Avebury

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Avebury is a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles, around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, in southwest England. One of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain, it contains the largest stone circle in Europe. It is both a tourist attraction and a place of religious importance to contemporary pagans. Constructed over several hundred years in the 3rd millennium BC, during the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, the monument comprises a large henge (a bank and a ditch) with a large outer stone circle and two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is unknown, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremony.

The Avebury monument is a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill. By the Iron Age, the site had been effectively abandoned, with some evidence of human activity on the site during the Roman occupation. During the Early Middle Ages, a village first began to be built around the monument, eventually extending into it. In the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, local people destroyed many of the standing stones around the henge, both for religious and practical reasons.

The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley, however, took an interest in Avebury during the 17th century, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeological investigation followed in the 20th century, led primarily by Alexander Keiller, who oversaw a project which reconstructed much of the monument. Avebury is owned and managed by the National Trust. It has been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument,as well as a World Heritage Site, in the latter capacity being seen as a part of the wider prehistoric landscape of Wiltshire known as Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites.

Location and environment

Avebury is respectively about 6 and 7 miles (10 and 11 km) from the modern towns of Marlborough and Calne. Avebury lies in an area of chalkland in the Upper Kennet Valley which forms the catchment for the River Kennet and supports local springs and seasonal watercourses. The monument stands slightly above the local landscape, sitting on a low chalk ridge 160 m (520 ft) above sea level; to the east are the Marlborough Downs, an area of lowland hills. The site lies at the centre of a collection of Neolithic and early Bronze Age monuments and was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in a co-listing with the monuments at Stonehenge, 17 miles (27 km) to the south, in 1986. It is now listed as part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site Th.e monuments are preserved as part of a Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape for the information they provide regarding prehistoric people's relationship with the landscape.

Henge

The Avebury monument is a henge, a type of monument consisting of a large circular bank with an internal ditch. The henge is not perfectly circular and measures over 1,000 metres (1,090 yd) in circumference. The only known comparable sites of similar date are only a quarter of the size of Avebury. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the henge was made by the middle of the third millennium BC. The henge's construction was an immense task; the ditch was cut through hard chalk with antler picks and stone mauls, and it is estimated that over 90000 m3 of material weighing 165,000 tons was excavated.The ditch is currently 20–24 metres wide, but originally was narrower at 12–15 metres with sides sharply dropping to a bottom around 10 metres deep. Burl speculates that it was likely built for defensive purposes. The top of the bank is irregular, something archaeologist Caroline Malone suggested was because of the irregular nature of the work undertaken by excavators working on the adjacent sectors of the ditch. Later archaeologists such as Aaron Watson, Mark Gillings and Joshua Pollard have, however, suggested that this was an original Neolithic feature of the henge's architecture.

Outer Stone Circle

Within the henge is a great outer circle. This is one of Europe's largest stone circles, with a diameter of 331.6 metres (1,088 ft), Britain's largest stone circle. It was either contemporary with, or built around four or five centuries after the earthworks. It is thought that there were originally 98 sarsen standing stones, some weighing in excess of 40 tons. The stones varied in height from 3.6 to 4.2 m, as exemplified at the north and south entrances. Radiocarbon dating of some stone settings indicate a construction date of around 2870–2200 BC.The two large stones at the Southern Entrance had an unusually smooth surface, likely due to having stone axes polished on them.

Inner Stone Circles

Nearer the middle of the monument are two additional, separate stone circles. The northern inner ring is 98 metres (322 ft) in diameter, but only two of its four standing stones remain upright. A cove of three stones stood in the middle, its entrance facing northeast.[citation needed] Taking experiments undertaken at the megalithic Ring of Brodgar in Orkney as a basis, the archaeologists Joshua Pollard, Mark Gillings and Aaron Watson believed that any sounds produced inside Avebury's Inner Circles would have created an echo as sound waves ricocheted off the standing stones.The southern inner ring was 108 metres (354 ft) in diameter before its destruction in the 18th century. The remaining sections of its arc now lie beneath the village buildings. A single large monolith, 5.5 metres (18 ft) high, stood in the centre along with an alignment of smaller stones.

The Avenue

The West Kennet Avenue, an avenue of paired stones, leads from the southeastern entrance of the henge; and traces of a second, the Beckhampton Avenue, lead out from the western entrance.[citation needed] The archaeologist Aaron Watson, taking a phenomenological viewpoint to the monument, believed that the way in which the Avenue had been constructed in juxtaposition to Avebury, the Sanctuary, Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow had been intentional, commenting that "the Avenue carefully orchestrated passage through the landscape which influenced how people could move and what they could see, emphasizing connections between places and maximizing the spectacle of moving between these monuments.

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