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 Location: Salisbury, England. (O/S - SU 098 700).  Grid Reference: 51° 25' 40'' N, 1° 51' 6" W.

 

      Avebury: (Henge Circle).

The largest Henge-circle in the world.

Avebury is the largest stone circle in the world: it is 427m (1401ft) in diameter and covers an area of about 28 acres (11.5 ha). The site is formed by a huge circular bank (roughly a mile around), a massive ditch, now only a half its original depth, and a great ring of 98 sarsen slabs enclosing two smaller circles of 30 stones each and other settings and arrangements of stones.

Burl mentions evidence of a third inner circle (see below), but so little remains that it is commonly forgotten as a part of the complex.

(Click here for Ground-plan of Avebury)

 

 

   Avebury - A Physical Description:

The Henge and Ditch:

Click here for larger image.

When originally built the bank would have been something like 27 metres wide at the base and 6 metres high. The ditch was 9 metres deep and some 14 metres wide at the top, tapering to less than half that at the bottom. There were entrance causeways at the north, south, east and west.

The henge is formed by a boundary ditch 15m (50ft) deep which runs between the outer bank and the great stone circle - The outer bank was originally 17m (55ft) high from ditch bottom to bank top and has a perimeter of over 1km. There are four entrances to the henge's bank and ditch. From the southern entrance a double avenue of standing stones called the Kennet Avenue, originally ran for 2.4 km and ended in two small stone circles and several circular wooden buildings. From another entrance ran the Beckhampton Avenue, 2km long, which once contained about 200 stones, of which only one is left standing today. Other important sites close by are Stonehenge, Windmill hill, a causewayed camp built in 3,350 BC before Avebury was built, Also Silbury hill, Europe's tallest artificial mound, and England's largest prehistoric tomb, the 104m (340ft) long West Kennet long barrow.

 

The design of the bank and ditch (with the ditch built on the inside) has led to speculation that the bank might have served as a viewing platform, allowing multitudes of people to observe events inside the henge, without allowing them entry.

 

The Outer Stone-Circle:

The stones for the large stone circle each weighing about 40 tons or more, were left rough and not dressed (as the Stonehenge blocks were). The outer circle originally consisted of 98 stones (There are 98 lunar cycles each 8 solar years), which were obtained from the nearby Marlborough Downs. Now there are only 27 left, as many of the stones were broken up in the past, and used to construct the present village which grew up within the earthwork.

Avebury, England.

 

 

The Two inner Circles:

There are two definite remaining stone circles inside the larger site of Avebury. One is located in the Northern sector of the Avebury ring and there are four of the 27 stones left today. The other is in the Southern sector of the ring and has five of the original 29 stones still standing.

The northern circle was once a concentric circle, while the southern circle once had an obelisk standing in the centre. the top of Silbury Hill is visible from the height of the obelisk, so it would have been visible from Silbury.

 

The Fourth Circle:

avebury stone circlesAlthough it is not commonly mentioned, a fourth circle has been shown to have once existed at Avebury. It was discovered in 1937 by 'A. Keiller', who found three 'unrecorded stone holes...eleven metres apart on the arc of a circle about 103m in diameter, much the same as the 'North' and 'South' inner circles, whose stones were also placed about eleven metres apart.

avebury fourth circleThe centre of this third circle was on the same North-north-west to South-south-east axis as the others and Keiller concluded that "it seems impossible therefore not to conclude that what one may term as 'Avebury I' consisted of three settings of stones...unaccompanied by banks or ditches".

The phenomena of triple circles is not uncommon in the UK. The three Thornborough Henges are similarly aligned as are several triple-stone circles. In the case of Thornborough, it has been suggested by Prof. Clive Ruggles, that they were made to mirror the three stars  of Orion's belt. A suggestion which has also been claimed for the three pyramids at Giza.

(More about Triple- Circles and Orion)

 

 

The Cove:

Two of the central stones (once three), are called The Cove, and may have been erected first, even before the great circle. The same feature can be seen at Arbor Low and Stennes.

