Avebury
Overview
Avebury is a Neolithic
Neolithic British Isles
The Neolithic British Isles refers to the period of British, Irish and Manx history that spanned from circa 4000 to circa 2,500 BCE. The final part of the Stone Age in the British Isles, it was a part of the greater Neolithic, or "New Stone Age", across Europe.During the preceding Mesolithic...

 henge
Henge
There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork which are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside...

 monument containing three stone circles which is located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

, south west England. Unique amongst megalith
Megalith
A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. Megalithic describes structures made of such large stones, utilizing an interlocking system without the use of mortar or cement.The word 'megalith' comes from the Ancient...

ic monuments, Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe, and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain. It is currently used as both a tourist attraction and a place of religious importance to contemporary Pagans
Neopaganism
Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe...

.

Constructed around 2600 BCE, during the Neolithic, or 'New Stone Age'
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

, the monument comprises a large henge
Henge
There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork which are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside...

, surrounded by a bank and a ditch.
Encyclopedia
Avebury is a Neolithic
Neolithic British Isles
The Neolithic British Isles refers to the period of British, Irish and Manx history that spanned from circa 4000 to circa 2,500 BCE. The final part of the Stone Age in the British Isles, it was a part of the greater Neolithic, or "New Stone Age", across Europe.During the preceding Mesolithic...

 henge
Henge
There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork which are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside...

 monument containing three stone circles which is located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

, south west England. Unique amongst megalith
Megalith
A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. Megalithic describes structures made of such large stones, utilizing an interlocking system without the use of mortar or cement.The word 'megalith' comes from the Ancient...

ic monuments, Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe, and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain. It is currently used as both a tourist attraction and a place of religious importance to contemporary Pagans
Neopaganism
Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe...

.

Constructed around 2600 BCE, during the Neolithic, or 'New Stone Age'
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

, the monument comprises a large henge
Henge
There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork which are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside...

, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow
The West Kennet Long Barrow is a Neolithic tomb or barrow, situated on a prominent chalk ridge, near Silbury Hill, one-and-a-half miles south of Avebury in Wiltshire, England. The site was recorded by John Aubrey in the 17th century and by William Stukeley in the 18th century.Archaeologists...

 and Silbury Hill
Silbury Hill
Silbury Hill is a prehistoric artificial chalk mound near Avebury in the English county of Wiltshire. It is part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site, and lies at ....

.

By the Iron Age
British Iron Age
The British Iron Age is a conventional name used in the archaeology of Great Britain, referring to the prehistoric and protohistoric phases of the Iron-Age culture of the main island and the smaller islands, typically excluding prehistoric Ireland, and which had an independent Iron Age culture of...

, the site had been effectively abandoned, with some evidence of human activity on the site during the Roman occupation
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

. During the Early Mediaeval, a village first began to be built around the monument, which eventually extended into it. In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones around the henge, both for religious and practical reasons. The antiquarians John Aubrey
John Aubrey
John Aubrey FRS, was an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer. He is perhaps best known as the author of the collection of short biographical pieces usually referred to as Brief Lives...

 and William Stukeley
William Stukeley
William Stukeley FRS, FRCP, FSA was an English antiquarian who pioneered the archaeological investigation of the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, work for which he has been remembered as "probably... the most important of the early forerunners of the discipline of archaeology"...

 however took an interest in Avebury during the 17th century, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeological
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 investigation followed in the 20th century, led primarily by Alexander Keiller
Alexander Keiller
Alexander Keiller was an archaeologist and businessman who worked on the site at Avebury in Wiltshire. He used his wealth to acquire a total of of land for preservation, conducted excavations, re-erected stones on the site, and created a museum to interpret the site. He founded the Morven...

, who oversaw a project of reconstructing much of the monument.

Avebury is owned and run by the National Trust
National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty
The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, usually known as the National Trust, is a conservation organisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland...

, a charitable organisation who keep it open to the public. It has been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument
Scheduled Ancient Monument
In the United Kingdom, a scheduled monument is a 'nationally important' archaeological site or historic building, given protection against unauthorized change. The various pieces of legislation used for legally protecting heritage assets from damage and destruction are grouped under the term...

, as well as a World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

, in the latter capacity being seen as a part of the wider prehistoric landscape of Wiltshire known as Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Wiltshire, England. The WHS covers two large areas of land separated by nearly , rather than a specific monument or building. The sites were inscribed as co-listings in 1986....

.

Location and environment

At , Avebury is respectively about 6 and 7 mi (9.7 and 11.3 km) from the modern towns of Marlborough and Calne. Avebury lies in an area of chalkland in the Upper Kennet Valley
River Kennet
The Kennet is a river in the south of England, and a tributary of the River Thames. The lower reaches of the river are navigable to river craft and are known as the Kennet Navigation, which, together with the Avon Navigation, the Kennet and Avon Canal and the Thames, links the cities of Bristol...

, at the western end of the Berkshire Downs
Berkshire Downs
The Berkshire Downs are a range of chalk downland hills in southern England, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty...

, which forms the catchment
Drainage basin
A drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean...

 for the River Kennet and supports local springs and seasonal watercourses. The monument stands slightly above the local landscape, sitting on a low chalk ridge 160 m (524.9 ft) above sea level; to the east are the Marlborough Downs, an area of lowland hills. The site lies at the centre of a collection of Neolithic and early Bronze Age monuments and was inscribed as a World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

 in a co-listing with the monuments at Stonehenge, 17 miles (27.4 km) to the south, in 1986. It is now listed as part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site. The monuments are preserved as part of a Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape for the information they provide regarding prehistoric people's relationship with the landscape.

