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Stonehenge and Nearby Prehistoric Sites
Stonehenge and Associated Sites - A World Heritage Area
The county of Wiltshire, in the south-west of England, is most famous for Stonehenge, the stone circle where Druids still celebrate the summer solstice.
Then there are the huge Avebury stone circles, among which a village has been built. Other associated sites include barrows (ancient burial mounds), Silbury Hill and other smaller and lesser known remnants of prehistoric religion.
I live near these monuments and see them often. The one I like best of all is Avebury because you can walk among the stones. The more famous Stonehenge is impressive but I find it more impersonal.
These ancient sites are so important that they form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Picture: Stonehenge - Close-up of Stones - In the Public Domain
Wiltshire Marked on a Map of England & Wales
Stonehenge - The Most Famous Stone Circle in the World?
Stonehenge is probably the most famous prehistoric site in Europe located 8 miles north of the city of Salisbury. Considered to be some 5000 years old, the exact purpose of this incredible monument is unclear.
Its construction points to a considerable effort and it is the only stone circle in the world with horizontal stones across the vertical ones. Some of the stones weigh up to 50 tons each and 80 stones were brought from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales, well over 200 miles away. Imagine the problems involved in such a journey.
Stonehenge illustrates the sophistication of the culture in those distant times. Not only was there the organisation, and also the resources to manage a scheme of this scale, but those prehistoric builders aligned the stone avenue with sunrise on Midsummer's Day.
The whole area, covering 2600 hectares and containing about 3000 prehistoric burial sites as well as the famous stone circle, is now a World Heritage Site.
This DVD shows some discoveries being made at Stonehenge and explores some of the theories about this world famous stone circle.
Stonehenge on DVD - See the ancient monument in detail
Reading about Stonehenge is interesting but actually seeing it makes the scale of the monument more believeable.
The theories of experts are also much easier to understand as you watch the movie.
Map Showing Location of Stonehenge
More About Stonehenge from English Heritage
- Stonehenge | English Heritage
Visit Stonehenge! Sun worship temple? Healing centre? Huge calendar? English Heritage is a non-profit-making organisation caring and protecting notable sites and buildings in England.
Avebury Stone Circles
Avebury Stone Circle on DVD
Thought to be older than Stonehenge although still dating back some 5000 years, Avebury Stone Circles form one of the largest and oldest Neolithic standing stone monuments in Europe.
What I find so impressive and surprising about Avebury is that, over the centuries, the village has grown up among the stones. Here at Avebury you don't see the carefully cut stones used at Stonehenge. Instead these seem to keep their original quarried uneven shapes. Experts on Avebury point out that there are two types of stone. One is tall and thin, the other short and wide. One theory is that the different shapes represent men and women.
It has a huge bank (henge) and dyke structure, about 421 metres (1,381 ft) in diameter and 1.35 kilometres (0.84 mi) in circumference. Within these earthworks there is a large outer circle of stones. Inside this circle, there were two more smaller ones: the Northern Inner Circle and the Southern Inner Circle. Unfortunately these two have lost stones, and part of the Southern one has been lost under village buildings and other stones have been lost too so now only one remains.
As well as the circles, there were also two avenues of stones standing in pairs. One leads from the south-east side of the outer henge and can still be seen. The other, on the western side, has largely disappeared.
Over the centuries, stones have been lost. Some have been taken for building while others were removed because they were in the way. Superstition and fear also contributed to their destruction. In the 1930s archaeologist, Alexander Keiller, erected fallen stones he found in position in the outer circle. Throughout the monument, missing stones have been replaced by concrete markers so visitors can get an idea of the original appearance.
In spite of much speculation and work by archaeologists, there are no firm conclusions on the purpose of Avebury's circles. Human bones have been found so could it have been an elaborate grave or cemetery? Another credible theory is that it's a site for religious ritual particularly with the avenues connecting to other monuments in the area, including West Kennet Long Barrow.
Part of Avebury's the Inner South Circle
Bernard Cornwell, best selling novelist, writes about three brothers and their ambition to build a temple for their god. Discord and murder ensues.
A Novel about Stonehenge - Some Fictional Explanations of the Ancient Monument
We don't know exactly who built Stonehenge or why.
Was it an astronomical instrument or a religious site? Was human sacrifice practised there? We don't know the answers although some experts have opinions.
Unhampered by academia, fiction writers can offer stories about the building and uses of Stonehenge and, who knows, maybe their ideas might contain some truth.
Other Prehistoric Sites in Wiltshire
The Sanctuary is found on Overton Hill and archaeologists have found timber post holes on the sites in six concentric circles leading them to conclude that this was the timber version of Stonehenge. They have dated the timber postholes to about 3000 BC. Two stone circles were erected there about 800 years later but, unfortunately, these were largely destroyed in the early 18th century. Now both timber post and stone holes are marked with concrete slabs.
Standing just a mile north west of Avebury, Windmill Hill is the largest neolithic causewayed enclosure in Britain. Pottery dating back to 3800 BC has been found on the hill but it is thought it was 500 years later that three concentric ditches were dug in segments around the hilltop. The causeway interrupts the circles.
This extraordinary conical hill is a man-made structure built mostly from chalk. The base is 550ft in diameter, Silbury Hill is 130ft high and it's thought it was built around 4700 BC. This is another of Wiltshire's mysterious sites where its purpose is not known although it seems to be connected with the other sites nearby.
West Kennet Long Barrow
Located near Silbury Hill, the West Kennet Long Barrow is one of the longest of its kind in Britain.
Thought to have been built around 3600 BC and to have been used for about 1000 years, archaeologists have identified around 46 individuals interred here ranging from babies to the elderly.
Why Is this Area a World Heritage Site?
- Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites - UNESCO World Heritage Centre
The UNESCO World Heritage Centre gives an explanation of why this area in Wiltshire, England, UK, is a World Heritage site. The reasons go into detail about what is so special about the ancient monuments and sites in the area.
© 2009 Carol Fisher