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Historic England Research Records

Avebury Henge

Hob Uid: 220746
Location :
Wiltshire
Avebury
Grid Ref : SU1026069960
Summary : A large Neolithic henge enclosure at Avebury, comprising a roughly circular ditch enclosing an area circa 350 metres by 380 metres, with an external bank originally up to 6 metres in height. There are four entrances, at least three of which are of prehistoric origin. Three main settings of standing sarsens exist within the henge, a circle which follows the inner edge of the ditch plus two smaller circles, one in the north, the other in the south. Each features a central sarsen arrangement. Other internal features have been identified through geophysical survey, aerial photography and excavation. The most extensive excavations were undertaken intermittently between 1908 and 1922 by Gray, and during the 1930s by Alexander Keiller, who was also responsible for "cleaning" the site (megalithic landscape gardening, as it has been described), mainly by removing trees, buildings and other unsightly modern intrusions. Recently obtained radiocarbon dates suggest that the construction of the main earthwork and stone circle probably occurred somewhere in the period 2900 to 2600 BC. It appears to have fallen out of use in circa 1800 BC. The henge is connected via an avenue of standing stones to the sarsen-built monument known as The Sanctuary. Other stone avenues and features have also been postulated, largely on the basis of antiquarian observation and suggestion. Other features of note include a possible circular post-setting identified by geophysical survey, and a cropmark of a double-ditched curvilinear enclosure, as well as traces of medieval and later settlement within the henge in the form of cropmarks and earthworks. It is in the care of English Heritage.
More information : (Centred SU 10256995) Avebury Stone Circle (NR) (1)

See HMSO booklet (2), Illustration Card. (3)

No change. Resurveyed at 1/2500. (4)

The monument at Avebury consists of a roughly circular ditch originally 12-15m wide and c.10m deep enclosing an area c.350 x 380m. The ditch is surrounded by an external bank which stood originally up to c. 6m in height. A berm, now largely obscured by erosion, existed between bank and ditch. There are four causewayed entrances, at least 3 of which are 'original' (ie prehistoric) features, positioned approximately at NNW, ENE, SSE and WSW.

There are three main settings of sarsen stones within the monument interior, although many of the original stones are no longer extant, having been pulled down and either buried or broken up and re-used as building material during the medieval and post-medieval periods. An outer sarsen circle follows the inner edge of the ditch, and inside this are two smaller circles, one in the northern half of the interior, the other to the south. Each of these circles contains (or contained) further sarsen settings. The northern circle surrounds a feature known as 'The Cove', which consisted originally of 3 large sarsen slabs forming 3 sides of a square, the fourth side remaining open. The central feature of the southern circle was a large sarsen known as 'The Obelisk'. In addition, excavation within the southern circle by Keiller revealed evidence of a linear setting of stones which possibly formed part of a sub-rectangular feature.

The records of antiquarian investigators, notably Charleton, Aubrey, and Stukeley, imply the presence of further features such as a circle of stones concentric to and within the outer circle, a smaller concentric arrangement within each of the northern and southern circles, and a further circular setting at the northern end of the interior, beyond the present 'northern' inner circle. There is little physical evidence to support the existence of any of these features, although at this point it may be worth noting that recent geophysical survey reported by Ucko et al revealed a series of anomalies in the north east of the interior taken to indicate the possible presence of a double concentric circle of posts.

Related features outside the enclosure include a double alignment of standing stones known as the West Kennet Avenue (SU 16 NW 101) running in an approximately south-easterly direction from the southern entrance to the 'Sanctuary' stone circles (SU 16 NW 102) on Overton Hill. Stukeley recorded the presence of another avenue of paired stones (SU 06 NE 62) running south west from the western entrance towards Beckhampton. Whether or not this avenue ever existed is a matter of debate.

Detailed phasing and chronology of the site and associated monuments are not well understood. With the exception of Gray's work, which involved sectioning the ditch, excavation has tended to focus on the various stone settings. However there are indications that the bank had been constructed, and presumably therefore that the ditch had been dug, in two phases, the later being on a much larger scale than the earlier. The chronological relationships of the stone settings, both to each other and to the bank and ditch, are at present unclear. The presence of lower chalk among packing material in some stone holes has been taken as an indication that the sarsens were erected around the time the ditch was dug (and the chalk thus quarried), while others have speculated on the difficulties of hauling sarsens across the causewayed entrances, although these are hardly decisive arguments, particularly given the suggested two construction phases for bank and ditch. Sherds of Windmill Hill, Peterborough and Grooved wares as well as Beaker pottery have come from various contexts with the balance favouring a later Neolithic date for the main period of construction. This seems to be confirmed by recently obtained radiocarbon dates from material retrieved from earlier excavations. Full details have yet to be published, but the dates are said to indicate a major construction phase around 4050 bp (but see auth. 34 below).