Radiocarbon dating
Radiocarbon dating
Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years. Raw, i.e. uncalibrated, radiocarbon ages are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" ,...

 and analysis of pollen in buried soils have shown that the environment of lowland Britain changed around 4,250–4,000 BCE. The change to a grassland
Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

 environment from damp, heavy soils and expanses of dense forest was mostly brought about by farmers, probably through the use of slash and burn
Slash and burn
Slash-and-burn is an agricultural technique which involves cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create fields. It is subsistence agriculture that typically uses little technology or other tools. It is typically part of shifting cultivation agriculture, and of transhumance livestock...

 techniques. Environmental factors may also have made a contribution. Pollen is poorly preserved in the chalky soils found around Avebury, so the best evidence for the state of local environment at any time in the past comes from the study of the deposition of snail
Snail
Snail is a common name applied to most of the members of the molluscan class Gastropoda that have coiled shells in the adult stage. When the word is used in its most general sense, it includes sea snails, land snails and freshwater snails. The word snail without any qualifier is however more often...

 shells. Different species of snail live in specific habitats, so the presence of a certain species indicates what the area was like at a particular point in time. The available evidence suggests that in the early Neolithic, Avebury and the surrounding hills were covered in dense oak
Oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

 woodland, and as the Neolithic progressed, the woodland around Avebury and the nearby monuments receded and was replaced by grassland.

Background

The history of the site before the construction of the henge is uncertain, because little datable evidence has emerged from modern archaeological excavations. Evidence of activity in the region before the 4th millennium BCE is limited, suggesting that there was little human occupation.

Mesolithic

What is now termed the Mesolithic
Mesolithic
The Mesolithic is an archaeological concept used to refer to certain groups of archaeological cultures defined as falling between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic....

 period in Britain lasted from circa 11,600 to 7800 BP
Before Present
Before Present years is a time scale used in archaeology, geology, and other scientific disciplines to specify when events in the past occurred. Because the "present" time changes, standard practice is to use AD 1950 as the origin of the age scale, reflecting the fact that radiocarbon...

, at a time when the island was heavily forested and when there was a still a land mass, called Doggerland
Doggerland
Doggerland is a name given by archaeologists and geologists to a former landmass in the southern North Sea that connected the island of Great Britain to mainland Europe during and after the last Ice Age, surviving until about 6,500 or 6,200 BCE, though gradually being swallowed by rising sea levels...

, which connected Britain to continental Europe. During this era, those humans living in Britain were hunter-gatherers, often moving around the landscape in small familial or tribal groups in search of food and other resources. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that there were some of these hunter-gatherers active in the vicinity of Avebury during the Late Mesolithic, with stray finds of flint tools, dated between 7,000 and 4,000 BCE, having been found in the area. The most notable of these discoveries is a densely scattered collection of worked flints found 300 m (984.3 ft) to the west of Avebury, which has led archaeologists to believe that that particular spot was a flint working site occupied over a period of several weeks by a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers who had set up camp there.

The archaeologists Mark Gillings and Joshua Pollard
Joshua Pollard
Dr Joshua Pollard FSA is a British archaeologist, who is currently Senior Lecturer and Head of Archaeology at the University of Bristol. He gained his BA and PhD in Archaeology from the Cardiff University, and has specialised in the archaeology of the Neolithic period in the UK and north-west...

 suggested the possibility that Avebury first gained some sort of ceremonial significance during the Late Mesolithic period. As evidence, they highlighted the existence of a posthole
Posthole
In archaeology a posthole is a cut feature used to hold a surface timber or stone. They are usually much deeper than they are wide although truncation may not make this apparent....

 near to the monument's southern entrance that would have once supported a large wooden post. Although this posthole was never dated when it was excavated in the early 20th century, and so cannot definitely be ascribed to the Mesolithic, Gillings and Pollard noted that its positioning had no relation to the rest of the henge, and that it may therefore have been erected centuries or even millennia before the henge was actually built. They compared this with similar wooden posts that had been erected in southern Britain during the Mesolithic at Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

 and Hambledon Hill
Hambledon Hill
Hambledon Hill is a prehistoric hill fort in Dorset, England, situated in the Blackmore Vale five miles north of Blandford Forum. The hill is a Chalk outcrop, on the south western corner of Cranborne Chase, separated from the Dorset Downs by the River Stour....

, both of which were sites that like Avebury saw the construction of large monuments in the Neolithic.

Early Neolithic

In the 4th millennium BCE, around the start of the Neolithic period in Britain, British society underwent radical changes. These coincided with the introduction to the island of domesticated species of animals and plants, as well as a changing material culture
Archaeological culture
An archaeological culture is a recurring assemblage of artifacts from a specific time and place, which are thought to constitute the material culture remains of a particular past human society. The connection between the artifacts is based on archaeologists' understanding and interpretation and...

 that included pottery. These developments allowed hunter-gatherers to settle down and produce their own food. As agriculture spread, people cleared land. At the same time, they also erected the first monuments to be seen in the local landscape, an activity interpreted as evidence of a change in the way people viewed their place in the world.

Based on anthropological studies of recent and contemporary societies, Gillings and Pollard suggest that forests, clearings, and stones were important in Neolithic culture, not only as resources but as symbols; the site of Avebury occupied a convergence of these three elements. Neolithic activity at Avebury is evidenced by flint, animal bones, and pottery such as Peterborough ware
Peterborough ware
Peterborough ware is a decorated pottery style of the early to middle Neolithic. It is known for the impressed pits made by bone or wood implements in its sides. Whipped cord was also used to make circular 'maggot' patterns....

 dating from the early 4th and 3rd millennia BCE. Five distinct areas of Neolithic activity have been identified within 500 m (1,640.4 ft) of Avebury; they include a scatter of flints along the line of the West Kennet Avenue – an avenue
Avenue (archaeology)
British Archaeologists refine the general archaeological use of avenue to denote a long, parallel-sided strip of land, measuring up to about 30m in width, open at either end and with edges marked by stone or timber alignments and/or a low earth bank and ditch...

 that connects Avebury with the Neolithic site of The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary is a prehistoric site on Overton Hill located around 5 miles west of Marlborough in the English county of Wiltshire.It is part of a wider Neolithic landscape which includes the nearby sites of Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow and Avebury, to which The Sanctuary was linked by the...

. Pollard suggests that areas of activity in the Neolithic became important markers in the landscape.

Late Neolithic

During the Late Neolithic, British society underwent a series of major changes. Between 3500 and 3300 BCE, these prehistoric Britons ceased their continual expansion and cultivation of wilderness and instead focused on settling and farming the most agriculturally productive areas of the island: Orkney, eastern Scotland, Anglesey, the upper Thames, Wessex, Essex, Yorkshire and the river valleys of the Wash.

