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Avebury: Mysterious Places in Britain

Updated on July 6, 2014
Avebury: the ditch in the right foreground circles the village of Avebury, which can be seen in the middle distance. Unlike Stonehenge, there is full and free access to the stones.
Avebury: the ditch in the right foreground circles the village of Avebury, which can be seen in the middle distance. Unlike Stonehenge, there is full and free access to the stones. | Source

What is Avebury?

Avebury is one of the most impressive pre-historic earthworks discovered in Europe to date. Stonehenge primarily suggests worship of the sun and moon while Avebury also appears to incorporate the worship or celebration of birth, life and death cycles which were very important in Neolithic times. Avebury's history began about 2000 years after the first farming community on Windmill Hill arrived and it was the descendants of these people who created the Avebury Neolithic Complex. The theories as to why this site was chosen for such a huge undertaking abound but the following reasons seem to be most likely:

  • the area was already well populated;
  • it was a lowland plain bordered by the Marlborough Downs (the source of sarsens for Avebury and Stonehenge);
  • Windmill Hill bordered to the north-west while a source of water transportation was to the south (River Kennet);
  • important burial sites were located in the surrounding area, the most notable of which was West Kennet Long Barrow.

Our thought processes have been impaired in way with such a vast amount of knowledge that we no longer can see the world through the simplistic but observant eyes of Neolithic peoples. We may be capable of a tiny glimmer but their motivation will always be out of reach.*

*Avebury: A Present from the Past. "Theories and Links".

Theories Proposed for the Building of Avebury.

Those places whose purpose we cannot yet fathom tend to be the ones that attract us like magnets precisely because of the mystery that surrounds them. Their unknown nature leads us to develop some very practical theories but the outlandish and supernatural or paranormal theories are equally proposed. Stone circles and henges have been the focus of fictional stories of the supernatural and paranormal which draws our curiosity even more so. The following are a list of theories proposed for the construction of the Avebury henge and its associated structures.

1. The night sky has held mankind's fascination for aeons. It is natural that early man would have built into their structures all manner of astronomical alignments.

  • Alignments exist at the coves which are orientated towards the solstices;
  • There is evidence of a strong influence from lunar cycles including the numbers of stones forming the circles;

2. Fertility and death are now and were in our very early past a fundamental part of human ritual; thus, it has been suggested that Avebury was a focus of worship for the Mother Goddess.

  • It would be surprising if there were not a sexual component to Avebury;
  • It is hypothesized that Silbury Hill is suggestive of a huge pregnant belly belonging to a massive Earth Goddess figure;
  • There is also strong sexual symbolism in the pairing together of triangular and columnar stones within the henge.

3. Because of the existence of hundreds of other megalithic structures throughout the British Isles, it is impossible to not conjecture that there is a relationship between them and that their was a common purpose and plan to their construction.

4. A supernatural element to Avebury and other henges has been suggested.

  • Iron Age people deliberately avoided the megalithic sites from the Neolithic and Bronze Age;
  • Romans did little to change these monuments during their occupation of Britain;
  • Avebury is said to be a magical place due to the pair of ley lines (Michael and Mary) that run from Land's End to Bury St. Edmunds which meet near the stones of the southern part of the circle;
  • Immense spiritual energy is found in the village which is supported by locals who claim at least one spirit per house;
  • Legend has it that faeries are often seen dancing among the stones at night;
  • Legend has it that the Devil, intent on burying Avebury, dropped a shovel full of dirt creating Silbury Hill.
  • For hundreds of years, young women have tradtitionally sat in the 'chair' of the megalith known as the Devil's Chair, as the sun sets on May Day to make a wish for a good husband, love and healthy children.
  • The Devil's Chair of Avesbury has also been rumored to have the ability to reduce pain and improve fertility due to the magnetic qualities of the rock.
  • Many claim that a natural fissure above the chair of this megalith will sometimes emit a faint blue smoke.
  • Another legend claims that the Devil will be revealed on his chair by running around the stone 13 times in an anticlockwise direction at midnight.
  • Another version of this same legend, claims that running around the chair 100 times in the same manner at midnight will conjure supernatural powers.

5. An interesting alien connection has been proposed for the Avebury site based on NASA photographs of Mars.

  • The Cydonia region of Mars appears to have a giant humanoid face sculpted from a giant outcrop of rock. In 1995, an independent researcher noticed a number of geological features of this region of Mars and the prehistoric features of the Avebury Neolithic Complex.
  • The Avebury Stone Circle and Silbury Hill appear to have analogous counterparts on Mars.
  • Landmarks in Cydonia appear to align on an even smaller scale including gaps in the ditch and ring mound.
  • Avebury has been the focus of several UFO sightings over the village and balls of light have been observed floating above or amongst the megaliths while small figures have been seen moving around the stones.

Did you know the following about Avebury?

  1. While the focus of Stonehenge appeared more astrological in nature, Avebury appeared to have had a focus on human cycles of life and death.
  2. Avebury was in active use for over 700 years.
  3. In 1325, a man was killed by a falling megalith and coins in his purse, found with his skeleton, pinpointed the approximate date of his death.
  4. As this skeleton was discovered with pointed scissors and a small iron lancet, he became known as 'The Barber Surgeon of Avebury.'

Construction of Avebury Neolithic Complex

Timeline of the Construction of Avebury.