An attempt to straighten the two stones called 'The Cove' in 2003, revealed the fact that one of the stones, which stands 14ft (4.4m), above the ground, also exists at least 7ft (2.2m) below the ground (reaching a possible 10ft/3m deep). The weight of the stone is calculated at around 100 tons.

Refs: Daily Telegraph News (8 April 2003); The Scotsman (17 April 2003)The Guardian (18 April 2003)

 

The Cove, Avebury, England.

 

 

The Avenues:

There were two ceremonial avenues of standing stones departing from the main ring. Only one survives, the West Kennet Avenue, which was originally 2.5km (1.5 miles) in length and connected Avebury to the small stone circle called The Sanctuary on Overton Hill.  The 'Beckhampton Way' leads east from Avebury, past several long-barrows, original destination unknown. To the prehistoric traveller however, arriving from the direction of the Ridgeway, it is noticeable that Silbury hill is completely obscured for the whole of the West-Kennet avenue, which is the natural route to Avebury from The Sanctuary.

West-kennet Avenue, Avebury.

The West-Kennet Avenue was originally composed of a hundred pairs of stones.

(Photo credits: 'Up in smoke' ken).

The Stones are believed to have alternated between 'Upright' and 'lozenge', possibly representing male and female. The venue leads directly from the 'Sanctuary' to Avebury. Although it was long disputed, evidence of Stukeleys other avenue which he proposed led from Avebury westwards has now been determined. The Beckhampton Avenue would have originally been composed of at least another hundred stones. Today, none exist in their original settings.

 

 

   Chronology of Avebury:

For a long time the estimated date of construction was reckoned at around 2,600 BC (1)

Avebury’s largest megalith may also be one of the UK’s oldest. A new date suggests it was erected around 3,000 BC, possibly before the surrounding earthwork and other stones.

Ref: http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba76/news.shtml

The fact that there are several monuments in the region which date from before its construction, (Windmill hill 3,300 BC, West Kennet 3,500 BC etc), demonstrates that the area was in use long before the structures we see now were present.

Gillings and Pollard recently suggested that Avebury was not a structure for the ancestors, but represents a carefully choreographed gathering of them. (2)

 

The Destruction of the Monument

When William Stukeley visited Avebury in the 17th century he became the unwitting witness to a period of wholesale destruction of the Avebury sarsens, ironically in order to provide building materials for the village and church that now stand within the complex.

Richard Colt Hoare's survey in 1815 can be used to see how the site has been systematically reduced over time. The site only became completely protected when Alexander Keller became the owner in the 1930's.

Click here for larger image.

The earliest ground-plan of Avebury by John Aubrey in 1663.

From an original estimate of over 600 stones for the main monument, 200 for the West-Kennet Avenue, and at least another hundred for the Beckhampton avenue...

We are left today with 27 at Avebury, and just a handful more along the West-kennet avenue...

 

 

   The Avebury Landscape:

Avebury should not be viewed as a solitary construction, but rather part of a larger, ceremonial landscape, attached to other important nearby constructions such as Silbury Hill and the Sanctuary and beyond. 

From the map below it can be seen that the Sanctuary is not only placed in a bend of the river Avon, but sits on the Ridgeway, so that anyone arriving from either direction would have been naturally led to Avebury along the West Kennet Avenue (which would have incidentally had the effect of obscuring Silbury Hill behind 'Woden'/'Waden' Hill). In addition, the Beckhampton avenue also leads one away from Silbury.

The Avebury/Silbury hill combination demonstrate the two basic elements found at several of other European complexes,  namely a conical mound (suggested as symbolising the 'mound of creation' and usually surrounded by water), and a prominent nearby stone circle. Although in this case the two are not inter-visible, their proximity and dominance on the landscape leaves no doubt that they were both part of a larger unified ceremonial landscape, connected with avenues and the natural folds of the Wiltshire countryside. The projection below however, demonstrates how easily the landscape can be changed and alters the whole context of Avebury/Silbury in the Process.