Late Neolithic Britons also appeared to have changed their religious beliefs, ceasing to construct the large chambered tombs that are widely thought to have been connected with ancestor veneration by archaeologists. Instead, they began the construction of large wooden or stone circles, with many hundreds being built across Britain and Ireland over a period of a thousand years.

Construction

Avebury was constructed around 2600 BCE, and was apparently used by the people living in the area for the next thousand years. It was not designed as a single monument, but is the result of various projects that were undertaken at different times during late prehistory.

The construction of large monuments such as those at Avebury indicates that a stable agrarian economy had developed in Britain by around 4,000–3,500 BCE. The people who built them had to be secure enough to spend time on such non-essential activities. Avebury was one of a group of monumental sites that were established in this region during the Neolithic. Its monuments comprise the henge and associated long barrow
Long barrow
A long barrow is a prehistoric monument dating to the early Neolithic period. They are rectangular or trapezoidal tumuli or earth mounds traditionally interpreted as collective tombs...

s, stone circles, avenues, and a causewayed enclosure
Causewayed enclosure
A causewayed enclosure is a type of large prehistoric earthwork common to the early Neolithic in Europe. More than 100 examples are recorded in France and 70 in England, while further sites are known in Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Slovakia.The term "causewayed enclosure" is...

. These monument types are not exclusive to the Avebury area. For example, Stonehenge features the same kinds of monuments, and in Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

 there is a henge on the edge of Dorchester and a causewayed enclosure at nearby Maiden Castle. According to Caroline Malone, who worked for English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

 as an inspector of monuments and was the curator of Avebury's Alexander Keiller Museum, it is possible that the monuments associated with Neolithic sites such as Avebury and Stonehenge constituted ritual or ceremonial centres.

Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson
Mike Parker Pearson
Michael "Mike" Parker Pearson is a professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield in England. His books include The Archaeology of Death and Burial, Bronze Age Britain, Architecture and Order and In Search of the Red Slave...

 noted that the addition of the stones to the henge occurred at a similar date to the construction of Silbury Hill and the major building projects at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls
Durrington Walls
Durrington Walls is the site of a large Neolithic settlement and later henge enclosure located in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. It is 2 miles north-east of Stonehenge in the parish of Durrington, just north of Amesbury...

. For this reason, he speculated that there may have been a "religious revival" at the time, which led to huge amounts of resources being expended on the construction of ceremonial monuments.

Archaeologist Aaron Watson highlighted the possibility that by digging up earth and using it to construct the large banks, those Neolithic labourers constructing the Avebury monument symbolically saw themselves as turning the land "inside out", thereby creating a space that was "on a frontier between worlds above and beneath the ground."

Henge

The Avebury monument is a henge
Henge
There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork which are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside...

, a type of monument consisting of a large circular bank with an internal ditch. Although the henge is not perfectly circular, it has a diameter of about 420 metres (459.3 yd) across. The only known comparable sites of similar date are only a quarter of the size of Avebury. The ditch alone was 21 metres (69 ft) wide and 11 metres (36 ft) deep, with a sample from its primary fill carbon dated to 3300 - 2630 BCE (4300+/-90).

The excavation of the bank has demonstrated that it has been enlarged, presumably using material dug from the ditch, so it could be assumed that the construction of the ditch could have started at the earlier date, although speculation puts it nearer the later date. The top of the bank is irregular, something archaeologist Caroline Malone
Caroline Malone
Caroline Malone is a British academic and archaeologist currently Director of Education and Reader in Prehistoric Archaeology at Queen's University, Belfast School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/gap/, and formerly Senior Tutor of Hughes Hall, Cambridge, UK...

 suggested was because of the irregular nature of the work undertaken by excavators working on the adjacent sectors of the ditch. Later archaeologists such as Aaron Watson, Mark Gillings and Joshua Pollard have however suggested that this was an original Neolithic feature of the henge's architecture.

Outer Stone Circle

Within the henge is a great outer circle. This is one of Europe's largest stone circles, with a diameter of 331.6 metres (1,088 ft), Britain's largest stone circle. It was either contemporary with, or built around four or five centuries after the earthworks. There were originally 98 sarsen
Sarsen
Sarsen stones are sandstone blocks found in quantity in the United Kingdom on Salisbury Plain, the Marlborough Downs, in Kent, and in smaller quantities in Berkshire, Essex, Oxfordshire, Dorset and Hampshire...

 standing stone
Standing stone
Standing stones, orthostats, liths, or more commonly megaliths are solitary stones set vertically in the ground and come in many different varieties....

s, some weighing in excess of 40 tons. The stones varied in height from 3.6 to 4.2 m, as exemplified at the north and south entrances. The fill from two of the stoneholes has been carbon dated to between 2900 and 2600 BCE (3870+/-90, 4130+/-90)

The two large stones at the Southern Entrance had an unusually smooth surface, likely due to having stone axes polished on them.

Inner Stone Circles

Nearer the middle of the monument are two additional, separate stone circles. The northern inner ring is 98 metres (322 ft) in diameter, but only two of its four standing stones remain upright. A cove
Cove (standing stones)
Cove is a term used to describe a tightly concentrated group of large standing stones found in Neolithic and Bronze Age England. Coves are square or rectangular in plan and seem to have served as small enclosures within other henge, stone circle or avenue features. They consist of three or four...

 of three stones stood in the middle, its entrance facing northeast. Taking experiments undertaken at the megalithic Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic henge and stone circle on the Mainland, the largest island in Orkney, Scotland...

 in Orkney as a basis, the archaeologists Joshua Pollard
Joshua Pollard
Dr Joshua Pollard FSA is a British archaeologist, who is currently Senior Lecturer and Head of Archaeology at the University of Bristol. He gained his BA and PhD in Archaeology from the Cardiff University, and has specialised in the archaeology of the Neolithic period in the UK and north-west...

, Mark Gillings and Aaron Watson believed that any sounds produced inside Avebury's Inner Circles would have created an echo as sound waves ricocheted off of the standing stones.

The southern inner ring was 108 metres (354 ft) in diameter before its destruction in the eighteenth century. The remaining sections of its arc now lie beneath the village buildings. A single large monolith, 5.5 metres (18 ft) high, stood in the centre along with an alignment of smaller stones.

