Avebury (/ˈeɪvbri/) is a
Neolithic henge monument containing three
stone circles, around the village of
Avebury in Wiltshire, in
southwest England. One of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain,
it contains the largest megalithic stone circle in the world. It is
both a tourist attraction and a place of religious importance to
Constructed over several hundred years in the Third Millennium BC,
during the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, the monument comprises a large
henge (a bank and a ditch) with a large outer stone circle and two
separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the
monument. Its original purpose is unknown, although archaeologists
believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or
Avebury monument is a part of a larger prehistoric
landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West
Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.
By the Iron Age, the site had been effectively abandoned, with some
evidence of human activity on the site during the Roman occupation.
During the Early Middle Ages, a village first began to be built around
the monument, eventually extending into it. In the
Late Medieval and
Early Modern periods, local people destroyed many of the standing
stones around the henge, both for religious and practical reasons. The
John Aubrey and William Stukeley, however, took an
Avebury during the 17th century, and recorded much of the
site before its destruction. Archaeological investigation followed in
the 20th century, led primarily by Alexander Keiller, who oversaw a
project which reconstructed much of the monument.
Avebury is owned and managed by the National Trust. It has been
designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument, as well as a World
Heritage Site, in the latter capacity being seen as a part of the
wider prehistoric landscape of
Wiltshire known as Stonehenge, Avebury
and Associated Sites.
1 Location and environment
2.2 Early Neolithic
2.3 Late Neolithic
3.2 Outer Stone Circle
3.3 Inner Stone Circles
3.4 The Avenue
4.1 Controversial theories
5 Later history
5.1 Iron Age and Roman periods
5.2 Early Mediaeval period
5.3 Late Mediaeval period
5.4 Early Modern period
5.5 Late Modern period
5.6 Alexander Keiller Museum
6 Contemporary use
6.1 Contemporary Paganism and the
New Age movement
6.3 Popular culture
6.4 April Fools' Day
7 See also
9 External links
Location and environment
Henge and village
At grid reference SU10266996,
Avebury is respectively about 6 and 7
miles (10 and 11 km) from the modern towns of Marlborough and
Avebury lies in an area of chalkland in the Upper Kennet Valley
that forms the catchment 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
(520 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
Neolithic and early Bronze Age monuments and was inscribed as a
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site in a co-listing with the monuments at Stonehenge,
17 miles (27 km) to the south, in 1986. It is now listed as part
Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
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.
Avebury stone circle
Longstones/ Beckhampton Avenue
West Kennet Long Barrow
Boundary and key sites for the
Avebury section of the
Avebury World Heritage Site
Radiocarbon dating and analysis of pollen in buried soils have shown
that the environment of lowland Britain changed around
4250–4000 BCE. The change to a grassland environment from damp,
heavy soils and expanses of dense forest was mostly brought about by
farmers, probably through the use of slash and burn 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 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
Avebury and the surrounding hills were covered in dense oak
woodland, and as the
Neolithic progressed, the woodland around Avebury
and the nearby monuments receded and was replaced by grassland.
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.
What is now termed the
Mesolithic period in Britain lasted from circa
11600 to 7800 BP, at a time when the island was heavily forested and
when there was still a land mass, called Doggerland, 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 7000 and
4000 BCE, having been found in the area. The most notable of
these discoveries is a densely scattered collection of worked flints
found 300 m (980 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 suggested the
Avebury first gained some sort of ceremonial
significance during the Late
Mesolithic period. As evidence, they
highlighted the existence of a posthole 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
Hambledon Hill, both of which were sites that like
Avebury saw the
construction of large monuments in the Neolithic.
The two monuments of
West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow and
Silbury Hill were
constructed in the nearby vicinity of
Avebury several centuries before
the henge was built.
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 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
Neolithic culture, not only as resources but as symbols;
the site of
Avebury occupied a convergence of these three
Neolithic activity at
Avebury is evidenced by flint,
animal bones, and pottery such as
Peterborough ware dating from the
early 4th and 3rd millennia BCE. Five distinct areas of Neolithic
activity have been identified within 500 m (1,600 ft) of
Avebury; they include a scatter of flints along the line of the West
Kennet Avenue – an avenue that connects
Avebury with the
Neolithic site of The Sanctuary. Pollard suggests that areas of
activity in the
Neolithic became important markers in the
"After over a thousand years of early farming, a way of life based on
ancestral tombs, forest clearance and settlement expansion came to an
end. This was a time of important social changes."
