The village of Avebury in the south of England lies not that far from Stonehenge (30 kilometres in fact). What makes the village so unusual is that it lies for the most part in the middle of the largest stone circle in the world. This enormous circle surrounding almost the entire village has a diameter of 335 metres. The site is far less well known than Stonehenge and yet, not only is it just as interesting, but you can walk around the stones and through the circle without paying!
Avebury, the largest stone circle in the world
The circle consists of hundreds of enormous stones, up to 5.5 metres high, which were erected here 4,500 years ago. Originally there were around 600 stones here, and even though only 98 now remain the site is still very impressive. You can imagine how it must have looked when it was first laid out 4,500 years ago. In the course of time most of the remaining stones have fallen over or sunk down. In 1930 the stones were set upright by archaeologist Alexander Keiller who carried out much of the excavation work here. The circle was originally surrounded by an earthen wall and this was also rebuilt during the last century. The significance of the wall is unclear.
The Alexander Keiller Museum in the village contains many of the artefacts found in Avebury, mostly from the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.
Not far from Avebury – in fact within walking distance – stands an even more unusual prehistoric monument: Silbury Hill. This enormous chalk mound is the highest man-made hill in the whole of Europe, reaching a height of almost 40 metres. The diameter of the circular base is 167 metres. It was built about 4,600 to 4,700 years ago, which makes it older than the Avebury stone circle and even a little older than Stonehenge. Why it was built is not known. Perhaps it was a burial mound or it may even have had some astronomical significance. During previous centuries many attempts were made to excavate the hill. Holes were drilled and tunnels were dug, both horizontally and vertically, but very little was found and the site remains a mystery.
Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill and a number of other prehistoric monuments are listed as a single site on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
In the neighborhood there is another interesting prehistoric monument – West Kennet
A number of interesting documentary films have been made about the site. Click on the examples below to see more.
Text and Photos Harrie Wolters
Translation Alun Harvey