(Other Examples of Primal mound/Stone circles)

 

This map shows a projection for a 5m rise in the level of the River Kennet, which has the effect of converting Silbury Hill into a permanent island (which it arguably was always intended to be), and also brings the water to the very edge of Avebury itself, perhaps explaining the large exterior bank and wide ditch, perhaps even useable for small boats.

(More about the Salisbury Complex)

 

Stuckley on Avebury:

William Stukeley pioneered the archaeological investigation of both Avebury and Stonehenge. He envisioned Avebury as part of a huge druidic serpentine temple.  Although today we know that it was built long before the druids, his vision paved the way for a greater understanding of the relationship between component megaliths in the area.

Stukeley's Avebury - (Click here for larger view)

(Click on Image for larger view)

 

   The Geometry of Avebury:

The Avebury circle is sited on the latitude 51.428° North, (Which is also the result of 360°/7)

Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury form a right angled triangle accurate to within 1/1000. The 'St. Michaels' ley-line from Glastonbury to Avebury coincides with the Mayday sunrise, crossing the longest possible stretch of Southern Britain. The ley runs from St. Michael's mount to Brent tor, Cadbury, Trull, Creech St Michael, Lyng, Othery, Burrowbrigde, Glastonbury, Buckland dingham, Avebury, Ogbourne St George, East Hendred and Bury St Edmonds (All these sites have or had churches dedicated to the dragon-killing Saints Michael and George).

From Salisbury plain, beginning at the southern end of the Avebury stone circle and extending for 200 miles north-westward to Norfolk, is the prehistoric highway called the 'Ikneild Way'. The road runs dead straight on level ground and follows perfectly the contour of the land in hilly areas. It has a level surface and widens at some places to the equivalent of a modern four-lane highway. It pre-dates the Romans by 2000 yrs (9). In addition, the Sanctuary is positioned alongside the Ridgeway, which leads to the north and would have been one of the most important prehistoric routes across Britain.

The Sanctuary near Avebury has a longitude of 1° 49' west, the same as the Stonehenge circle, 17 miles to the South.

The angle from Avebury to the Sanctuary is 51° 51', the same angle as the Avenue leading from Stonehenge, and the exterior angle of the Great Pyramid of Ghiza.

(Geodesy in Prehistoric Britain)

 

Avebury lies on the 'St. Michaels' ley-line which coincides with the Mayday sunrise, crossing the longest possible stretch of Southern Britain. The ley runs from St. Michael's mount to Brent tor, Cadbury, Trull, Creech St. Michael, Lyng, Othery, Burrowbrigde, Glastonbury, Buckland dingham, Avebury, Ogbourne St George, East Hendred and Bury St Edmonds (All these sites have or had churches dedicated to the dragon-killing Saints Michael and George).

(More about the St. Michael's Ley-line)

 

 

   Faces in the Stones:

It has been noted that there are some good examples of 'Simulacrum' at Avebury. Although it is well known today that this effect is a natural phenomena in people, finding a human image in stone would have been likely to 'empower' it with 'magical' qualities. Faces such as these are found at other other prominent UK megaliths such as Stonehenge and Brodgar.

(Other Examples of Megalithic Simulacrum)

 

 
   Gallery of Images:

A vandalised stone at Avebury... (1996).

(Other Desecrated Megaliths)

 

(Stone Circles)     (Henges)

(Silbury Hill)   (West Kennet Long Barrow)   (The Sanctuary

(The Salisbury Complex)

(Other European Megalithic Complexes)

(Prehistoric English Geodesy)

(Other Prehistoric English sites)

 

 

References:

1). A. Burl. Prehistoric Avebury. 1979. Yale Press.
2). Kalb, Philine, Megalith-building, stone transport and territorial markers; evidence from Vale de Rodrigo, Evora, south Portugal. Antiquity. Sept 1, 1996.
9). Rene Noorbergen. Secrets of the Lost Races. 1977. New English Library.
 
Further Research:
 
Stone Circles and Measuring Wheels: An Article By Michael Spender (Quick-link)
Additional Information about Avebury at SacredSites.com (Quick-link)

 

 

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