The Avenue

The West Kennet Avenue, an avenue
Avenue (archaeology)
British Archaeologists refine the general archaeological use of avenue to denote a long, parallel-sided strip of land, measuring up to about 30m in width, open at either end and with edges marked by stone or timber alignments and/or a low earth bank and ditch...

 of paired stones, leads from the southeastern entrance of the henge; and traces of a second, the Beckhampton Avenue
Beckhampton Avenue
The Beckhampton Avenue a curving prehistoric avenue of stones that ran broadly south west from Avebury towards The Longstones at Beckhampton in the English county of Wiltshire. It probably dates to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age....

, lead out from the western entrance.

The archaeologist Aaron Watson, taking a phenomenological
Phenomenology (archaeology)
In archaeology, phenomenology applies to the use of sensory experiences to view and interpret an archaeological site or cultural landscape. It first came to widespread attention among archaeologists with the publication of Christopher Tilley's A Phenomenology of Landscape , in which he suggested it...

 viewpoint to the monument, believed that the way in which the Avenue had been constructed in juxtaposition to Avebury, the Sanctuary, Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow had been intentional, commenting that "the Avenue carefully orchestrated passage through the landscape which influenced how people could move and what they could see, emphasizing connections between places and maximizing the spectacle of moving between these monuments."

Purpose

The purpose which Neolithic people had for the Avebury monument has remained elusive, although many archaeologists have postulated about its meaning and usage. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl
Aubrey Burl
Harry Aubrey Woodruff Burl MA, DLitt, PhD, FSA, HonFSA Scot is a British archaeologist most well known for his studies into megalithic monuments and the nature of prehistoric rituals associated with them. Prior to retirement he was Principal Lecturer in Archaeology, Hull College, East Riding of...

 believed that rituals would have been performed at Avebury by Neolithic peoples in order "to appease the malevolent powers of nature" that threatened their existence, such as the winter cold, death and disease.

In his study of those examples found at Orkney, Colin Richards suggested that the stone and wooden circles built in Neolithic Britain might have represented the centre of the world, or axis mundi
Axis mundi
The axis mundi , in religion or mythology, is the world center and/or the connection between heaven and Earth. As the celestial pole and geographic pole, it expresses a point of connection between sky and earth where the four compass directions meet...

, for those who constructed them, something Aaron Watson adopted as a possibility in his discussion of Avebury.

A great deal of interest surrounds the morphology of the stones, which are usually described as being in one of two categories; tall and slender, or short and squat. This has led to numerous theories relating to the importance of gender in Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 with the taller stones considered "male" and the shorter ones "female". The stones were not dressed in any way and may have been chosen for their pleasing natural forms.

The human bones found by Gray point to some form of funerary purpose and have parallels in the disarticulated human bones often found at earlier causewayed enclosure
Causewayed enclosure
A causewayed enclosure is a type of large prehistoric earthwork common to the early Neolithic in Europe. More than 100 examples are recorded in France and 70 in England, while further sites are known in Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Slovakia.The term "causewayed enclosure" is...

 sites. Ancestor worship on a huge scale could have been one of the purposes of the monument and would not necessarily have been mutually exclusive with any male/female ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

 role.

The henge, although clearly forming an imposing boundary to the circle, has no defensive purpose as the ditch is on the inside. Being a henge and stone circle site, astronomical alignments are a common theory to explain the positioning of the stones at Avebury. The relationships between the causewayed enclosure, Avebury stone circles, and West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow
The West Kennet Long Barrow is a Neolithic tomb or barrow, situated on a prominent chalk ridge, near Silbury Hill, one-and-a-half miles south of Avebury in Wiltshire, England. The site was recorded by John Aubrey in the 17th century and by William Stukeley in the 18th century.Archaeologists...

 to the south, has caused some to describe the area as a "ritual complex" – a site with many monuments of interlocking religious function.

Alexander Thom
Alexander Thom
Alexander "Sandy" Thom was a Scottish engineer most famous for his theory of the Megalithic yard, categorization of stone circles and his studies of Stonehenge and other archaeological sites.- Life and work :...

 suggested that Avebury was constructed with a definitely indicated site to site alignment with Deneb
Deneb
Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus and one of the vertices of the Summer Triangle. It is the 19th brightest star in the night sky, with an apparent magnitude of 1.25. A blue-white supergiant, Deneb is also one of the most luminous nearby stars...

.

Pseudoarchaeological theories

Various pseudoarchaeologists
Pseudoarchaeology
Pseudoarchaeology — also known as alternative archaeology, fringe archaeology, fantastic archaeology, or cult archaeology — refers to interpretations of the past from outside of the academic archaeological community, which typically also reject the accepted scientific and analytical methods of the...

 have interpreted Avebury and its neighbouring prehistoric monuments differently to those of their academic counterparts. These interpretations have been defined by professional archaeologist Aubrey Burl as being "more phony than factual", and in many cases "entirely untenable". Such inaccurate ideas originated with William Stukeley
William Stukeley
William Stukeley FRS, FRCP, FSA was an English antiquarian who pioneered the archaeological investigation of the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, work for which he has been remembered as "probably... the most important of the early forerunners of the discipline of archaeology"...

 in the late 17th century, who believed that Avebury had been built by the druids, priests of the Iron Age peoples of north-western Europe, although archaeologists since then have identified the monument as having been constructed two thousand years before the Iron Age, during the Neolithic.

Following Stukeley, other writers produced inaccurate theories about how Avebury was built and by whom. The Reverend R. Warner, in his The Pagan Altar (1840) argued that both Avebury and Stonehenge were built by Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

ns, an ancient sea-faring people who many Victorian Britons believed had first brought civilisation to the island. James Fergusson disagreed, and in his Rude Stone Monuments in All Countries (1872) put forward the idea that the megalithic monument had been constructed in the Early Mediaeval period to commemorate the final battle of King Arthur
King Arthur
King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and...

, and that Arthur's slain warriors had been buried there. W.S. Blacket introduced a third idea, arguing in his Researches into the Lost Histories of America (1883) that it was Native Americans
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 from the Appalachian Mountains
Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains #Whether the stressed vowel is or ,#Whether the "ch" is pronounced as a fricative or an affricate , and#Whether the final vowel is the monophthong or the diphthong .), often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians...

 who, in the ancient period crossed the Atlantic Ocean to build the great megalithic monuments of southern Britain.