Archaeologist and prehistorian
Mike Parker Pearson on the Late
Neolithic in Britain (2005)
During the Late Neolithic, British society underwent another 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
Neolithic Britons also appeared to have changed their religious
beliefs, ceasing to construct the large chambered tombs that are
widely thought by archaeologists to have been connected with ancestor
veneration. 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.
The north-west sector of Avebury
The chronology of Avebury's construction is unclear. It was not
designed as a single monument, but is the result of various projects
that were undertaken at different times during late prehistory.
Aubrey Burl suggests dates of 3000 BC for the central cove, 2900 BC
for the inner stone circle, 2600 BC for the outer circle and henge,
and around 2400 BC for the avenues.
The construction of large monuments such as those at
that a stable agrarian economy had developed in Britain by around
4000–3500 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 barrows, stone circles, avenues, and a causewayed enclosure.
These monument types are not exclusive to the
Avebury area. For
Stonehenge features the same kinds of monuments, and in
Dorset 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 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
Stonehenge constituted ritual or ceremonial centres.
Mike Parker Pearson 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
Durrington Walls. 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
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
Part of the outer ditch
Avebury monument is a henge, a type of monument consisting of a
large circular bank with an internal ditch. The henge is not perfectly
circular and measures 347.4 metres (380 yd) in circumference.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that the henge was made by the middle of
the third millennium BC.
The top of the bank is irregular, something archaeologist Caroline
Malone 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
Joshua Pollard have, however, suggested that this was an original
Neolithic feature of the henge's architecture.
Outer Stone Circle
Part of the Outer 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. It is thought that there were originally 98 sarsen
standing stones, 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
Radiocarbon dating of some stone settings indicate a
construction date of around 2870–2200 BC.
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 of three stones stood in the middle, its entrance facing
northeast. Taking experiments undertaken at the
Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar in
Orkney as a basis, the archaeologists
Joshua Pollard, 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 the standing stones.
The southern inner ring was 108 metres (354 ft) in diameter
before its destruction in the 18th 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 stone avenue
The West Kennet Avenue, an avenue of paired stones, leads from the
southeastern entrance of the henge; and traces of a second, the
Beckhampton Avenue, lead out from the western entrance.[citation
The archaeologist Aaron Watson, taking a phenomenological viewpoint to
the monument, believed that the way in which the Avenue had been
constructed in juxtaposition to Avebury, the Sanctuary, Silbury Hill
West Kennet Long Barrow
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."
The postulated original layout of Avebury, published in a late
19th-century edition of the Swedish encyclopaedia Nordisk familjebok.
Original illustration by John Martin, based on an illustration by John
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 believed that
rituals would have been performed at
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
might have represented the centre of the world, or axis mundi, 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 Britain 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 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
The henge, although clearly forming an imposing boundary to the
circle, could have had a purpose that was not defensive as the ditch
is on the inside (this is the defining characteristic of a Henge.)
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,
West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow to the south, has caused some to describe
the area as a "ritual complex" – a site with many monuments of
interlocking religious function.
Various non-archaeologists as well as pseudoarchaeologists have
Avebury and its neighbouring prehistoric monuments
differently from academics. These interpretations have been defined by
Aubrey Burl as being "more phony than
factual", and in many cases "entirely untenable". Such inaccurate
ideas originated with
William Stukeley in the late 17th century, who
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.
Panoramic view of the southern end of the monument
Following Stukeley, other writers produced inaccurate theories about
Avebury was built and by whom. The Reverend R. Weaver, in his The
Pagan Altar (1840) argued that both
Stonehenge were built
by Phoenicians, an ancient seafaring people whom 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, 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 from the
Appalachian Mountains who, in the ancient
period crossed the Atlantic Ocean to build the great megalithic
monuments of southern Britain.
The prominent modern Druid Ross Nichols, the founder of the Order of
Bards, Ovates and Druids, believed that there was an astrological axis
Avebury to the later megalithic site at Stonehenge, and
that this axis was flanked on one side by West Kennet Long Barrow,
which he believed symbolised the Mother Goddess, and Silbury Hill,
which he believed to be a symbol of masculinity.
Alexander Thom suggested that
Avebury was constructed with a
site-to-site alignment with Deneb.
Iron Age and Roman periods
During the British Iron Age, 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 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 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 or the Roman Iron Age. It was during this Roman period that
tourists came from the nearby towns of Cunetio, Durocornovium and the
villas and farms around
Devizes 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 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
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-Saxon settlers followed their own pagan religion which
venerated a selection of deities, the most notable of whom were
Woden 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
are four sites that were apparently named after Woden: Wansdyke
("Wodin's ditch"), Wodin's Barrow, 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
but it remains possible.
