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Britain’s Early Years: Avebury Henge

avebury-henge

Avebury Henge

Avebury Henge monument consists of three stone circles, located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire.  It was erected in 2,600 BC, comprising of one large outer circle, with two smaller stone circles situated inside.  Along with a large circular bank with an internal ditch measuring some 460 yards in diameter.

What is its purpose, a question that has baffled archaeologists for years, but they believe it was more than likely used for some form of rituals or ceremonies.

By the time of the Iron Age, it had been abandoned, yet human evidence existed into the time of the Roman occupation, showing that the Roman’s had used the site.

The outer stone circle of the henge, measures 1,088 feet in diameter, originally constructed with ninety-eight Sarsen stones.  With two large polished stones at the southern entrance.

The northern inner ring stone circle, measures 322 feet in diameter, with a cove of three stones in the middle, with a north-east facing entrance, but when erected probably consisted of twenty-seven stones.

The southern inner ring stone circle, measures 354 feet in diameter, with a single stone some 21 feet in height located centrally, along with an alignment of twenty-nine smaller stones.

Around the central point of the obelisk, small yet rough sarsen stones were positioned in a near rectangular format.  The obelisk stone has long since disappeared.

The Avenue:

The West Kennet Avenue of paired stones leads from the south-eastern henge entrance to Beckhampton Avenue to the western entrance.  Which linked the Avebury Henge with ceremonial sites at Beckhampton and Overton Hill.

The henge, with its imposing boundary to the circle, has no defence purpose, because the ditch and bank are located inside the larger circle.

Being a henge, one has to accept that the positioning of the stone circle are related to astronomical alignments.  The site is more than likely laid out for some form of religious function.

The Druids believe that there was an astronomical axis which connected Avebury Henge to Stonehenge, flanked by West Kennet Long Barrow on the west which symbolised the Mother Goddess and Silbury Hill the symbol of masculinity.

In the 5th century following on from the end of Roman Rule, Anglo-Saxons migrated to Southern Britain, where suggestions have been put forward that they used the site as a defensive site.

During the middle ages, many of the stones were buried or destroyed, as it was believed they had a connection to pagan and devil worshipping.

In the early part of Saxon life in Britain, around AD600, a settlement had been built at the henge; a seme-fortified settlement.

King Athelstan recorded a charter in 939 defining the boundaries of Overton, a parish which laid adjacent to Avebury.

In the 11th century Anglo-Saxon armies fought with Viking raiders at Avebury, and the pre-historic monument at Silbury Hill was fortified creating a defensive position.

In 1114 a Benedictine Priory and Church was built upon the site.

In the latter part of the 12th century, Avebury parish church was enlarged at a time of religious revival.

The Avebury stones, which stood tall for all to see along with nearby barrows were given names relating to the devil, before being toppled:  The Devil’s Chair, The Devil’s Den and The Devil’s Brandirons.

Shortly afterwards the “Black Death Plague” struck the village in 1349, reducing the village’s population, as many died.

In 1541 John Leland; Librarian and Chaplan to King Henry VIII, noted the existence of Avebury and its pre-historic monuments.  William Camden published his guide book to British Antiquities in 1586, but made no mention of Avebury, but his 1610 version made a fleeting remark to it.

John Aubrey Antiquarian rediscovered the Avbrey Henge in 1649, and recorded many drawings of the site.  In 1663, King Charles II visited Avebury Henge.

In the early part of the 18th century, William Stukeley doctor-clergyman and antiquarian studied Avebury Henge between 1719-1724.

The village was growing, and stone was much needed for the houses and the church.  He left a drawing for them to follow, how to break these large boulder stones, formerly part of Avebury Henge Pre-historic Monument.  Burn straw in a large pit to heat the stones, pour cold water on the stones, creating a weakness then split them open with a sledge hammer.

The Avebury Henge became listed as a pre-historic and sacred complex with ceremonial avenues lined with stones.  Silbury Hill the largest known man-made mound, the West Kennet Long Barrow a Neolithic burial chamber. A former stone circle Sanctuary.

Druidic rites held at Avebury are called Gorseddau, where they invoke Awen (a druidic concept of inspiration).  They recite the Druid Prayer by Morganwg and the Druid Vow.

One group of Druids (Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri) hold their rites at Avebury’s pre-historic monument.

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