The prominent modern Druid Ross Nichols
Ross Nichols
Ross Nichols was a Cambridge academic and published poet, artist and historian, who founded the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in 1964. He wrote prolifically on the subjects of Druidism and Celtic mythology.- Work :...

, the founder of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids or OBOD is a Neo-Druidic organisation based in England, but based in part on the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards...

, believed that there was an astrological axis connecting Avebury to the later megalithic site at Stonehenge, and that this axis was flanked on one side by West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow
The West Kennet Long Barrow is a Neolithic tomb or barrow, situated on a prominent chalk ridge, near Silbury Hill, one-and-a-half miles south of Avebury in Wiltshire, England. The site was recorded by John Aubrey in the 17th century and by William Stukeley in the 18th century.Archaeologists...

, which he believed symbolised the Mother Goddess, and Silbury Hill
Silbury Hill
Silbury Hill is a prehistoric artificial chalk mound near Avebury in the English county of Wiltshire. It is part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site, and lies at ....

, which he believed to be a symbol of masculinity.

Iron Age and Roman periods

During the British Iron Age
British Iron Age
The British Iron Age is a conventional name used in the archaeology of Great Britain, referring to the prehistoric and protohistoric phases of the Iron-Age culture of the main island and the smaller islands, typically excluding prehistoric Ireland, and which had an independent Iron Age culture of...

, it appears that the Avebury monument had ceased to be used for its original purpose, and was instead largely ignored, with little archaeological evidence that many people visited the site at this time. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl
Aubrey Burl
Harry Aubrey Woodruff Burl MA, DLitt, PhD, FSA, HonFSA Scot is a British archaeologist most well known for his studies into megalithic monuments and the nature of prehistoric rituals associated with them. Prior to retirement he was Principal Lecturer in Archaeology, Hull College, East Riding of...

 believed that the Iron Age Britons living in the region would not have known when, why or by whom the monument had been constructed, perhaps having some vague understanding that it had been built by an earlier society or considering it to be the dwelling of a supernatural entity.

In 43 CE, the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 invaded southern Britain, making alliances with certain local monarchs and subsuming the Britons under their own political control. Southern and central Britain would remain a part of the Empire until the early 5th century, in a period now known as Roman Britain
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

 or the Roman Iron Age. It was during this Roman period that tourists came from the nearby towns of Cunetio, Durocornovium
Wanborough, Wiltshire
Wanborough is a village and civil parish in the borough of Swindon, Wiltshire. The village is about southeast of Swindon town centre. The parish includes the hamlet of Foxhill, southeast of the village.-History:...

 and the villas and farms around Devizes
Devizes
Devizes is a market town and civil parish in Wiltshire, England. The town is about southeast of Chippenham and about east of Trowbridge.Devizes serves as a centre for banks, solicitors and shops, with a large open market place where a market is held once a week...

 and visited Avebury and its surrounding prehistoric monuments via a newly constructed road. Evidence of visitors at the monument during this period has been found in the form of Roman-era pottery sherds uncovered from the ditch.

Early Mediaeval period

In the Early Mediaeval period, which began in the 5th century following the collapse of Roman rule, Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 tribes from continental Europe migrated to southern Britain, where they may have come into conflict with the Britons already settled there. Aubrey Burl suggested the possibility that a small group of British warriors may have used Avebury as a fortified site to defend themselves from Anglo-Saxon attack. He gained this idea from etymological evidence, suggesting that the site may have been called weala-dic, meaning "moat of the Britons", in Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons.

The early Anglo-Saxon settlers followed their own pagan religion which venerated a selection of deities, the most notable of whom were apparently Woden
Woden
Woden or Wodan is a major deity of Anglo-Saxon and Continental Germanic polytheism. Together with his Norse counterpart Odin, Woden represents a development of the Proto-Germanic god *Wōdanaz....

 and Thunor. It is known from etymological sources that they associated many prehistoric sites in the Wiltshire area with their gods, for instance within a ten mile of radius of Avebury there are four sites that were apparently named after Woden: Wansdyke
Wansdyke (earthwork)
Wansdyke is a series of early medieval defensive linear earthworks in the West Country of England, consisting of a ditch and a running embankment from the ditch spoil, with the ditching facing north. It runs at least from Maes Knoll in historic Somerset, a hillfort at the east end of Dundry Hill...

 ("Wodin's ditch"), Wodin's Barrow
Adam's Grave
Adam's Grave is a Neolithic long barrow that was located in Wiltshire, south west England. It was destroyed in the Early Modern period. There is a breast shaped hill in the spot.-External Links:*...

, Waden Hill ("Wodin's Hill)" and perhaps Wanborough (also "Woden's Hill"). It is not known if they placed any special religious associations with the Avebury monument, but it remains possible.

During the Early Mediaeval period, there were signs of settlement at Avebury, with a grubenhaus
Grubenhaus
A Grubenhaus is a type of sunken floored building built in many parts of northern Europe between the 5th and 12th centuries AD...

, a type of timber hut with a sunken floor, being constructed just outside of the monument's west bank in the 6th century. Only a few farmers appeared to have inhabited the area at the time, and they left the Avebury monument largely untouched. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the Anglo-Saxon peoples began gradually converting to Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, and during the 10th century a church was built just west of the monument.

In 939, the earliest known written record of the monument was made in the form of a charter of King Athelstan which defined the boundaries of Overton, a parish adjacent to Avebury. In the following century, invading Viking
Viking
The term Viking is customarily used to refer to the Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century.These Norsemen used their famed longships to...

 armies from Denmark came into conflict with Anglo-Saxon groups in the area around Avebury, and it may be that they destroyed Avebury village, for the local prehistoric monument of Silbury Hill
Silbury Hill
Silbury Hill is a prehistoric artificial chalk mound near Avebury in the English county of Wiltshire. It is part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site, and lies at ....

 was fortified and used as a defensive position, apparently by a local Anglo-Saxon population attempting to protect themselves from Viking aggression.