During the Early Mediaeval period, there were signs of settlement at
Avebury, with a grubenhaus, a type of timber hut with a sunken floor,
being constructed just outside 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, 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
Viking armies from Denmark came into conflict with
Anglo-Saxon groups in the area around Avebury, and it may be that they
Avebury village, for the local prehistoric monument of
Silbury Hill was fortified and used as a defensive position,
apparently by a local
Anglo-Saxon population attempting to protect
Late Mediaeval period
The skeletal remains of the man, likely a barber-surgeon, who was
killed in an accident whilst trying to topple the stones at
the early 14th century.
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 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
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 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 lancet. 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
Soon after the toppling of many of the stones, the
Black Death hit the
village in 1349, almost halving the population. Those who survived
focused on their agricultural duties to grow food and stay alive. As a
result, they would not have had the time or manpower to once more
attempt to demolish any part of the non-Christian monument, even if
they wanted to.
Early Modern period
John Aubrey and
William Stukeley are responsible for
initiating modern study of the
It was in the Early Modern period that
Avebury was first recognised as
an antiquity 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,
relatively unknown to anyone but locals and when the antiquarian
William Camden 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 opera; however, further antiquarian investigation was
prevented by the outbreak of the
English Civil War
English Civil War (1642–51), which
was waged between the Parliamentarians and Royalists, with one of the
battles in the conflict taking place five miles away from
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 the antiquarian and writer John Aubrey, 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 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,
Avebury reached its peak, possibly influenced by the
Puritanism in the village, a fundamentalist form of Protestant
Christianity 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 sarsen, then pouring cold
water on it to create weaknesses in the rock, and finally smashing at
these weak points with a sledgehammer.
William Stukeley's drawing of the stones being broken up by fire
In 1719, the antiquarian
William Stukeley 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 "British 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
Avebury and its surrounding monuments were a landscaped
portrayal of the Trinity, thereby backing up his erroneous ideas that
the ancient druids had been followers of a religion very much like
Stukeley was disgusted by the destruction of the sarsen 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, would have lasted as long as the globe, 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 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, justifying
his conclusion on the fact that Roman writers like
Julius Caesar and
Tacitus had not referred to stone circles when discussing the Iron Age
Britons, whereas Late Mediaeval historians like Geoffrey of Monmouth
Henry 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 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
Following the opening of his own excavations, archaeologist Alexander
Keiller decided that the best way to preserve
Avebury was to purchase
it in its entirety. Keiller was heir to the James Keiller and Son
business and was able to use his wealth to acquire the site. He also
obtained as much of the
Kennet Avenue as possible and the nearby
Avebury Manor, where he was to live until his death in 1955.
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. The discovery of over 40 antler
picks on or near the bottom of the ditch enabled Gray to
demonstrate that the
Avebury builders had dug down 11 metres
(36 ft) into the natural chalk using red deer antlers as their
primary digging tool, producing a henge ditch with a 9-metre
(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 artefacts 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-metre (5 ft) tall woman.
The Barber Stone
During the 1930s archaeologist Alexander Keiller re-erected many of
the stones. Under one, now known as the Barber Stone, 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, the tools of a
barber-surgeon at that time, hence the name given to the
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.[citation
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 more than 100 tons, making it
one of the largest ever found in the UK. Later that year, a
geophysics 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
Alexander Keiller Museum
The Barn Gallery of the Alexander Keiller Museum
The Alexander Keiller Museum features the prehistoric artifacts
collected by archaeologist and businessman Alexander Keiller, which
include many artifacts found at Avebury. It can reasonably be said
that ". . .
Avebury today is largely Keiller's creation".A pioneer
in the use of aerial archaeology, by the late 1930s Keiller had used
his inherited wealth to acquire 950 acres of land around Avebury. He
carried out extensive exploratory work which included demolishing
newer structures and re-erecting stone pillars, and built the museum
now bearing his name.The museum is located in the 17th-century stables
gallery, and is operated by
English Heritage and the National Trust.
The nearby 17th-century threshing barn houses a permanent exhibit
Avebury and its history.
Founded by Keiller in 1938, the collections feature artifacts mostly
Early Bronze Age
Early Bronze Age date, with other items from the
Anglo-Saxon and later periods. The museum also features the skeleton
of a child nicknamed "Charlie", found in a ditch at Windmill Hill,
Council of British Druid Orders
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 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 religions such as Druidry,
Wicca and Heathenry.
