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Historic England Research Records

The Sanctuary

Hob Uid: 220974
Location :
Wiltshire
Avebury
Grid Ref : SU1184068020
Summary : The Sanctuary is a late Neolithic monument comprising of a complex arrangement of concentric stone and timber circles. Although these are no longer visible in their original form, the locations of the various post- and stone-holes are marked out by concrete markers. The main construction phase is now thought to have occurred in around 2500 BC and was associated primarily with Grooved Ware. Peterborough Ware and Beaker sherds, as well as contemporary lithic artefacts, were also deposited at the site. When visited in the later 17th century by John Aubrey and early 18th century by Dr. William Stukeley it seems that many of the stones were still extant although most had fallen. However the bulk of the stones appear to have been removed and/or destroyed in the years around 1724. The records of Aubrey and Stukeley were used to relocate and rediscover the site in 1930. The Sanctuary is known from these excavations and further work in the 1960s to have included two concentric circles of stones and four concentric circles of timber rings. The outer circle measured about 40 metres in diameter and included 42 sarsen stones. Four main phases have been postulated: Phase 1: a 5 metre diameter circle of 7 timber posts around a central post; Phase 2: a 6 metre diameter circle of 8 posts surrounded by an 11 metre diameter circle of 12 posts; Phase 3: an additional circle 21 metre in diameter of 33 posts. A smaller stone circle was also constructed and an entrance built on the south eastern side at this time; Phase 4: construction of the outer stone circle and the avenue from Avebury. This indicates the importance of the Sanctuary prior to the Avebury henge and its continued significance thereafter. A crouched burial of a juvenile accompanied by a beaker, previously regarded as contemporary with the main construction phase, is now thought to represent one of the last visible acts on site in around 2000 BC (with the exception of Romano-British potsherds in upper fills of features).
More information : (SU 11846802) The Sanctuary (NAT) Stone Circle (NR) (site of) (1)

See Illustration Card. (2)

The concrete blocks which denote the positions of the stones have been surveyed at 1/2500 but the concrete markers indicating the positions of the wooden post holes have been omitted (limitation of scale). (3)

The Sanctuary was the site of a pair of concentric stone circles. When visited in the later 17th century by Aubrey and early 18th century by Stukeley it seems that many of the stones were still extant although most had fallen. However the bulk of the stones appear to have been removed and/or destroyed in the years around 1724. The records of Aubrey and Stukely were used to relocate the site in 1930, and following its discovery it was completely excavated. The two stone circles proved to have been preceded by six concentric timber rings. Numerous artefacts came from post holes, but the phasing of the various circles remains unclear. The bulk of the pottery found was of later Neolithic date, including Grooved Ware, although both earlier (Windmill Hill) and later (Beaker) sherds were present. The site appears to be connected via
the West Kennet Avenue (SU 16 NW 101) with the henge-enclosure and stone circles at Avebury (SU 16 NW 22). Following excavation, the locations of the various post-holes and stone settings were marked out on the ground. (4-5)

Suggested reconstructions of the structures at the Sanctuary have been published by Piggott (6) and Musson (7). (6-7)
[See SU 16 NW 22 for additional bibliography].

An RCHME 1:2500 scale, level 3 air photographic survey (Event UID 936869) was carried out on this monument in January 1992. The site is extant and no change was made to the record. The archive created by this project (Collection UID 936807) is held by RCHME. (8)

The archive and finds from the Cunningtons' excavations have been reconsidered by Pollard, who suggests a rather simpler phasing and constructional sequence for the site than previously suggested. The main construction phase is suggested to have occurred around 2500 BC and was associated primarily with Grooved Ware. Pre-construction activity is represented by earlier ceramic and lithic finds. A crouched inhumation with Beaker, found in a grave adjacent to one of the stones, was suggested by Cunnington to be broadly contemporary with construction. Pollard suggests that it is in fact among the last archaeologically visible events at the site, c.2000 BC (with the exception of the appearance of Romano-British potsherds in upper fills of features) (9).