Late Mediaeval period

By the Late Mediaeval period, England had been entirely converted to Christianity, and Avebury, being an evidently non-Christian monument, began to be associated with the Devil
Devil
The Devil is believed in many religions and cultures to be a powerful, supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind. The nature of the role varies greatly...

 in the popular imagination of the locals. The largest stone at the southern entrance became known as the Devil's Chair, the three stones that once formed the Beckhampton Cove became known as the Devil's Quoits and the stones inside the North Circle became known as the Devil's Brand-Irons. At some point in the early 14th century, villagers began to demolish the monument by pulling down the large standing stones and burying them in ready-dug pits at the side, presumably because they were seen as having been erected by the Devil and thereby being in opposition to the village's Christian beliefs. Although it is unknown how this situation came about, archaeologist Aubrey Burl suggests that it might have been at the prompting of the local Christian priest, with the likely contenders being either Thomas Mayn (who served in the village from 1298 to 1319), or John de Hoby (who served from 1319 to 1324).

During the toppling of the stones, one of them (which was 3 metres tall and weighed 13 tons), collapsed on top of one of the men
Barber surgeon of Avebury
The story of the Barber surgeon of Avebury is one that most visitors to the prehistoric site of Avebury Henge in the English county of Wiltshire will have heard.The traditional story goes as follows:...

 pulling it down, fracturing his pelvis and breaking his neck, crushing him to death. His corpse was trapped in the hole that had been dug for the falling stone, and so the locals were unable to remove the body and offer him a Christian burial in a churchyard, as would have been customary at the time. When archaeologists excavated his body in 1938, they found that he had been carrying a leather pouch, in which was found three silver coins dated to around 1320-25, as well as a pair of iron scissors and a lance. From these latter two items, the archaeologists surmised that he had probably been a travelling barber-surgeon who journeyed between market towns offering his services, and that he just happened to be at Avebury when the stone-felling was in progress.

It appears that the death of the barber-surgeon prevented the locals from pulling down further stones, perhaps fearing that it had in some way been retribution for toppling them in the first place, enacted by a vengeful spirit or even the Devil himself. The event appears to have left a significant influence on the minds' of the local villagers, for records show that in the 18th and 19th centuries there were still legends being told in the community about a man being crushed by a falling stone.

Soon after the toppling of many of the stones, the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 hit the village in 1349, decimating the population. Those who survived focused on their agricultural duties in order to grow food and stay alive. As a result, they would not have had the time or man power to once more attempt to demolish any part of the non-Christian monument, even if they wanted to.

Early Modern period

It was in the Early Modern period
Early Modern Britain
Early modern Britain is the history of the island of Great Britain, roughly corresponding to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Major historical events in Early Modern British history include the English Renaissance, the English Reformation and Scottish Reformation, the English Civil War, the...

 that Avebury was first recognised as an antiquity
Antiquities
Antiquities, nearly always used in the plural in this sense, is a term for objects from Antiquity, especially the civilizations of the Mediterranean: the Classical antiquity of Greece and Rome, Ancient Egypt and the other Ancient Near Eastern cultures...

 that warranted investigation. Around 1541, John Leland, the librarian and chaplain to King Henry VIII travelled through Wiltshire and made note of the existence of Avebury and its neighbouring prehistoric monuments. Despite this, Avebury remained relatively unknown to anyone but locals and when the antiquarian William Camden
William Camden
William Camden was an English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and officer of arms. He wrote the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.- Early years :Camden was born in London...

 published his Latin language guide to British antiquities, Britannia, in 1586, he made no mention of it. He rectified this for his English language version in 1610, but even in this he only included a fleeting reference to the monument at "Abury", believing it to have been "an old camp". In 1634, it was once more referenced, this time in Sir John Harington's notes to the Orlando Furioso
Orlando Furioso
Orlando Furioso is an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto which has exerted a wide influence on later culture. The earliest version appeared in 1516, although the poem was not published in its complete form until 1532...

opera, however further antiquarian investigation was prevented by the outbreak of the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 (1642–1651), which was waged between the Parliamentarians
Roundhead
"Roundhead" was the nickname given to the supporters of the Parliament during the English Civil War. Also known as Parliamentarians, they fought against King Charles I and his supporters, the Cavaliers , who claimed absolute power and the divine right of kings...

 and Royalists
Cavalier
Cavalier was the name used by Parliamentarians for a Royalist supporter of King Charles I and son Charles II during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration...

, with one of the battles in the conflict taking place five miles away from Avebury at Roundway Down
Roundway Down and Covert
Roundway Down and Covert is a 86.0 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Wiltshire, notified in 1971.-Source:* -External links:*...

.

With the war over, a new edition of the Britannia was published in 1695, which described the monument at "Aubury" in more detail. This entry had been written by a man named John Aubrey
John Aubrey
John Aubrey FRS, was an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer. He is perhaps best known as the author of the collection of short biographical pieces usually referred to as Brief Lives...

, a wealthy antiquarian who privately made many notes about Avebury and other prehistoric monuments which remained unpublished. Aubrey had first encountered the site whilst out hunting in 1649 and, in his own words, had been "wonderfully surprised at the sight of those vast stones of which I had never heard before." Hearing of Avebury and taking an interest in it, King Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 commanded Aubrey to come to him and describe the site, which he did in July 1663. The two subsequently travelled to visit it together on the monarch's trip to Bath, Somerset a fortnight later, and the site further captivated the king's interest, who commanded Aubrey to dig underneath the stones in search of any human burials. Aubrey however never undertook the king's order. In September 1663, Aubrey began making a more systematic study of the site, producing a plan that has proved invaluable for later archaeologists, for it contained reference to many standing stones that would soon after be destroyed by locals.

In the latter part of the 17th and then the 18th centuries, destruction at Avebury reached its peak, possibly influenced by the rise of Puritanism in the village, a fundamentalist form of Protestant Christianity
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 that vehemently denounced things considered to be "pagan", which would have included pre-Christian monuments like Avebury. The majority of the standing stones that had been a part of the monument for thousands of years were smashed up to be used as building material for the local area. This was achieved in a method that involved lighting a fire to heat the sarcen, then pouring cold water on it to create weaknesses in the rock, and finally smashing at these weak points with a sledgehammer.