Avebury is generally classified as a henge, although it is set apart from the majority of henge sites by a number of features, notably its size, the number of entrances and the stone settings. This combination of size and unusual internal and entrance characteristics is shared to a degree with the sites at Durrington Walls (SU 14 SE 118) and Marden (SU 05 NE 3) in Wiltshire, and Mount Pleasant (SY 78 NW 4) in Dorset. The term 'henge enclosure' has been suggested for these sites.

Speculation regarding function and status centres generally on ceremonial, ritual and sepulchral use, although the bulk of the c. 11 hectares enclosed by the ditch at Avebury remains unexcavated, while the area outside the enclosure has scarcely been touched.

The main published accounts of excavations relating to the henge enclosure and its internal features are as follows: Smith (5) gives details of excavation in 'fourteen different spots... some of them of no trifling dimensions'. Passmore (6) published a note on a late 19th century examination of the bank by Sir Henry Meux. Gray's excavations in 1908, 1909, 1911, 1914 and 1922 were published in full in 1935 (7) along with a summary account of previous excavations. By the time Gray's work was published, Keiller had already begun his work on examining and restoring the settings and 'cleaning up'the site. Interim accounts of this work were published at the time but the final report, compiled by Isobel Smith after Keiller's death, appeared in 1965 (8). Subsequent excavation has been infrequent and on a very small scale. (9-13)

Ucko et al report on geophysical survey within the enclosure, but the main focus of their work was detailed examination of the surviving antiquarian accounts and plans of Avebury, notably those by Aubrey, Charleton and Stukeley. The book also contains a detailed bibliography covering investigation and analysis of the site down to 1991 (14). See Burl (15) for a lengthy discussion of their work. Publication of radiocarbon dates from Avebury is forthcoming, but interim discussion has appeared in Ucko et al (14) and Whittle (16). The results of surface survey in the Avebury area have been discussed by Holgate (17,18). Smith has discussed the evidence for the prehistoric environment in the Avebury region (32). Whittle, meanwhile, has summarised the Neolithic sequence in the area on the basis of recent excavations and radiocarbon dates (39).

General accounts of Avebury and surrounding monuments are numerous (19-24), the main syntheses being those in VCH (25,26) and that by Burl (27). Malone has also published a summary of current knowledge concerning Avebury and nearby sites (28). Burl (29) discusses coves, including that within Avebury's northern circle, while Devereaux discusses the topographic relationships between various major sites in the area (30).

Avebury and its surrounding monuments have been designated part of a World Heritage site (31,14). Pitts discusses recent events in and around Avebury connected with the site's current, rather than prehistoric, status (33). [See also recent discussions by Fielden and Gingell (40-41)](5-33)

Recognising that the dating and phasing of Avebury and its associated monuments rested on less than firm foundations, 13 C14 dates were obtained from material excavated by Gray and Keiller. These suggest that construction of the main earthwork and main stone circle belong somewhere in the range 2900-2600 Cal BC. However, undated features include the suggested primary bank (for which Pitts and Whittle provide further evidence), the inner stone circles and associated features, and the Avenue(s). The imprecision of C14 dating does not allow a firm claim for the main stone circle being later than the earthwork.

The dates obtained so far also leave unresolved the relationship between Avebury and Silbury Hill, though the latter may be a little later in terms of construction date. The length of time between Windmill Hill and Avebury is also unclear in the absence of dates for the postulated primary construction phase at Avebury. Any reduction of the chronological gap between the two would clearly have important implications regarding the relationships between monument traditions in the region. (34)

Avebury was surveyed by staff of RCHME's Salisbury office in 1991. The following is an abbreviated version of the archive report which accompanies the survey drawing:

The site occupies a low interfluve between the River Kennet 200m to the W and a stream that runs to the E in the direction of Overton Hill. Despite its magnitude the monument does not present a prominent landmark and it is hidden from view by surrounding hills. Within the henge the highest points recorded are located inside the smaller, interior stone circles.

The massive earthworks of the henge, c. 400m in diameter, enclose an area of 11.5 ha. On closer inspection it is apparent that the earthwork is constructed in a number of straight sections c. 50-65m in length. This segmented nature is a deliberate constructional technique.

The henge consists of an external bank up to 10m wide at its base and 2-3m in height above ground surface. It has an undulating summit, again suggestive of deliberate constructional technique. However, the rampart has seen much disturbance. In particular, it has been severely denuded in the SW quadrant in the area of the school and has been destroyed for a distance of 100m in the area to the N of this. The W terminal of the S entrance and the E terminal of the N entrance have been quarried. The break in the bank N of the E entrance may have provided material for constructing a pond in the ditch at this point.

