dragged or sledded a distance of nearly two miles from their quarry site. These stones were then erected and anchored in the ground to depths between 6 and 24 inches. The excavation of the encircling ditch required an estimated 200,000 tons of rock to be chipped and scraped away with the crudest of stone tools and antler picks (there is some evidence that this ditch was once filled with water, thereby giving the inner stone rings the appearance of being set upon an island).

From excavation and soil resistivity studies it is known that the three rings originally contained at least 154 stones of which only 36 remain standing today. There are three reasons for disappearance of these stones. In the 14th century, and perhaps earlier, the local Christian authorities, in their continuing effort to eradicate any vestiges of 'pagan' religious practices, toppled, broke up and buried many stones. Later, in the 17th and 18th centuries, still more of the remaining stones were removed from their foundations. Crops could then be planted in these areas and the massive stones could be broken into smaller pieces to be used for the construction of houses and other buildings.

In the early years of the 18th century, however, the general outline of the Avebury temple was still visible. Dr. William Stukeley, an antiquarian who frequently visited the site in the 1720's, watched in dismay as the local farmers, unaware of the cultural and archaeological value of the ancient temple, continued with its destruction.

For over thirty years Stukeley made careful measurements and numerous drawings of the site, drawings that are today our only record of both the immense size and complexity of the ancient temple. Stukeley was the first observer in historical times to clearly recognize that the original ground plan of Avebury was a representation of the body of a serpent passing through a circle and thus forming a traditional alchemical symbol. The head and tail of the enormous snake were delineated by 50-foot wide avenues of standing stones, each extending 1 and 1/2 miles into the countryside.

Many of the stones were re-erected in the 1930s by the archaeologist Alexander Keiller. The site Museum, including an exhibition in the 17th-century thatched threshing barn, presents the archaeological story. Finds from the site and interactive and audio- visual displays are used to tell the story of the monuments and the people who have helped to reveal their past.

Associated Sites


image 2 Landscape of Avebury

Crisscrossing the surrounding countryside are numerous meandering lines of standing stones and mysterious underground chambers, many positioned according to astronomical alignments. Perhaps the most astonishing revelations of Avebury's ancient grandeur have come through the recent research of John Michell, Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller. Drawing upon legends and folklore, archaeological excavations and dowsing, these specialists have determined that the Avebury temple was part of a vast network of neolithic sacred sites arranged along a nearly two-hundred mile line stretching all across southern England. Positioned directly on this line are the great pilgrimage sites of Glastonbury Tor and St.Michael's Mount.

Silbury Hill

Silbury, the biggest and most enigmatic of all megalithic constructions in Europe stands 1,500 metres South of Avebury It can be adequately regarded and photographed from nearby viewing areas, but access to the hill is not permitted.Silbury is a grass-covered chalk mound in the shape of a flat-topped cone.

The latest evidence from radio- carbon dating suggests that Silbury was built about 4300 years ago, at the end of Avebury's lengthy stone- building period (Alasdair Whittle, Sacred Mound and Holy Rings). The height of Silbury is 40 metres (130 feet), diameter 160 metres (522 feet) at the base, and the monument covered 2.2 hectares (5.5 acres). Almost half- a-million tons of chalk were shifted to achieve this. It probably took 40-50 years of labour to build it Excavations appear to show that it would have been a important sacred site.

The viewing areas are open at all reasonable hours and there is no charge for using them. The location is one mile south of Avebury and on the A4.

The Sanctuary

This is situated on Overton Hill next to the Ridgeway near Avebury. Its construction was begun around 3,000 BC. It originally comprised six concentric rings of timber uprights. Later, the timbers were replaced by double stone circles. The site, of which only the post and stone holes remain today (now marked by concrete blocks), was destroyed in the 18th century. Excavations have suggested that the site was used for feasting and for some form of mortuary ritual.

West Kennet Long Barrow

This splendid chambered megalithic monument is open at no charge at all reasonable times of day. The property belongs to the British nation and is cared for by the National Trust. It is close to Silbury Hill and can be reached from the A4 by walking along a narrow uphill track, which takes about 10 minutes. Two lay-bys provide parking for cars.

The monument is a fine, restored Early Neolithic chambered barrow. Inside, 5 chambers lead off from a central gallery. All chambers and roof are built from huge sarsen stones. Carbon-dating estimates suggest a foundation date of circa 3700-3600 BC and a closure date about 1200 years later. At the time of sealing the barrow, a facade of huge sarsens was placed immediately in front of the entrance in the manner of blocking stones. The central megalith stands before the main gallery which is aligned east-west.

The remains of skeletons and simple grave goods were found by the excavators in 1859 and 1955. The small skull of an infant was positioned on the floor between Stones 21 and 22, in such a way that it would have been lit by the light of the rising sun at the equinox. The most remarkable discoveries of recent years at this site are the carved megaliths inside the barrow. One is a realistically- shaped human head in left- facing profile Its several features are in perfect human proportion and demonstrate a high level of artistic competence for such a difficult medium that was hitherto quite unknown for early Britain.

The stone next to it has the general appearance of a skull with domed cranium. In the main gallery facing this human head is another major carved stone that takes the form of a left- facing sheep's head. Because of the barrow's alignment with the rising sun at the March equinox, the arrangement has been interpreted as indicating an annual ritual involving a mid- spring lambing festival (when the sun illuminates the sheep- stone) within a rebirth tomb of the dead.When the long barrow was in use, the sun penetrated the length of the gallery to the end-cell where it fell upon Stone 22 (which is skull- shaped), next upon the genuine child's skull, and lastly upon the finely- carved left- profile human head.

Windmill Hill

This was once the site of an important Neolithic settlement and has preserved Bronze Age burial mounds.

Oldbury Castle

West of Avebury, the Iron Age earthwork of Oldbury Castle crowns Cherhill Down, along with the conspicuous Lansdowne Monument. With the spectacular folds of Calstone Coombes, this area of open downland provides wonderful walking opportunities.

Address Nr Marlbrough
Wiltshire
SN8 1RF
Telephone 01672 539 250
Fax 01672 538038
E-mail avebury@nationaltrust.org.uk
Website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wessex
Entrance fee Alexander Keiller Museum. Adults 4.20. Children 2.10


Opening Times

Avebury Circle is open throughout the year. The Alexander Keiller Museum, Circle Restaurant and Shop are closed between 24 and 26 December. The Museum is open between 10.00am - 6.00pm in the Summer and between 10.00am - 4.00pm in the Winter.

Facilties

  • Parking. There is adequate parking in the area.

  • Disabled Access. There is reasonable disabled access throughout.

  • Catering. The Circle Restaurant is open between 10.00am - 5.30pm in the Summer and between 11.00am - 3.30pm in the Winter.

  • Shopping. The Avebury Circle Shop is open between 10.00am - 6.00pm in the Summer and between 11.00am - 4.00pm in the Winter.

    Care and Maintenance. English Heritage is charged with caring for Avebury and is committed to its conservation and good management and preservation for future generations. In the landscape around it, the The National Trust is equally concerned for the well- being of this area. And if you have the time, an exploration of the surrounding countryside, with its henges, and barrows and all the other monuments, is well worthwhile. This is part of a vast prehistoric scene.

     

    move to top

     

    World Heritage Sites of Wessex



     

    These details were last updated on
    26 AUG 2007

  • advert
    advert
    advert
    advert