Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Avebury Henge - Wiltshire, England

(Library Photograph)

To travel and experience the world does not always mean having to pack your bags, change currency and check that your passport hasn't expired.

Sometimes, to experience some of the World's amazing locations you only have to look as far as your doorstep. Today, I am doing just that - Picking up my camera and going on a 20 minute car journey to the ancient henge of Avebury in my home county of Wiltshire.

Situated in southern England in the stunning county of Wiltshire the village of Avebury is close to two small streams....the Winterbourne and the Sambourne which unite to form the source of the River Kennet. After being re-inforced by a number of springs this beautiful English river rapidly gains in stature as it passes through the North Wessex Downs on its way to Reading where it eventually flows into the River Thames of which it has become the main tributary. The waters of the Kennet therefore pass through London before reaching their ultimate destination in the North Sea.

(Map - Library image)

Around 4,500 years ago, when the site of England's capital was a thinly inhabited marshland, the area around Avebury almost certainly formed the neolithic equivalent of a city. By coincidence this waterway has become a link between the two largest cultural centres of their day to have ever existed in the British Isles. As London now contains most of England's largest buildings Avebury is the location of the mightiest megalithic complex to have ever been constructed in Britain.

(Satalite Photograph - Library image)

This henge with its enormous ditch, bank, stones and avenues survives in a much depleted state but the nearby Silbury Hill which is the largest man-made mound in pre-industrial Europe still dominates the surrounding landscape.

(Silbury Hill - Library image)

The two largest surviving British long barrows of West Kennet and East Kennet are also prominent a short distance away and in recent years the remains of two massive palisaded enclosures have also been found.

(West Kennet Long Burrow - Library image)

(West Kennet Long Burrow - Library image)

The quote that antiquarian John Aubrey made of Avebury......"it does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge as a Cathedral doeth a parish church" recognises the true importance of what has now been largely absorbed into the modern landscape of Wiltshire. If we could return to the time when the Romans occupied the British Isles it is a sobering thought that we would have to go back as far again to find an Avebury that was already several centuries old.

The history of the modern village is inevitably linked to the prehistoric monuments that surround it. Abandoned for several thousand years the land around the stones became occupied oncemore when people of the Saxon period began to settle in the area. Their arrival and subsequent development of the present village was to have a dramatic effect on the history of the stones. The relationship between the local inhabitants and the monuments has now added an unfortunate dimension to the Avebury story that helps make it one of the most fascinating historical sites to be found in the British Isles if not the world.

It remains a magical place as so many who have been there will agree. A visit to Avebury is a very personal event. It still seems to retain, somehow, the spirits of all those who laboured in its creation or whatever it was that led them to create it. If you have never been there a visit will not be an empty experience. You will come away with a head full of questions and probably a realisation that somewhere over the years modern society has lost something important.

(Library Photograph)

At the heart of pre-historic Avebury is the henge. Compared with other henges it is massive and though erosion and vandalism have reduced it considerably it still remains an impressive spectacle. Its construction was spread over several centuries beginning about 3000 BC when the Cove and the earliest stage of the Sanctuary were built. It would be another 600 years before the final form was achieved when the avenues were added about 2400 BC.

It consists of a circle of land surrounded by a ditch and bank, the bank being outermost. The area covered by the circle is about 28.5 acres and the circumference is approximately 0.8 of a mile. Around the outside of the circle once stood 98 large sarsen stones some of which weighed as much as 60 tons and perhaps more.

Within this large outer ring are the remains of two smaller stone circles one of which originally consisted of 27 stones and was about 320 feet in diameter (northern circle) and the other which was about 340 feet in diameter and consisted of 29 stones (southern circle). Both of these inner circles are each much larger than the circle of stones at Stonehenge. It has been calculated that the area occupied by the stone circle at Stonehenge would fit into the outer stone circle at Avebury around 130 times. This gives some idea of how vast the Avebury Henge is.

(Avebury 3,000 BC - Library image)

When theorising about Avebury it is very easy to ignore the huge timespan over which the monuments were built and developed. Six hundred years cover the period from the initial building of the Cove in the northern inner circle to the the final form of the henge when the avenues were added. At a time when the average lifespan barely exceeded 40 years it would seem far more likely that Avebury's construction was a process of evolution rather than the result of some "grand plan" the result of which would never be seen by its conceivers. It can't be discounted that the henge and avenues may have been "operative" in some rudimentary form ( ie.wooden posts) before being consolidated later by the erection of the stones, but any evidence that this was the case has yet to be found.

Many researchers become consumed by the positions of stones but ignore trying to explain the purpose of the immense ditch and bank which must originally have been truly awesome. It is also easy to ignore the existence of the hundreds of other megalithic structures that were constructed throughout the British Isles during the same period and to view Avebury in isolation. So much of what existed in the neolithic period has now disappeared but each year pieces of the jigsaw are being rediscovered. Despite its importance amazingly little of the henge has ever been investigated and the surrounding fields must still hold many secrets. There is always the chance that something relating to the monuments might yet be found that dramatically alters ideas about them.

