Avebury is Britain's oldest and most important megalith. It predates the Druids (See Druidism) and is believed to have been actively used between 2600 to 1600 BC. It is said to be the longest henge in the world covering 28.5 acres which includes most of the village of Avebury, located six miles west of Marlborough in Wiltshire, in southern England.
The Avebury henge is surrounded on three sides by the Marlborough chalk downs and consists of a 15-foot-high bank, 1,200 feet in diameter, encircling an outer ditch. Four roads intersect the bank. three of the roads, or possibly four, are thought to have been causeways, providing entrances and exits to the henge. From an aerial view, Avebury appears to be a Celtic, or circled, cross.
Within the large outer circle are the remnants of two or three smaller circles. The outer Great Stone Circle once contained about 100 upright sarsen stones--hard sandstone rocks found in the downs. Only 27 still remain, surviving the massive assaults and destruction by the Puritans in the 17th. and 18th. centuries. The largest of these weighs about 60 tons and stands around 25 feet tall.
The exact purpose of Avbury is unknown, but human remains found during excavations give evidence that it was a burial site. There are burial mounds surrounding Avebury including West Kennet Long Barrow, 350 feet long, dating to ca. 2700 BC; Windmill Hill with earthwork on top estimated built about 2500 BC. Animal bones excavated here suggests it might have been an cattle market, trading post and ritual site.
The theory of William Stukeley, an 18th. century antiquarian, that Avebury and Stonehenge were once Druid serpent worshipping temples has about been disregarded.
The most common thought is Avebury was built by the Beaker People, and was once a community of huts. The name Avebury itself implies it was once a burial site, It was referred to as such in the 10th.- century charter of King Athelstan.
Michael Dames, a British archaeologist, in "The Avebury Cycle" suggests the stones are related. The settlement was built by the Neolithic Beaker People who were farmers and worshipped the Mother Goddess. Their celebration, at times taking form of a play, took a whole year to perform. It celebrated nature and the seasons of the year with songs, dancing, processions through the streets of Avebury, and perhaps included animal or even human sacrifices.
The shapes of many of the stones suggest they took on masculine and feminine aspects. Silbury Hill may have represented the pregnant Goddess, a feminine symbol. A masculine symbol might have been the Devil's Chair, a huge stone measuring 14 feet wide by 13 feet tall, and containing a ledge. Even in the 20th. century young girls on Beltane (May Eve) would sit on the Devil's Chair and make wishes.
Pagan beliefs and customs die hard. A.G.H.