These are some photos I took in early Autumn last year, when Emily, my mum, and I visited the prehistoric stone circles at Avebury. We are lucky living so close to many wonderful places like this; Avebury is only 13 miles away so was perfect for a wander on a dry cloudy morning.
There are three stone circles here; the monument is about 5000 years old. Two thousand years before that, this area of Britain was dense oak forest with little human occupation. As society began to change from hunter-gatherers to settling down and producing their own food, the domestication of animals and plants led to the area being cleared for grassland. Instead of building tombs the neolithic people began to build large circles of wood and stone of which there are hundreds of examples all over the British Isles. The purpose of these sites is not clear, but they’re thought possibly to have been erected for ritual or religious purposes.
The outer circle or ‘henge’ at Avebury originally contained 98 sarsen standing stones, some over 40 tons in weight. Within this outer ring are two smaller circles. It takes a couple of hours to walk the full perimeter of chalky grassland which is abundant with wildflowers.
In the early medieval period Anglo-Saxon tribes following the Pagan religion later claimed the monument for their own, and there are still ritual Pagan celebrations held here.
Later, as most of England converted to Christianity, the Christians feared the monument was associated with the devil and proceeded to destroy the circles by pulling them down and burying them. During the toppling, a man became trapped and crushed. Unable to be removed because of the weight of the stones, his body remained trapped for hundreds of years.
The Black Death pandemic in 1349 would have taken the Christians minds off the demolition and so most of the stones we see today were left standing.
Archaeologists re-erected many of the fallen stones in 1938 and discovered and excavated the trapped skeleton. Along with his body, a pouch was found containing silver coins, iron scissors and a lancet – evidence that he had been a barber-surgeon.
As a world heritage site Avebury is carefully looked after, and the tiny village that nestles among the stones is a picture postcard of thatched cottages and climbing roses. It is a shame that the national trust feel it necessary to charge astronomical car parking prices for local people, even when we just want to go for a couple of hours walk around the stones!
Coming here with my mother and daughter makes the history of this place even more poignant because I remember visiting Avebury as a child. The photograph below was taken about 30 years ago – it is my late brother and I standing against one of the stones. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Though I cannot comprehend the age of the stones – it is too much time to imagine – I wonder how long they will remain here, and how many more generations of my family will come to visit this sacred place.