The internal ditch is c. 8m wide narrowing to a width of c. 1-3m at its base and in places it is separated from the bank by a berm c. 2.5m wide. Irregularities along the ditch bottom, particularly ledging at the terminals, are the result of excavation trenches and other post-construction activities.

Of the four gaps in the circuit of the enclosure, three have been excavated and confirmed as original entrances. However, only the W section of the N entrance and the ditch on the E side of the S entrance are intact. Interestingly, the banks of the N entrance expand outwards, a feature shown by Keiller (8) to be original. Close to the edge of the ditch terminal here, there are two stone holes now marked by plinths. Similarly at the south entrance a stone hole and a post hole between bank and ditch are marked, but the bank terminal has been added to by several metres. The E interruption is heavily damaged. The ditch has been overlaid by a pond to the N of the road and to the S by a house and garden built alongside the road and depicted on Stukely's (35) map. The existing bank terminal N of the road is slightly expanded, that to the S is slightly inturned. Two further sarsen stones were recorded outside the bank.

Both internal stone circles have been damaged by later activities. Nevertheless, much of their respective courses can still be traced. Although only 6 stones now survive of the N circle, many of the former positions can still be found. They enclose a circular area 100m in diameter and c. 1ha in area. The central stone setting remains as previously recorded with stones I and II extant. Only the S half of the S circle survives with many of the positions surviving as depressions in the ground or have been marked with plinths. In this case the circular area enclosed is c. 100m in diameter with an area of c. 1ha. Again there is an internal setting confirmed by excavation and marked by re-erected stones, plinths or concrete posts. A further 15m S of the circle the stump of the re-erected `Ring-Stone' is extant.

Earthworks either side of the Devizes to Marlborough Road represent Post-Medieval, or earlier, settlement, abandoned at least by the time of Stukely's survey. Much of this settlement is obscured by existing houses and their gardens but in the E sector of the henge a series of platforms, scarps and banks represent the remains of tofts and crofts of at least three holdings. A series of close boundaries, within which there are slight traces of ridge and furrow, run perpendicularly from the roadway and these are depicted as fenced and hedged divisions on Stukely's plan of 1743. Aubrey's plan (36) shows them as a series of pecked lines. The enclosure bank noted in the NE was removed from both W quadrants by Keiller when excavating the outer circle.

Numerous scarps to the W of the Cove indicate the position of farm buildings shown on the 1743 plan, while the mound 10m to the N may be the buried stone III, depicted by Aubrey but absent from Stukeley's plan. (37)

Between the 17th and 28th June 1996 a 1:1000 scale level 3 photogrammetric survey was carried out by the RCHME Air Photography Unit of the features within the henge visible as parchmarks on photographs taken by the RCHME in August and September 1995. The photographs revealed a number of previously undetected archaeological features visible as parchmarks in the grass within the monument. The features identified included a double-ditched curvilinear enclosure with an inner pit (SU16NW 144) and the settings of numerous lost stones from the Outer Circle and the Northern and Southern Inner Circles. In the Outer Circle, 17 stone holes were detected in the north-eastern and south-eastern quadrants of the henge. In the south-eastern quadrant there were 10 possible stone holes of the Southern Inner Circle visible as parchmarks. In addition, between the Southern Inner Circle and the southern entrance to the henge, there are two marks which possibly indicate former stone settings. The northern one of these might, with the `ring stone'(Smith 1965, fig. 68), make a pair of stone holes equidistant between the Outer Circle and the southern Inner Circle and are perhaps in some way related to the southern entrance. In addition to the buried features, there were a number of earthwork features defined by parching. These included the banks and ditches of the medieval strip fields and the earthworks associated with the medieval occupation of the site. These features and parchmarks recorded by the RCHME Field Survey, visible in 1990 from the ground were included in the final plan. Photogrammetric plans were prepared with the aid of the AERIAL 4.20 rectification software published by the University of Bradford. The resultant plan was compiled at 1:1000 scale and combined with the RCHME earthwork survey. The plan and a brief report were submitted as part of an article in Antiquity. The plan, report and digital files are held by the RCHME (Collection UID: 1057206). (38, 42)

Scheduled monument. (43)

Additional references. (44-58)

Additional earthwork detail is visible on lidar and was mapped as part of the Avebury WHS Lidar and NMP Review. A number of stone-holes along the outer rim were located as well as part of an internal bank to the east of the north entrance to the henge enclosure. A number of linears within the henge are probably field boundaries relating to the medieval or post-medieval settlement.
(59)

