Avebury’s Better Henge

“It does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge as a Cathedral doeth a parish church.”  Such were the words of John Aubrey, describing the megalithic complex which has now become integrated into the surrounding landscape of the area.  Although its stones were of impressive size and spacing, the truly remarkable feature of Avebury was the enormous ditch and bank that surrounded it.  This has since eroded and filled in, but is still fairly impressive; at its peak, excavations have revealed that the ditch was likely three times as deep as it is today. Cut into the white chalk of the area, this must have been a thrilling and brilliant sight, especially in full sunlight.

The henge at Avebury is incredibly large.  It is composed of a main ring of 98 sarsen stones, with two inner rings, side by side, each comprised of around 30 stones.  The stones comprising the henge were, like those of the more famous Stonehenge, originally of Marlborough Downs, and were transported the dozens of miles to their eventual destination.  While these stones were not worked, they were placed with the least eroded side to the center, much like their counterparts at Stonehenge.  There were likely originally over 600 stones that comprised the henge and related complexes, but for various reasons, the majority were destroyed or deposed.

In the late 1600s, the majority of the stones were destroyed for various reasons.  The main culprit seems to be one Tom Robinson, who was apparently a housing speculator.  He headed gangs that broke them up for building material in the nearby houses and other structures. Many of the houses, and especially Avebury Chapel, can be seen to have used portions of the megaliths as building material.  As the various areas remained largely unprotected until nearly 1930, there was considerable destruction of the entire complex.

Today, there has not been very much archaeological research poured into Avebury henge and the related structures.  Many of the stones’  original placements are now marked by concrete plinths, especially along the original stone avenues leading up to the henge.  In modern diagrams of the henge, it is amazing how much of the original area is covered by modern-era structures, especially where the original center stone circles were.

I suppose that we should feel lucky, as modern archaeologists and tourists, that our predecessors didn’t have the change to completely demolish the henge, and that there were those who began to diagram it before the wholesale destruction began in earnest.  The pervading lesson from Avesbury, though, is that once something is destroyed, it is very difficult to know exactly what it is we lost.  We can only get a vague idea that it was something massively important to someone, at one point in time.

1 thought on “Avebury’s Better Henge

  1. I liked your interpretation and the perspective you placed on Avesbury’s Henge in relation to Stonehenge and other famous wonders. When we sit down and contemplate, it is not hard to realize that the ancient wonders, like that of Stongehenge, are only wonders because they have lasted through out the centeries. Someone, at some point in time, thought that Stonehenge was significant enough to preserve. If everything that was created by human hands was saved, our world would have more then seven wonders of the ancient world; nevertheless, I think we are lucky to have at least seven. Anyway, even if an ancient site does not hold this prestigous rank the monument can still paint a historical story for us. Yes, we may never be able to figure out Avesbury’s complete story, but, at least, we preserved enough of its existence to paint a picture. As I read your blog, I began to think about Henry Ford and his efforts to preserve American History. As a young child, I did not realize that Mr. Ford went out and gathered hundreds of American artifacts which, over the decades, turned into important historical artifacts, such as Abraham Lincolns chair, Kennedy’s car, Edison’s laboratory, and so on. Again, there are thousands of historical artifacts related to our American history, but the ones that become significant are those that are preserved and made immortal through our imagination. Henry Ford was able to create a village/museum that will capture the hearts of viewers for years to come. In addition, by placing preserving each artifact, he has turned given each object an eternal life (at least in our eyes). Thankfully, we still have Stonehenge and other wonders of the world. Who know how long Avesbury will last since we have not taken the precautionary measures to preserve it as we have Stonehenge; nevertheless, it did not disappear entirely before we discovered its existence. Therefore, the story of Avesbury has not died, and it may live a little longer!

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