The Sanctuary is known from partial excavation in the 1930s and 1960s to have had two concentric circles of stones and four concentric circles of timber rings. The outer circle measured about 40 metres in diameter and included 42 sarsen stones. Four main phases have been postulated: Phase 1: a 5 metre diameter circle of seven timber posts around a central post; Phase 2: a 6 metre diameter circle of 8 posts surrounded by a 11 metre diameter circle of 12 posts; Phase 3: an additional circle of 21 metre diameter of 33 posts. A smaller stone circle was constructed and an entrance built on the south eastern side; Phase 4: construction of the outer stone circle and the avenue from avebury was built. This indicates that the Sanctuary was important prior to the construction of the avebury henge and that it continued to be significant after. (10)

Brief details of the site. (11)

Excavations in 1999 aimed to reconcile discrepancies between the original 1930's excavation report and the diary of W E V Young, the excavation foreman at the time. A number of important new finds were uncovered, including a large group of lithics, and new insights into the nature of the Sanctuary's construction are made. These include evidence that some of the posts were repeatedly renewed. (12)

The author puts his case for an earlier single-phase roofed structure. (13)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1961.
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Atkinson RJC. 1971. Stonehenge and Avebury (HMSO)
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 11
Source : The English Heritage visitors' handbook 1998-99
Source details :
Page(s) : 89
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 12
Source : The Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine
Source details : Excavating the Sanctuary: new investigations on Overton Hill, Avebury by Mike Pitts
Page(s) : Jan-23
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 94, 2001
Source Number : 13
Source : The Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine
Source details : The Sanctuary, Avebury. An architectural re-assessment by Derrick Lees
Page(s) : 01-Jun
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number :
Source : SU 16 NW 102 (The Sanctuary) (1974)
Source details :
Page(s) :
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Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 3
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 MJF 19-JUN-74
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 4
Source : The Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine
Source details : Cunnington M. The "Sanctuary" on Overton Hill, near Avebury
Page(s) : 300-35
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 45, 1931
Source Number : 5
Source : Stone circles of Britain : taxonomic and distributional analyses and a catalogue of sites in England, Scotland and Wales
Source details :
Page(s) : 437-41
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 215 (i-ii)
Source Number : 6
Source : The Archaeological Journal
Source details : Piggot S. Timber Circles - a Re-examination.
Page(s) : 193-222
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 96, 1939
Source Number : 7
Source : Durrington Walls : excavations 1966-1968
Source details :
Page(s) : 363-77
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : no.29
Source Number : 8
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Simon Crutchley/03-JAN-1992/RCHME: West Kennett - East Kennett Project
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 9
Source : Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Source details : Pollard J. The Sanctuary, Overton Hill, Wiltshire: A Re-examination
Page(s) : 213-226
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 58, 1992
Source Number : 10
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 19/01/1998
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Early Neolithic
Display Date : Early Neolithic finds
Monument End Date : -3300
Monument Start Date : -4000
Monument Type : Findspot
Evidence : Find
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Roman fill in features
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Findspot
Evidence : Find

Components and Objects:
Period : Early Neolithic
Component Monument Type : Findspot
Object Type : LITHIC IMPLEMENT, VESSEL
Object Material : Pottery
Period : Roman
Component Monument Type : Findspot
Object Type : VESSEL
Object Material : Pottery

Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : WI 281
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Guardianship Number
External Cross Reference Number : 37
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 21761
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 312
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SU 16 NW 102
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 220727
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 220971
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, THE SANCTUARY, OVERTON HILL
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1930-01-01
End Date : 1930-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SU 16 NW 102
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1974-06-19
End Date : 1974-06-19
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: WEST KENNETT - EAST KENNETT PROJECT
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 1992-01-03
End Date : 1992-02-28
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, THE SANCTUARY, OVERTON HILL
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1999-01-01
End Date : 1999-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT OVERTON HILL
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2008-01-01
End Date : 2008-12-31