Notting Hill Gate

Prehistoric Britain

Avebury in Wiltshire

Neolithic stone circle, Wiltshire, England.

The late-Neolithic stone circle at Avebury is the largest of its kind in Britain.

a dozen tall standing stones curving around in an arc, with a large bank and ditch behind.

Prehistoric stone circle at Avebury, Wiltshire, in southern England

'The stones are magnificent!' exclaimed Miranda. 'It must have taken hundreds of people to transport them all and put them into place. It's taken half an hour for us just to walk around them!'

'Probably all of them were standing in the Middle Ages,' replied Quintin, a little disappointed that the eastern half of the circle had been so relatively bare of stones. But, if he was honest, the astonishing ditch and bank had more than made up for it. 'But one thing puzzles me,' he said.

'What's that?' asked Miranda.

Five standing stones arcing slightly around.

The southwestern edge of the circle looking southeast. Behind the stones can be seen the far side of a deep enclosing ditch and bank that runs arond the full circumference of the circle.

'Well, this sacred area all started with a causwayed enclosure on Windmill Hill, and the long barrow – well, quite a few long barrows around here really – but then, when they went out of fashion, all things circular came into vogue for the next fifteen hundred years, from about three thousand BC up until about fifteen hundred BC, when farms and settlements start to appear here for the first time, and they built this henge in about two thousand eight hundred BC, and can you see the effort that it must have taken?

'Yes, I can.'

'Not to mention Silbury Hill, just a mile away over there. And the circles over at the Sanctury? Constantly erecting and re-erecting circles of wooden posts, just like those at round barrows before the barrow went up, after the ground had been ceremonially ploughed to receive the body in a fertile state, and before the barrow was heaped over the grave.

'What's your point Quintin?'

A deep ditch curving away to the left, with a high bank on its outer edge

Stone circle and deep enclosing ditch at Avebury, Wiltshire, in southern England; the southeastern edge of the circle looking northeast. The stones are mostly absent from this quadrant.

'Just that, with all this effort to make a ditch and bank, for whatever reason, to enclose this circle of ground and keep something in, or out, its just the opposite of a stone circle, wouldn't you say? A stone circle lets you see outside from the inside, and inside when you are outside. A henge this big encloses everything and shuts out the outside world. A stone circle looks out into the world.'

'You're not the first to make that point, Quintin.'

large megaliths forming part of a circle, with a deep ditch behind

The south side of the circle looking southwest. The stones lie in front of a deep ditch with a bank behind.

'But why, then, build a stone circle inside this ditch and bank? The henge had been here for three hundred years, doing its job, when all these stones – over a hundred of them when they were all still here, some weighing tens of tons – were transported and erected. All you can see between the stones, mostly, is the bank.

large megaliths forming part of a circle, with a deep ditch behind

Stone circle and deep enclosing ditch at Avebury, Wiltshire, in southern England; the north side of the circle looking west.

'Do you know what I think? I think the people here were in competition with the people at Stonehenge! The tribe that looked after Stonehenge had turned their henge into a huge stone circle, so the people of Avebury had to have one as well!'

Description and discussion of henge monuments and stone circles in relation to surrounding late Neolithic and early Bronze Age monuments in: Bradley, Richard, 1998. The Significance of Monuments. Routledge. Chapter 8: Theatre in the round, pp 116–31; in: Prior, Francis, 2002. Seahenge: a quest for life and death in Bronze Age Britain. HarperCollinsPublishers. Chapter six: Ritual landscapes, pp 79–108; in: Pryor, Francis, 2003. Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans. HarperCollinsPublishers. Chapter Nine: The Age of Stonehenge (the Final Neolithic and Earliest Bronze Age: 2500–1800 BC), pp 229–69; in: Avebury, monuments and landscape, a souvenir guide. National Trust.

See for yourself

Avebury stone circle – Information, the National Trust

Avebury stone circle – Wikipedia


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part of a prehistoric stone circle
large megaliths forming part of a circle, with a deep ditch behind

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