In 1719, the antiquarian William Stukeley
William Stukeley
William Stukeley FRS, FRCP, FSA was an English antiquarian who pioneered the archaeological investigation of the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, work for which he has been remembered as "probably... the most important of the early forerunners of the discipline of archaeology"...

 visited the site, where he witnessed the destruction being undertaken by the local people. Between then and 1724 he visited the village and its monument six times, sometimes staying for two or three weeks at the Catherine Wheel Inn. In this time, he made meticulous plans of the site, considering it to be a "Brittish Temple", and believing it to having been fashioned by the druids, the Iron Age priests of north-western Europe, in the year 1859 BCE. He developed the idea that the two Inner Circles were a temple to the moon and to the sun respectively, and eventually came to believe that Avebury and its surrounding monuments were a landscaped portrayal of the Trinity
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

, thereby backing up his erroneous ideas that the ancient druids had been followers of a religion very much like Christianity.

Stukeley was disgusted by the destruction of the sarcen stones in the monument, and named those local farmers and builders who were responsible. He remarked that "this stupendous fabric, which for some thousands of years, had brav'd the continual assaults of weather, and by the nature of it, when left to itself, like the pyramids of Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, would have lasted as long as the globe
Globe
A globe is a three-dimensional scale model of Earth or other spheroid celestial body such as a planet, star, or moon...

, hath fallen a sacrifice to the wretched ignorance and avarice of a little village unluckily plac'd within it."

Stukeley published his findings and theories in a book, Abury, a Temple of the British Druids (1743), in which he intentionally falsified some of the measurements he had made of the site in order to better fit his theories about its design and purpose. Meanwhile, the Reverend Thomas Twining had also published a book about the monument, Avebury in Wiltshire, the Remains of a Roman Work, which had been published in 1723. Whereas Stukeley claimed that Avebury and related prehistoric monuments were the creations of the druids, Twining thought that they had been constructed by the later Romans. he came to this conclusion using the justification that Roman writers like Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 and Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

 had not referred to stone circles when discussing the Iron Age Britons, whereas Late Mediaeval historians like Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

 and Henry of Huntingdon
Henry of Huntingdon
Henry of Huntingdon , the son of a canon in the diocese of Lincoln, was a 12th century English historian, the author of a history of England, Historia anglorum, "the most important Anglo-Norman historian to emerge from the secular clergy". He served as archdeacon of Huntingdon...

 had described these megaliths in their works, and that such monuments must have therefore been constructed between the two sets of accounts.

Late Modern period

By the beginning of the Victorian period
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 in 1837, the majority of Neolithic standing stones at Avebury had gone, having been either buried by pious locals in the 14th century or smashed up for building materials in the 17th and 18th. Meanwhile, the population of Avebury village was rapidly increasing, leading to further housing being built inside the henge. In an attempt to prevent further construction on the site, the wealthy politician and archaeologist Sir John Lubbock, who later came to be known as Lord Avebury, purchased much of the available land in the monument, and encouraged other buyers to build their houses outside rather than within the henge, in an attempt to preserve it.

Following the opening of his excavations, Alexander Keiller
Alexander Keiller
Alexander Keiller was an archaeologist and businessman who worked on the site at Avebury in Wiltshire. He used his wealth to acquire a total of of land for preservation, conducted excavations, re-erected stones on the site, and created a museum to interpret the site. He founded the Morven...

 decided that the best way to preserve Avebury was to purchase it in its entirety, and he also obtained much of the Kennet Avenue as possible. He also obtained the nearby Avebury Manor, which he proceeded to live in until his death in 1955.

Excavation at Avebury has been limited. In 1894 Sir Henry Meux put a trench through the bank, which gave the first indication that the earthwork was built in two phases. The site was surveyed and excavated intermittently between 1908 and 1922 by a team of workmen under the direction of Harold St George Gray. He was able to demonstrate that the Avebury builders had dug down 11 metres (36 ft) into the natural chalk using red deer
Red Deer
The red deer is one of the largest deer species. Depending on taxonomy, the red deer inhabits most of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains region, Asia Minor, parts of western Asia, and central Asia. It also inhabits the Atlas Mountains region between Morocco and Tunisia in northwestern Africa, being...

 antlers as their primary digging tool, producing a henge ditch with a 9 metres (30 ft) high bank around its perimeter. Gray recorded the base of the ditch as being 4 metres (13 ft) wide and flat, but later archaeologists have questioned his use of untrained labour to excavate the ditch and suggested that its form may have been different. Gray found few artefact
Artifact (archaeology)
An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

s in the ditch-fill but he did recover scattered human bones, amongst which jawbones were particularly well represented. At a depth of about 2 metres (7 ft), Gray found the complete skeleton of a 1.5 metres (5 ft) tall woman.

During the 1930s archaeologist Alexander Keiller re-erected many of the stones. Under one, now known as the Barber Stone
Barber surgeon of Avebury
The story of the Barber surgeon of Avebury is one that most visitors to the prehistoric site of Avebury Henge in the English county of Wiltshire will have heard.The traditional story goes as follows:...

, the skeleton of a man was discovered. Coins dating from the 1320s were found with the skeleton, and the evidence suggests that the man was fatally injured when the stone fell on him whilst he was digging the hole in which it was to be buried in a mediaeval "rite of destruction". As well as the coins Keiller found a pair of scissors and a lancet
Scalpel
A scalpel, or lancet, is a small and extremely sharp bladed instrument used for surgery, anatomical dissection, and various arts and crafts . Scalpels may be single-use disposable or re-usable. Re-usable scalpels can have attached, resharpenable blades or, more commonly, non-attached, replaceable...

, the tools of a barber-surgeon at that time, hence the name given to the stone.

When a new village school was built in 1969 there was a further opportunity to examine the site, and in 1982 an excavation to produce carbon dating material and environmental data was undertaken.

In April 2003, during preparations to straighten some of the stones, one was found to be buried at least 2.1 metres (7 ft) below ground. It was estimated to weigh over 100 tons, making it one of the largest ever found in the UK. Later that year, a geophysics
Geophysics
Geophysics is the physics of the Earth and its environment in space; also the study of the Earth using quantitative physical methods. The term geophysics sometimes refers only to the geological applications: Earth's shape; its gravitational and magnetic fields; its internal structure and...

 survey of the southeast and northeast quadrants of the circle by the National Trust, revealed at least 15 of the megaliths lying buried. The National Trust were able to identify their sizes, the direction in which they are lying, and where they fitted in the circle.

