Saturday, March 28, 2015

March 27, 2015 Visiting Avebury Henge

An amazing day! You all undoubtedly know about Stonehenge which is only 30 miles from South Wonston where we're staying. Well, today we learned that England has many henges (14 according to Wikipedia) and we traveled to Avebury, the largest henge in the country. A henge is a circular flat area with a large ditch surrounding it. It often has stone or wooden circles inside and was likely used as some sort of ceremonial site rather than daily living.

An hour of driving through country roads and passing through small villages where many of the houses had thatched roofs brought us to the village of Avebury.
Thatched cottages in Avebury village

Avebury village
The village transects the henge which obscures its size. However there are standing lines of stones and ditches almost surrounding the village.

This largest henge is more than 3/4 mile in circumference and is bisected by two roads with the village built partly into the circle. Many of the standing stones had been toppled and buried or carried away, but with ongoing excavations from 1908 onward, many have been restored.

Walking this site is awe-inspiring. Begun about 2,600 BC, the 9-12 foot deep ditch around the 3/4 mile henge was dug using only antler picks and rakes with the broken up chalky soil carried out by human hands in baskets. While the purpose is unknown, the dedication and cooperation of the Neolithic people digging this 20-30 foot wide ditch belies my concept of simple people scratching out a living by hunting and gathering.

The Avebury henge was very complex with a large outer circle on the inner banks of the ditch and then 2 smaller double circles inside. There are only 36 stones standing from this immense work and the locations of other stones are marked with small concrete pillars. It's impossible to see the entirety of the henge due to the damage caused by the intersecting roads and the village buildings that cross the circle in places.  But there is enough here to take your breath away.

We walked along the entire ditch circumference, sometimes among the stones sometimes outside the ditch.

Besides this enormous henge, there were others close by - one joined by a broad avenue marked by a double row of stones. Not far away, another Neolithic monument exists called Sillbury Hill. Built between 2,400 and 2,000 BC this hill is the largest pre-historic mound in Europe, over 1500 feet around its base and 115 feet tall with a flat top of 90 feet across the top. Why it was built is a mystery but, due to archeological excavations, much is known about how it was built - basically by carrying stones and soil by hand (likely in baskets) and piling it up over many years.

This henge however is only one of the features Avebury has to offer. A picturesque small village, including a church dating back 1000 years and a manor house & farm are part of the area and we explored these as well - but I'll tell about them in the next post.

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