The bulk of international attention on monolithic rings is often focused on Stonehenge; but to many people, the rings at Avebury are far more impressive, if much more unknown.
Avebury Hill: More Majestic Than StonehengeTwenty miles to the north of the famous Stonehenge lies the stone circle of Avebury. Actually, it’s more of a circular ditch that has some stones in and around it. Beautiful in its splendor it used to be, long before enterprising farmers began moving the stones as it suited their fancy. The circle now is a grass-covered stone bank that is 1,396 feet in diameter and 20 feet high. Inside is a deep ditch, with (remarkably) an entrance at each of the four basic compass points. Right inside the ditch is the circle of stones, now numbering 27 but once totaling 98, all of which encircled a pair of two smaller circles, which are not concentric but are rather two separate circles, both of which are in similar states of disrepair: Of a total of 56 stones in the two inner circles combined, only 9 are left standing.
The ingenuity is still on display for all to see, however, since it is much more difficult to level a massive bank and ditch than it is to (re)move smaller stones – although that process must have been impressive as well. The most impressive, however, had to have been the process of getting those stones in the circles in the first place. Dating tests suggest that the stones were placed there about 4,500 years ago (making this stone circle older than Stonehenge). The stones themselves are between 9 and 20 feet tall, with the largest of them weighing 40 tons. Made of bedrock, they were hewn from rock at a quarry two miles away and then dragged to the site and slammed into the ground, at depths of between 6 and 24 inches. Archaeologists similarly estimate that the creation of the ditch must have necessitated the carving up and carrying away of the equivalent of 200,000 tons of rock. (Remember, too, that all those years ago, the people who lived there had only the most primitive of stone tools.)
Such enterprises must have taken many years to complete. One just then ask the question of purpose. Why did these people do this? Was it a meeting place? Is the placement of the entrances on the compass point lines a coincidence? Was Avebury a place for astronomical observation, as many people now believe Stonehenge was?
Researchers of today reason that Avebury was indeed an ancient gathering place – whether for religious or scientific purposes, they are still not yet sure. They have also determined that Avebury was at the center of a vast network of standing stones, placed across lines that crisscross Britain, and a similarly large number of underground chambers. All of this seems to suggest that Avebury was a very important place in ancient times. Recent excavations also suggest that it was used for more than 2,300 years.
Archaeologists are working now to uncover more of the mysteries surrounding Avebury Hill. For now, its true purpose remains a mystery.