Since Stonehenge’s Megaliths came from Avebury, England (34 km north), I decided to explore that location on August 7th, 2016. I found that Avebury is part of an extraordinary set of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial sites that seemingly forms a vast sacred landscape. They include West Kennet Avenue, West Kennet Long Barrow, The Sanctuary, Windmill Hill, and the mysterious Silbury Hill. I attempted to reach some of the locations on foot from the Avebury village.
Avebury henge and stone circles are one of the greatest marvels of prehistoric Britain. Built and much altered during the Neolithic period, roughly between 2850 BC and 2200 BC, the henge survives as a huge circular bank and ditch, encircling an area that includes part of Avebury village. Within the henge is the largest stone circle in Britain – originally of about 100 stones – which in turn encloses two smaller stone circles.
Below, is a picture of the immense stone circle in Avebury, Wilsire.
Limited excavations and more recent aerial and geophysical surveys indicate that many other features once existed within the enclosure. It is quite likely that, before the stone circles were erected, timber circles and structures may have originally filled the area within the bank and ditch.
Next, I began walking down pathway marked by the aligned giant stones, towards the Southwest or Winter Solstice. This marked pathway was named “West Kennet Avenue”. Originally, the Avenue consisted of around 100 pairs of standing stones. These created a corridor 15 m wide along the entirety of the winding 2.5 km course. Each pair of stones stood about 24.5 m from the next. The sarsen stones used are not quite as large as those at Avebury and average about 3 m high. Each stone appear to have been selected for their shape; some are long and cylindrical, while others are broad and often triangular in shape. Generally, stones of the two different types stood opposite each other. It has been suggested that they may have been intended as male and female representations, the male being long and cylindrical and the female triangular.
Pictured below, Silbury Hill is a colossal man-made mound that rises to 43 m from the base that cover 5 acres of ground.
Above, the flat-topped cone, likened to an upturned pudding basin, and was begun more than 4000 years ago and remains the biggest man-made hill in Europe. About 56 million basketfuls of clay, turf and chalk are reckoned to have been needed.
About a 1km south of Silbury hill is the West Kennet Long Barrow. This huge earth barrow has a maximum height of 3.2 m and tapers out from the narrower western end to a maximum width of 25 m towards the eastern entrance. The barrow consists of a core of sarsen stones capped with chalk rubble from the surrounding quarry ditches.
At the eastern end of the mound is an impressive structure consisting of five chambers opening off a central passage. This is fronted by a semicircular forecourt with a façade of huge sarsen stones aligned north–south.
The main passage penetrates about 13 m into the barrow, with two of the burial chambers on each side of the passageway and one chamber at the end. Some cremations and the partial remains of at least forty-six individuals – both male and female and of all ages – have been found inside, together with grave goods including pottery, beads and stone implements such as a dagger, dated to between 3000 and 2600 BC.
A few kilometers southeast of the Silbury Hill is “The Sanctuary”. It consisted of Concrete blocks marking the position of the original wooden posts and stones. Its function remains a mystery: possibly it enshrined the dwelling place of some revered person, and certainly huge numbers of human bones were found here, accompanied by food remains suggesting elaborate death rites and ceremonies. Later, West Kennet Avenue was constructed to connect it with newly-built Avebury, reinforcing the status of this enigmatic but clearly very important site.
40 kms to the North-west of Avebury, I also visited the strange site of the “Uffington White Horse”. Surging to 30 m from its ridge on the Berkshire Downs, the summit of White Horse Hill commands panoramic views out over the ancient heartland.
The White Horse, which measures 111 m from the tip of its tail to its ear, has been dated to the later Bronze Age or Iron Age, between 1740 and 210 BC. It may have been a territorial marker or a fertility symbol – its function is not certain. This bold, barbaric image is branded into an English down-land crest just below the Iron age hillfort of Uffington Castle.