Alexander Keiller Museum

The Alexander Keiller Museum features the prehistoric artifacts collected by archaeologist and businessman Alexander Keiller
Alexander Keiller
Alexander Keiller was an archaeologist and businessman who worked on the site at Avebury in Wiltshire. He used his wealth to acquire a total of of land for preservation, conducted excavations, re-erected stones on the site, and created a museum to interpret the site. He founded the Morven...

, which include many artefacts found at Avebury. The museum is located in the 17th-century stables gallery, and is operated by English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

 and the National Trust
National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty
The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, usually known as the National Trust, is a conservation organisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland...

. The nearby 17th century threshing
Threshing
Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of cereal grain from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. It is the step in grain preparation after harvesting and before winnowing, which separates the loosened chaff from the grain...

 barn houses a permanent exhibit gallery about Avebury and its history. Admission includes both galleries.

Founded by Keiller in 1938, the collections feature artefacts mostly of Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 and Early Bronze Age date, with other items from the Anglo-Saxon
History of Anglo-Saxon England
Anglo-Saxon England refers to the period of the history of that part of Britain, that became known as England, lasting from the end of Roman occupation and establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 5th century until the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror...

 and later periods. The museum also features the skeleton of a child, nicknamed "Charlie
Charlie (skeleton)
Charlie is a Neolithic skeleton of a three-year-old child found near the ancient stone circle of Avebury. Charlie was excavated from Windmill Hill, Avebury in the 1920s and is currently on display at the Alexander Keiller Museum....

", that was found in a ditch at Windmill Hill, Avebury. The Council of British Druid Orders requested that the skeleton be re-buried in 2006, but in April 2010 the decision was made to keep the skeleton on public view.

The collections are owned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is a department of the United Kingdom government, with responsibility for culture and sport in England, and some aspects of the media throughout the whole UK, such as broadcasting and internet....

 and are on loan to English Heritage.

Contemporary Paganism and the New Age movement

Avebury has been adopted as a sacred site by many adherents of contemporary Pagan
Neopaganism
Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe...

 religions such as Druidry
Neo-Druidism
Neo-Druidism or Neo-Druidry, commonly referred to as Druidism or Druidry by its adherents, is a form of modern spirituality or religion that generally promotes harmony and worship of nature, and respect for all beings, including the environment...

, Wicca
Wicca
Wicca , is a modern Pagan religious movement. Developing in England in the first half of the 20th century, Wicca was popularised in the 1950s and early 1960s by a Wiccan High Priest named Gerald Gardner, who at the time called it the "witch cult" and "witchcraft," and its adherents "the Wica."...

 and Heathenry
Germanic neopaganism
Germanic neopaganism is the contemporary revival of historical Germanic paganism. Precursor movements appeared in the early 20th century in Germany and Austria. A second wave of revival began in the early 1970s...

. These worshippers view the monument as a "living temple" which they associate with the ancestors, as well as with genus loci, or land spirits. Typically, such Pagan rites at the site are performed publicly, and attract crowds of curious visitors to witness the event, particularly on major days of Pagan celebration such as the summer solstice
Summer solstice
The summer solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet's semi-axis in a given hemisphere is most inclined towards the star that it orbits. Earth's maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26'. Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also...

. The Druidic rites held at Avebury are known as eisteddfod and involve participants invoking Awen (a Druidic concept meaning inspiration), with poems, songs and stories being publicly performed, and the Druid Prayer and Druid Vow are typically recited. In many cases, the assembled Druids will split off into two groups, one devoting themselves to the God and the other to the Goddess. Those following the Goddess travel to the "Devil's Chair" in the west of Avebury, where a priestess representing the Goddess sits in the chair-like cove of the stone, whilst meanwhile those following the God travel to the north-west of Avebury, where they are challenged as to their intent and give offerings (often of flowers, fruit, bread or mead
Mead
Mead , also called honey wine, is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by fermenting a solution of honey and water. It may also be produced by fermenting a solution of water and honey with grain mash, which is strained immediately after fermentation...

) to the Goddess's representative.

Due to the fact that various Pagan, and in particular Druid groups perform their ceremonies at the site, a rota has been established, whereby the Loyal Arthurian Warband (LAW), the Secular Order of Druids (SOD) and the Glastonbury Order of Druids (GOD) use it on Saturdays, whilst the Druid Network and the British Druid Order (BDO) instead plan their events for Sundays. One particular Druidic group, known as the Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri, focus almost entirely upon holding their rites at the prehistoric site, referring to it as Caer Abiri.

Alongside its usage as a sacred site amongst Pagans, the prehistoric monument has become a popular attraction for those holding New Age
New Age
The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and then infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational...

 beliefs, with some visitors using dowsing rods around the site in the belief that they might be able to detect psychic
Psychic
A psychic is a person who professes an ability to perceive information hidden from the normal senses through extrasensory perception , or is said by others to have such abilities. It is also used to describe theatrical performers who use techniques such as prestidigitation, cold reading, and hot...

 emanations.

Tourism

The question of access to the site at certain times of the year has been controversial and The National Trust, who steward and protect the site, have been in dialogue with a number of groups. The National Trust have discouraged commercialism
Commercialism
Commercialism, in its original meaning, is the practices, methods, aims, and spirit of commerce or business. Today, however, it primarily refers to the tendency within open-market capitalism to turn everything into objects, images, and services sold for the purpose of generating profit...

 around the site, preventing many souvenir shops from opening up in an attempt to keep the area free from the "customary gaudiness that infiltrates most famous places" in the United Kingdom. Two shops have however been opened in the village catering to the tourist market, one of which is the National Trust's own shop, whereas the other, known as The Henge Shop, focuses on selling New Age paraphernalia and books.

By the late 1970s, the site was being visited by around a quarter of a million visitors annually.

See also

  • Megaliths
  • List of megalithic sites
  • Crop circle
    Crop circle
    A crop circle is a sizable pattern created by the flattening of a crop such as wheat, barley, rye, maize, or rapeseed. Crop circles are also referred to as crop formations, because they are not always circular in shape. While the exact date crop circles began to appear is unknown, the documented...

    - nearly half of all circles found in the UK in 2003 were located within a 15 km radius of the site.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
x
OK