These worshippers view the monument as a "living temple" which they
associate with the ancestors, as well as with genii loci, or spirits
of place. 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
Druidic rites held at
Avebury are commonly known as gorseddau and
involve participants invoking
Awen (a Druidic concept meaning
inspiration), with an eisteddfod section during which poems, songs and
stories are publicly performed. The Druid Prayer composed by Iolo
Morganwg in the 18th century and the later Druid Vow are typically
recited. One particular 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. In their
original ceremony, composed by
Philip Shallcrass of the British Druid
Order in 1993, those assembled divide into two groups, one referred to
as the God party and the other as the Goddess party. Those with the
Goddess party go to the "Devil's Chair" at the southern entrance to
Avebury henge, where a woman representing the spirit guardian of
the site and the Goddess who speaks through her sits in the chair-like
cove in the southern face of the sarsen stone. Meanwhile, those
following the God party process around the outer bank of the henge to
the southern entrance, where they are challenged as to their intent
and give offerings (often of flowers, fruit, bread or mead) to the
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,
Druid Network and the
British Druid Order
British Druid Order (BDO) instead
plan their events for Sundays.
Alongside its usage as a sacred site amongst Pagans, the prehistoric
monument has become a popular attraction for those holding New Age
beliefs, with some visitors using dowsing rods around the site in the
belief that they might be able to detect psychic emanations.
West Kennet Avenue
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 held discussions with a number of groups. The
National Trust have discouraged commercialism 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. 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.
A fictionalised version of Avebury, known as "Wansbury Ring", is
featured in Mary Rayner's 1975 novel The Witch-Finder.
Children of the Stones, a 1977 children's television drama serial, was
Avebury and takes place in a fictionalized version of
Avebury called "Milbury".
April Fools' Day
On 1 April 2014, as part of an April Fool's Day prank, the National
Trust claimed through social media and a press release that
their rangers were moving one of the stones in order to realign the
circle with British Summer Time. The story was picked up by local
media  and The Guardian's "Best of the Web".
Main article: Avebury, Wiltshire
About 480 people live in 235 homes in the village of
Avebury and its
associated settlement of
Avebury Trusloe, and in the nearby hamlets of
Beckhampton and West Kennett.
List of megalithic sites
Crop circle – nearly half of all circles found in the UK in 2003
were located within a 15 km radius of the site.
Cherhill White Horse
Cherhill White Horse – nearby hill figure.
^ a b Burl 2002. p. 154.
^ a b Gillings and Pollard 2004. p. 6.
^ a b Historic England. "
Henge (220746)". PastScape. Retrieved
27 February 2008.
Avebury and Associated Sites". UNESCO.org. Archived
from the original on 10 March 2008. Retrieved 27 February 2008.
Avebury and Associated Sites". UNESCO. Retrieved 26
^ Malone 1989. pp. 31–32.
^ Malone 1989. pp. 31, 34–35.
^ Gillings and Pollard 2004. p 23.
^ Adkins, Adkins and Leitch 2008. pp. 25–26.
^ Holgate 1987.
^ Gillings and Pollard 2004. pp. 23–25.
^ a b Gillings and Pollard 2004. p. 26.
^ Gillings and Pollard 2004. p. 25.
^ Gillings and Pollard 2004. pp. 29–33.
^ Gillings and Pollard 2004. p. 34.
^ Parker Pearson 2005. p. 57.
^ Parker Pearson 2005. pp. 56–57.
^ Parker Pearson 2005. pp. 58–59.
^ Barrett 1994. p. 13.
^ a b Malone 1989 p. 38.
^ Parker Pearson 2005. p. 67.
^ Watson 2001. p. 309.
^ Malone, Caroline (2011).
Neolithic Britain and Ireland. Stroud,
Gloucestershire: The History Press. p. 172.
^ Davies, Simon R. "Digital Avebury: New 'Avenues' of Research". The
Archaeology and Antiquity, University of Birmingham. The
ditches and banks of
Avebury henge have yielded radiocarbon dates
around 2900–2600 cal BC (Pitts and Whittle 1992), 3040–2780 cal BC
(Cleal 2001, 63) and 2840–2460 cal BC (Pollard and Cleal 2004,
^ Malone 1989. p. 107.
^ a b Watson 2001. p. 304.
^ Gillings and Pollard 2004. p. 07.
^ "Avebury". The National Trust. The National Trust. 2009. Archived
from the original on 22 June 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
^ Darvill, Timothy (1996).
Prehistoric Britain from the air: a study
of space, time and society. Cambridge University Press. p. 185.
^ Cleal, R. 2001 "
Neolithic and Early Bronze Age", in A. Chadburn and
M. Pomeroy-Kellinger (eds.), Archaeological Research Agenda for the
Avebury World Heritage Site. Wessex Archaeology/English Heritage,
^ a b Watson 2001. p. 308.