The quest for the "Holy Grail" of solving the Avebury mystery will no doubt continue far into the future as it seems a part of human nature to believe only what we want to believe and no matter how seemingly perfect a solution there will always be those who will remain convinced that it was something else. Each "solution", convincing or not, though, adds something to our knowledge of Avebury and it will be a sad day if we stop searching for the truth about this wonderful place....... Perhaps the only truth now is that it is what each of us wants it to be and therein will always lie the power it has to capture our minds.

By Graham Ettridge


Anonymous said...

This place looks great !

I totally agree with you, sometimes great travels are at your doorstep. I'm guilty too... I don't know France that well, except for big cities, and I've only recently started to travel a bit in Canada.

How is the flood BTW ? I've seen footage on TV, looks pretty bad in some -shires... Hope it's okay where you live.:)

Azzitizz said...

What a beautiful, calming video, the music was just right, I was in a little world of my own there, free from worries for three minutes. Thankyou.

Getty72 said...

Thanks Zhu :)
The floods are on the move (now at Oxford and moving further down the Thames towards London). The sad thing is that many thousands of people are going to be without fresh tap-water for up to 2 weeks.

My town is okay now, we were kind of back to normal after about 24-48 hours. I'm just glad I don't live near a river at the moment.

Azzitizz, I agree - the music is quite mesmerizing. I needed some fresh air yesterday, after being couped up in my house for 3 weeks with this darn virus. I'm so fortunate to have such an amazing place so close.

Best wishes, Graham :)

Omega said...

Wonderful images and very interesting info. Someday i will go see all that myself!

Mark said...

Graham -

Nice post and great photos! I couldn't agree more with your comments. Luckily, I live in the Caribbean so everyday I am on vacation.....


NeoAuteur said...

You are so lucky to be living in an area with so much history. All I see here, where I live, are buildings and cars.

Amel's Realm said...


Graham, I wonder where your Dad's been. Is he OK? It's just that he hasn't updated his blog in a while. Well, hope he's just taking a long summer holiday and not ill or something he he...

Getty72 said...

Hi Folks,

Omega, Thanks for your kind comment. I'm sure you would thoroughly enjoy a visit to our great country.

Hey Mark, on vacation every day....sounds like heaven to me. You lucky thing!!!

neoautuer, thanks for your comment. I am fortunate. One of the best things about living in England is that you are never far from the countryside and also England is gifted with so much amazing history.

Amel, my dad is fine. He is very busy as my sister has just moved into her new house, also he and my mother are currently touring parts of Europe for their summer vacation.

Livingsword said...

Very interesting, something new for me, fascinating place. I was thinking how so much man power and time had gone into something like that but could instead have been put towards something more progressive for those times (compared to what others were doing in the world around them at the time or even much further back in time). BUT then I watched the video and feel much better, it was obviously built by sheep for sheep!

Thanks for all the work you put into the article Graham, well done as usual.

Getty72 said...

Thanks Livingsworld. The mystery is that these guys were much further advanced than we give them credit for. For example, the large stones that formed stonehenge (just a few miles distance from Avebury)were traced back to a completely different part of the country - even now, nobody is sure exactly how the such enormous stones weighing over 6o tons were moved. A mystery similar to the Egyptian Pyramids.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I love the new profile pic ! Really fit your profile introduction text :$

Getty72 said...

Aww, thanks Zhu! I really don't like photos of me at all, but thought I'd better take the plunge and give it a go. I'm not sure how long it's gonna last before I change it back though. Kindest regards, Graham :)

Muse said...

it's funny that your cavemen and people of centuries past had nothing better to do than build hills and move big rocks into formation..lol

I can see it now

OGUR: "let us move rocks and confuse our childrens children. ha ha ha"

DEET (whispering to Nub) "Let's kill Ogur"

Getty72 said...

Muse, now you see what happens when there is nothing to watch on TV. I guess they had been watching to many episodes of "Extreme Makeover - Home Edition" LOL!!!

choc mint girl said...

Hi, Graham...

I've tagged you for the Blogging Tips Meme.

Please check out the rules in my blog.

Thanks for participating!!!

Muse said...

that was their version of "Survivor". except...instead of getting voted off the island a rock fell on you.

Getty72 said...

Muse, you have found the answer to the long lost riddle... it's all making sense now (I was going to say "it's all falling into place" but thought that would be too corny) ... that must be why they were sooo short ;)

choc mint girl said...

Hi, Graham! I couldn’t agree more with you, but then again it depends on which places you are living in. Like yours, those are indeed great pics and places!!

Another thing, I also have to agree with Zhu...he he...your personal pic is definitely saying "Oh my goodness!!" :D

Timscript said...

Hi Graham
Glad you found our Avebury video on youtube. Like what you've done with the page. Keep an eye on www.knightsrose.com in the future as its undergoing work to display more of our DVDs. Incidentally, you may need to relink this shortly.

Timscript said...

A couple of you have said nice things about our video - it's being put on DVD for sale in a couple of months so hope its OK for us to use your quotes on the sleeve!

Port Douglas hotels said...

Wow those rocks are amazing, I agree with Zhu that "great travels are at your doorstep". Just like in California, there a lot great places to visit.

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write college essay said...

it's fucking awesome!! one of the most great and mysterious things I ever seen!! so amazing

Graham's Photobook....Through The Eyes Of A Dreamer

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