Sources :
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Late Neolithic
Display Date : Late Neolithic in date
Monument End Date : -2600
Monument Start Date : -2900
Monument Type : Henge Enclosure, Stone Circle, Stone Setting, Cove, Timber Circle
Evidence : Earthwork, Structure, Cropmark, Sub Surface Deposit, Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Early Bronze Age
Display Date : Abandoned in circa 1800 BC
Monument End Date : -1800
Monument Start Date : -1800
Monument Type : Henge
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Medieval
Monument End Date : 1540
Monument Start Date : 1066
Monument Type : Strip Lynchet, Settlement
Evidence : Earthwork, Cropmark
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Post Medieval
Monument End Date : 1901
Monument Start Date : 1540
Monument Type : Strip Lynchet, Settlement
Evidence : Earthwork, Cropmark

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : CC72/01535
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : WI 6
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 28130
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Wiltshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 106/157/685/*
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Wiltshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 104
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Wiltshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 104/308
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Wiltshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 107/159
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Wiltshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 107
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 235
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : NMR 15419/08
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : BB73/00537
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Unified Designation System UID
External Cross Reference Number : 1015546
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SU 16 NW 22
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 220847
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1059238
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 220868
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 216413
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 969764
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 220743
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 220853
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 215601
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 220974
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 220971
Relationship type :

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1719-01-01
End Date : 1724-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1833-01-01
End Date : 1833-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1865-01-01
End Date : 1865-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1881-01-01
End Date : 1881-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1894-01-01
End Date : 1894-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1908-01-01
End Date : 1909-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1911-01-01
End Date : 1911-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1914-01-01
End Date : 1914-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1922-01-01
End Date : 1922-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1937-01-01
End Date : 1939-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, THE SANCTUARY
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1941-01-01
End Date : 1941-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1960-01-01
End Date : 1960-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 1968-01-01
End Date : 1968-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SU 16 NW 22
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1974-06-24
End Date : 1974-06-24
Associated Activities : Primary, THE SANCTUARY
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1976-01-01
End Date : 1976-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1982-01-01
End Date : 1982-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1982-01-01
End Date : 1982-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY HENGE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1986-01-01
End Date : 1986-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1988-01-01
End Date : 1988-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY HENGE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1989-01-01
End Date : 1989-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY HENGE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1989-01-01
End Date : 1989-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY WORLD HERITAGE FIELD SURVEY
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1989-01-01
End Date : 1990-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY HENGE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1991-01-01
End Date : 1991-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME FIELD INVESTIGATION ON SU 16 NW 22
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1991-09-01
End Date : 1991-09-01
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY STUDY CENTRE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1992-01-01
End Date : 1992-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: AVEBURY AIR PHOTOGRAPHIC SURVEY
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 1996-06-17
End Date : 1996-06-28
Associated Activities : Primary, THE COVE, AVEBURY
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1997-01-01
End Date : 1997-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: AVEBURY WORLD HERITAGE SITE PROJECT
Activity type : FIELD SURVEY
Start Date : 1997-08-01
End Date : 1998-12-01
Associated Activities : Primary, URC CHAPEL
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 1998-01-01
End Date : 1998-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, REPLACEMENT SIGNPOSTS, AVEBURY
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 1998-01-01
End Date : 1998-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Activity type : MANAGEMENT SURVEY
Start Date : 1998-01-01
End Date : 1998-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Activity type : MANAGEMENT SURVEY
Start Date : 1999-01-01
End Date : 1999-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, MANOR FARMYARD BARN
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 1999-01-01
End Date : 1999-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY HIGH STREET
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2000-01-01
End Date : 2000-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, UNITED REFORM CHURCH, AVEBURY (PHASES 1 AND 2)
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2001-01-01
End Date : 2002-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, THE COVE, AVEBURY
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2003-01-01
End Date : 2003-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY (NE/SE QUADRANTS)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2003-01-01
End Date : 2003-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND DRAINAGE WORKS, AVEBURY
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2006-01-01
End Date : 2006-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY POWERLINE BURIAL
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2007-01-01
End Date : 2008-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, ROUGH LEAZE, HEREPATH
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2007-01-01
End Date : 2007-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT BRIDGEMEAD
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 2010-01-01
End Date : 2010-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, ENGLISH HERITAGE: AVEBURY WHS LIDAR AND NMP REVIEW PROJECT
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2011-01-01
End Date : 2011-05-01
Associated Activities : Primary, CARPENTER COTTAGE, GREEN STREET
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2014-01-01
End Date : 2014-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AVEBURY SOUTHERN INNER CIRCLE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2017-01-01
End Date : 2017-12-31