One reason Avebury is so striking is its accessibility. The site is wonderfully open; in fact, it is a bit too open as one carefully scrapes sheep droppings off one’s shoes
By Seema Anand Chopra
We drove past a landscape of green fields and farms, here since the Neolithic age to witness one of the largest ancient Stone Circle of the world created in the 3rd millennium BC or before! We were in village Avebury a chalk-land in the river Kennet valley of South England. Parking our car we walked on a verdant grassy path along green fields towards the Stone circle. Today its tranquil secrets are not its only key tourist appeal but it is also of religious importance to Pagans.
We entered from the Red Lion Pub side in the Avebury Village that offered a mesmerizing green view of the Stone circle with many upright Stones that spread to the far end seeming to meet the azure sky, positioned on a vast slightly raised ridge. We crossed the Henge – Bank and Ditch, to reach a large Stone Circle and could see remains of the other 2 smaller Stone circles in the distance. The large circular 1000 meters circumference Ditch around the Stone circle has been carbon-dated to be of the 3rd millennium BC.
We caught a distant view of the black crossroads that divide the entire area into 4 sectors roughly. Some historians suppose that these Avenues were deliberately constructed in juxtaposition to Avebury, Silbury Hill and other ancient monuments to maximize people’s vision of them.
We started with the walk of over 331 meters along the 3-4 meter high Stones of the Outer Circle, carbon – dated to 2800- 2200 BC ! There are contradictory views about the number of original Sarsen Stones that varies between 136-98, each weighing more than 40 tons. What an engineering feat would it have been in that period to bring them here and put them in upright position! We noticed some very smooth Stones on which axes were said to be polished!
Then we approached the 2 Inner Circles that were possibly made to produce echo from sound waves inside the circle during a ritual and generate an awe-inspiring effect! Only 2 stones stand upright today in the 98 meter diameter Northern Inner Ring .The Southern Ring of Stones had a bigger diameter of 108 meters before its more than partial destruction in the 18th century.
DOWN ALL AGES
We settled down on the grass in the shadow of one large tree to read more about the Stone circles in the centuries gone by during the different ages:
The Antiquarians and Archaeologists deem that as Man settled down into cultivation and farming by the end of the New Stone Age or Neolithic age – 3500 to 2000 BC the extraordinary yet unique trend of creating Stone or Wooden Structures as Circles started and continued in the coming 1000 years .The Avebury Stone Circle that we were exploring was also constructed at this time.
Later in the British Iron age : 800 BC to 43 AD visitors almost stopped coming to the Avebury Stone Circles and they were overlooked as a ‘dwelling of Supernatural Entity’. With the coming of Romans visitors to Avebury Circles recommenced and even a road was built for them.
With the spread of Christianity in the Late Medieval Period the non- Christian monument of Avebury was defamed as a Devil’s abode! Most of the Stones were given names beginning with the word Devil and the villagers started toppling and destroying the Stone Circle.
The procedure was brought to a halt when one person- a Barber-Surgeon was buried under a Stone while toppling it and his body could not be recovered for a Christian funeral. This and the fear created by the ‘Black Deaths- a form of Plague’ suffered by many villagers in the 14th century, saved the Stone Circles.
In the Victorian era the Stone Circle were again saved from destruction when Lord Avebury- John Lubbock convinced the villagers to build their homes outside the Circle and not break Stones to do so. This and archaeologist Alexander Keiller’s vision saved it from complete obliteration when he purchased all the land in Avebury!
Over the centuries Antiquarians and Archaeologists have hypothesized numerous rationales for the conception and usage of the Avebury Stone Circle but none is unambiguous. Most likely it was used for rituals and ceremonies which pleased the powers of nature to bless their existence and protect them from disease, death and even cold. Ancestor-worshipping on a large scale and Harvesting- rituals could also be part of the rationale. The Stone Circles along with the Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Long Barrow closely, could be ‘a Ritual Complex’ of religious ceremonies, ‘singular or interlocked’.
The other most common explanation relates it to Astronomical- alignment related to the positioning of the Stones. Famous Druid Ross Nichols believes that there was an astrological axis connecting Avebury Stone Circle to other ancient monuments.
AVEBURY TEMPLE THEORY
Here i would like to share the theory of the Avebury Temple proposed first in the early 18th century by antiquarian William Stukeley related to the existence of an ancient Temple outline of which he took measurements and made drawings . It was slowly shattered by the local farmers not realizing its prehistoric and cultural importance.
He was the first person to state that the Avebury- Temple plan was a representation of the body of a Serpent passing through the Stone Circle and forming a traditional alchemical symbol. These revelations were further endorsed by the 18th century philosopher John Michell and recent researchers – writers : Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller when they ascertained that Avebury Temple was part of a vast complex of Neolithic Sacred sites arranged along a nearly 200 mile long line!
Today, after a prolonged session of photography at the Stone Circle we decided to find out about the activities here from a Store-keeper outside the Stone Circle. He said that the Stone Circles were of great significance to the Pagans, Wicca and Heathens. They are people who hold religious beliefs other than those of the major world religions and follow old- Gods and religion, not Christianity.
He added that the Pagans believe Avebury Stone Circle to be a ‘Living Temple’ of their ancestors. Besides the Summer Solstice Day, the Druids of various Orders use the Stone Circle for ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday.
As we walked towards the Village we optimized that one day Science and Archaeology will reveal the Secrets of the Avebury Stone Circle or mused if the Secrets were beyond both!