  1. 4000 BC Initial habitation and forest clearance for agriculture at Windmill Hill.
  2. 3700 BC Construction of West Kennet Long Barrow burial site.
  3. 3000 BC Construction of the Coves of the northern inner circle and construction of Beckhampton Avenue begins.
  4. 2900 BC Construction of the inner circles of the henge.
  5. 2800 BC Construction of the Ditch and Bank of the henge begins.
  6. 2700 BC Construction of the Ditch and Bank of the henge is completed.
  7. 2600 BC Construction of the outer Circle of the henge.
  8. 2400 BC Construction of Beckhampton Avenue is completed.
  9. 2400 BC Presumed construction date of Silbury Hill.
  10. 2300 BC Construction of the Palisaded Enclosures.
  11. 2200 BC The West Kennet Long Barrow burial site is sealed.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Re-drawing of an Avebury henge drawing by Alan Sorrell (1958).The postulated original layout of the circlesStone 9 of the south-west quadrant of Avebury henge's Great Circle, also known as the Barber Stone or the Barber-Surgeon Stone.Stone Circles in Avebury, England
Re-drawing of an Avebury henge drawing by Alan Sorrell (1958).
Re-drawing of an Avebury henge drawing by Alan Sorrell (1958). | Source
The postulated original layout of the circles
The postulated original layout of the circles | Source
Stone 9 of the south-west quadrant of Avebury henge's Great Circle, also known as the Barber Stone or the Barber-Surgeon Stone.
Stone 9 of the south-west quadrant of Avebury henge's Great Circle, also known as the Barber Stone or the Barber-Surgeon Stone. | Source
Stone Circles in Avebury, England
Stone Circles in Avebury, England | Source

Specific Facts in the Construction of Avebury

Construction of the henge:

  • Construction of the ditches or henge involved basic implements including the antlers and shoulder blades of cattle and massive manpower.
  • The henge encompasses an area of almost 30 acres, having an average diameter of about 350 meters.
  • About 120,000 cubic meters of solid chalk was dug from the ditch which is about 60 times that removed from Stonehenge.

Erection of the sarsen stones:

  • Originally, there were about 400 standing stones within the henge and forming the Avebury avenues.
  • These stones or sarsens were taken from the Marlborough Downs, the same location where the Stonehenge sarsens were brought from.
  • Leather ropes, strapped around the sarsens were used to drag them onto huge rollers whereby they were taken to their destination.
  • About 1.5 million man-hours were required to build the henge and move and erect the sarsen stones.
  • Once the stones reached their site, a small hole was dug in the chalk at the spot the stone was to stand.
  • Stakes were hammered into the chalk, opposite the stone, to prevent the stone from falling over when it was raised into position.
  • Other stakes were used in a similar manner to guide the stone into its final upright position.
  • It was a feat of engineering to ensure the stone's centre of gravity was directly over the hole.
  • The Swindon Stone is a testament to their skill as it has balanced for 4500 years on one corner with only a small fragment buried underground.
  • After the stone was raised and held in place by stakes and ropes, packing material including chalk blocks and smaller sarsen stones kept it stable.

The Stone Circles Of Avebury:

  • Ninety-eight stones comprised the outer circle of the inside of the henge.
  • Within this circle, were two smaller circles each of similar diameter.
  • Each of these inner circles had a different function.
  • An 21 foot long obelisk was in the centre of the southern circle.
  • As the "Obelisk" was described by a 18th century observer as phallic in appearance , and many of the stones chosen have sexual overtones, there is a strong implication that the South Circle's function revolved mainly around the rituals of fertility and re-generation. Even up to recent years the South Circle has remained a focus for Mayday ceremonies.
  • Twenty-seven stones made up the Northern Circle which possibly contained a smaller circle within it, surrounding the central cove.
  • This cove was originally composed of three stones that were thought to have been aligned with the moon's most northerly rising point. Thus, the function of the Northern Circle seems to have been astrological in origin.

Avebury: World Heritage Site

Avebury, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 1RF, UK

get directions

West Kennet:
Avebury, West Kennett, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 1QF, UK

get directions

The site of West Kennet Longbarrow, a prehistoric burial site.

Windmill Hill Avebury:
Windmill Hill, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8, UK

get directions


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    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Absolutely fascinating and so well researched and written. And as much as I love and read history, I had never heard of Avebury, Stonehenge, of course, but not Avebury. Excellent Hub. Thank you. :)

    • alliemacb profile image


      7 years ago from Scotland

      Fascinating hub. I've never been to that particlar area but will now put it on my list of things to see and do in England. Voted up and awesome!

    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank-you Marsei for the wonderful comments. I am so glad you enjoyed the hub. I hope you make it to Avebury and Stonehenge in the near future!

    • Marsei profile image

      Sue Pratt 

      7 years ago from New Orleans

      This is wonderfully interesting and well-researched hub. I have always been facinated with Stonehenge and it's on my to do before I die list. I am pretty much like your son about weird and scary things, so this was fascinating for me and is added to list.

      Great hub, voted up and interesting.


    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback. Having a British mother and Irish grandfather, the history of Great Britain has always been fascinating. And having a young son who also loves all thing weird and scary, these topics are a perfect place for me to lose myself in the research.

    • CR Rookwood profile image

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      This is fascinating and so thorough. I would LOVE to see this place. Thank you, thumbs up all across!


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