While the tourist crowds head directly to the more famous stone circle at Stonehenge, not far away across the chalk upland of Salisbury Plain is the beautiful and little-known site of Avebury.
Avebury stone circle lies at the centre of a complex of Neolithic monuments
Avebury, a World Heritage Site like Stonehenge, is a complex of prehistoric monuments centred around the village of Avebury. The complex covers a large area and has many inter-related monuments including the largest known stone circle in the world which for many visitors is even more spectacular than Stonehenge.
The origin of the complex predates Stonehenge possibly by as much as 1000 years at a time when agriculture had recently arrived in Britain, a period of history known as the Neolithic. Tribes would gather at 'causewayed enclosures' for trade, for celebration, or to resolve disputes perhaps. The causewayed enclosure of Windmill Hill is a mere stone's throw to the north of the Avebury complex.
Stand inside the 6000-year old grave of the West Kennet Long Barrow
South of the complex is considered to be Europe's oldest road, The Ridgeway, which connected many of south England's important Neolithic settlements with the flint mines of Grime's Graves north-east of Cambridge. For many pilgrims it seems that The Ridgeway was the most likely route of travel to Avebury and the arrival point in Avebury was at The Sanctuary. And it is from The Sanctuary where visitors get their first glimpse of the West Kennet Long Barrow, a 6000-year-old grave in the fields beyond, and also where the majesty of Silbury Hill is first revealed.
Silbury Hill is Europe's largest man-made prehistoric hill standing 40 metres high
Silbury Hill was erected about 4400 years ago; it is the largest prehistoric man-made hill in Europe and perhaps the most enigmatic of all megalithic constructions in Europe. It probably took 40~50 years to build (4 million man hours has been calculated!) but it is not known why the hill was erected. It stands 40 metres high and is similar in size to some of the Egyptian pyramids being built at a similar time.
The Avebury henge was once 17 metres deep!
The centre of the complex, however, is the Avebury stone circle, the world's largest. The construction of the circle required enormous efforts. It consists of an outer circle of stones almost 400 metres wide surrounded by a large grass-covered, chalk-stone bank with a deep ditch on its inner side. Today, the top of the bank to the bottom of the ditch is approximately 9 metres in depth but it is believed that 4000 years ago it was 17 metres deep!
Within the main circle there are two smaller inner circles of stones each of which with its own central stone. The southern circle's central stone, The Obelisk, is said to identify the chief festival dates of the Neolithic agricultural calendar by casting its shadow at sunrise on to the standing stones encircling it.
Crop circles near to the Avebury complex: man-made, natural or alien?
Avebury attracts people from wide-ranging backgrounds but especially those who believe in pagan ideas. There is undoubtedly a spiritual feeling to Avebury and strange phenomena - such as crop circles, increased magnetism and pulses of energy - have been identified throughout the site. Could these be natural or are they the product of something greater beyond the realm of human understanding?
Avebury was used for around 2300 years but its true purpose has not yet been identified. There have been numerous explanations proposed as to why it was created but one thing is clear, the vast size of the whole complex and the length of time it was in use suggests that the Avebury temple was perhaps the most significant sacred site in all of Britain, if not the entire continent of Europe... perhaps until the majestic monument of Stonehenge was created.
How to get to Avebury from Cambridge?