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Avebury: Square circles & marmalade

Avebury is another Neolithic henge located about 40 miles from Stonehenge and near Wiltshire, in southwestern England.

It was constructed over several hundred years near 3000 BC. In this it is comparable to Stonehenge . But here similarities take different roads through history--and sometimes unfortunate history.

It, like other sites I’ve covered in previous blogs, has experienced damage due to human interaction well after the site enjoyed its height of activity. This, like other sites, was used for ritual or religious purposes during the Neolithic period. It contains three stone circles and a large henge (a bank and a ditch). One circle is outside the henge, while the other two smaller circles lie inside the henge.

During the early Middle Ages, a village was built around the monument. The village eventually extended into the stone circles. In the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, local people destroyed many of the standing stones both for religious and practical reasons. The site was seen as pagan and therefore evil. Stones were torn down and buried or re-purposed.

Historians John Aubrey and William Stukeley took an interest in Avebury during the 1600s and recorded much of the site before its destruction.

Archaeological investigation did not occur until the early 1900s, primarily led by Alexander Keiller. Keiller was a Scottish archaeologist who was originally the sole heir to a marmalade business. He was flamboyant and very wealthy due to inheriting the family business. This allowed him to purchase the village, including 950 acres of land that had “swallowed” Avebury. Home movies have materialized in the possession of a nephew showing Keiller demolishing the village one building at a time as occupants either died or moved away. The fact he did this remains controversial with certain members of the former village who review the films and remember nostalgically the lost homes and barns.

However, for the moment, I am looking at this strictly from a scientific perspective. Between 1937 and 1939 Keiller attempted to restore what once was lost. His efforts using the documentation of John Aubrey and William Stukeley restored Avebury to what it had once been. He preserved Avebury by conducting excavations, re-erected stones on the Avebury site.

He created a museum to interpret the site. He also pioneered aerial photography for archaeological interpretation. Like its neighbor, Stonehenge, it is a World Heritage Site. It may be part of a larger landscape which was incorporated for extended locations for ritual and worship in its day. This has brought it fame, and brought about its destruction in the past. Despite his controversy over buying and destroying a village, Keiller had good intentions in restoring Avebury.

As a result, it is recognized as one of the greatest marvels of prehistoric Britain, the largest stone circle in Europe, and a sacred meeting place for our ancestors which may even be aligned with the stars, much like other henges both in England and elsewhere in the world.

Recently, during an arial survey archaeologists made a stunning discovery. Using state of the art technology, they concluded the huge circle started out life as a 100 foot square after discovering a mysterious box-shaped enclosure of giant stones in the middle of the henge.

Henge monuments like Stonehenge and Avebury are always round. This is the first time such as square monument has ever been found. Earlier still, at around 3,500 BC, experts found a simple rectangular wooden house occupied the site.

For the full article, see:

This section could well have been lost due to Avebury’s damaged past. Historians can only preserve certain details, depending on what faces them when they make their recordings and the technology available to them at the time. Keiller followed their documentation. This certainly will continue to unfold as archaeologists review the new information.

Avebury is an example where humans both destroyed a site due to misunderstanding and superstition and where humans attempted to preserve what time had stolen. In this example, humans are doing their very best to preserve a piece of significant history in order for us to better understand our past.

Meanwhile, not so many miles away Stonehenge’s fate remains at a crossroads. Will Stonehenge enjoy a moment of revealing new details about itself as technology continues to improve?

UNESCO World Heritage Committee has called on the British government to rethink plans to build a 2.9 km tunnel through the Stonehenge landscape. A tunnel would permanently destroy any opportunity for new research and discovery.

As previously stated, UNESCO cannot stop the government. They can provide compelling evidence in support of protecting a designated site. This information was provided in a meeting on July 6, 2017. It recommends that the Government reviews the scheme to widen the A303 road so that it does not adversely affect the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the WHS.

The UNESCO committee has encouraged the Government to “explore further options with a view to avoiding impacts on the OUV of the property,” including a southern bypass for the A303 or a longer tunnel “to remove dual carriageway cuttings from the property.”

Kate Fielden, honorary secretary to the Alliance said, “It is very heartening that our concerns about the A303 widening project that we have voiced over many years are now being addressed by UNESCO.

"It is to be hoped that the Government will wish to adopt a more considered approach at Stonehenge that meets the demands of the 1972 World Heritage Convention for conservation, protection and rehabilitation of the whole WHS for future generations to enjoy.”

Kate Freeman from Friends of the Earth South West said: "The UNESCO report was critical of the inadequacy of meaningful involvement of the top archaeology specialists and the wider community, including ourselves.

"We look forward to positively engaging with future solutions for the WHS.”

It is hoped by this series of blogs that you learn about our human past and recognize that we are stewards of sites like this going forward. They are fodder of excellent TV, movie, and books plots. They are also real life places with much to contribute to our historical learning. Even a marmalade king could make a difference! What about you?

#Stonehenge #stonehengealliance #avebury #keiller #marmalade #neolithic

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