^ Pollard and Gillings 1998. p. 156.
^ Watson 2001. p. 300.
^ Burl 1979. p. 27.
^ Burl 1979. p. 04.
^ Richards 1996. p. 206.
^ Pryor, Francis (2004) Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland before
the Romans, Harper Perennial, London, p.224
^ Burl 1979. p. 03.
^ Burl 1979. p. 07.
^ Weaver 1840.
^ Fergusson 1872.
^ Blacket 1883.
^ Nichols 1990. pp. 21–25.
Alexander Thom (1 August 1967).
Megalithic Sites in Britain, p. 100.
Oxford Univ Pr on Demand. ISBN 978-0-19-813148-9. Retrieved 7
^ a b Burl 1979. p. 30.
^ Burl 1979. pp. 31–32.
^ Burl 1979. p. 31.
Avebury Concise History".
Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 8 November
^ a b Burl 1979. p. 32.
^ a b c d e Burl 1979. p. 33.
^ Burl 1979. p. 36.
^ Burl 1979. pp. 36–37.
^ Burl 1979. p. 37.
^ Burl 1979. p. 39.
^ a b Burl 1979. pp. 39–40.
^ Burl 1979. p. 40.
^ Burl 1979. pp. 40–41.
^ a b c Burl 1979. p. 41.
^ a b Burl 1979. pp. 41–43.
^ Burl 1979. pp. 43–45.
^ a b Burl 1979. p. 46.
^ Brown (2000), p. 179.
^ Burl 1979. pp. 47–49.
^ Burl 1979. p. 49.
^ "The shame of Avebury".
Avebury a present from the past. Archived
from the original on 20 June 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
^ Burl 1979. p. 51.
^ Burl 1979. p. 51 and 57.
^ Burl 1979. p. 55.
^ Burl 1979. pp. 55–56.
^ Smith 1965. p. 218
^ "The Ditch and Bank of the Henge". avebury-web.co.uk. 2011.
Retrieved 20 May 2014.
^ "The History of the
Avebury Monuments" (PDF). Wessex Archaeology.
Retrieved 20 May 2014.
^ Evans (2006), p. 11.
^ British Archaeology, Issue no 48, October 1999, "Lost skeleton of
`barber-surgeon' found in museum" Retrieved on 16 June 2009
^ "100-ton stone astounds academics". BBC News. BBC. 17 April 2003.
Retrieved 19 June 2009.
Avebury stones discovered". BBC News. BBC. 2 December 2003.
Retrieved 19 June 2009.
^ "Buried megaliths discovered at stone circle site". Ananova News.
Ananova Ltd. Archived from the original on 12 October 2004. Retrieved
19 June 2009.
^ Heritage Key: Alexander Keiller Museum
^ "Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury". English Heritage. Retrieved 18
^ Blain and Wallis 2007. pp. 41 and 48.
^ Blain and Wallis 2007. p. 55.
^ Blain and Wallis 2007. p. 48.
^ Greywolf. "Gorsedd Caer Abiri". Druidry.co.uk. Retrieved 15 August
^ Blain and Wallis 2007. pp. 64–65.
^ Blain and Wallis 2007. p. 64.
^ Burl 1979. p. 18.
^ Sacred Sites, Contested Rights/Rites project:Paganisms,
Archaeological Monuments, and Access
Avebury Sacred Sites Forum
^ Burl 1979. p. 16.
^ Blain and Wallis 2007. p. 65.
^ Burl 1979. p. 17.
^ Bramwell 2009, pp. 159–160.
^ "Twitter / paultheranger: Just seen
National Trust moving".
Twitter.com. 1 April 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
^ "National Trust's South West Blog – Putting the clock forward at
Avebury Stone Circle". Ntsouthwest.co.uk. 2013-10-17. Retrieved 20 May
^ Gazette, Western (1 April 2014). "
National Trust reacts to clocks
changing with stone move at ancient
Avebury World Heritage Site".
Western Gazette. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day jokes 2014 – the best on the web". The Guardian.
1 April 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
Avebury Parish Council". aveburyparishcouncil.org. Retrieved 7
^ Jeremy Northcote Spatial distribution of England's crop circles
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Avebury.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Wiltshire Community History
Avebury information at the National Trust
Avebury and Marlborough – A 30-minute BBC TV programme made
in 1983 of a day spent exploring
Avebury and Marlborough
Alexander Keiller Museum – English Heritage
Avebury – A Present from the Past Informative site about Avebury
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