Stone Circles and Earthworks
Nearest town: Marlborough
Nearest village: Avebury
Map reference: SU 102699

Avebury Image The North-West portion of the circle; in the foreground lies the Swindon Stone and the A4361 road which crosses the site

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Avebury is the largest stone circle in the world: it is 427m (1401ft) in diameter covers an area of some 28 acres (11.5 ha). Although not so immediately impressive as Stonehenge, it is an extraordinary site formed by a huge circular bank (a mile round), a massive ditch now only a half its original depth, and a great ring of 98 sarsen slabs enclosing two smaller circles of 30 stones each and other settings and arrangements of stones.
    The outer bank, still very impressive, was originally 17m (55ft) high from ditch bottom to bank top. The stones, each weighing about 40 tons or more, were left rough and not dressed as were the Stonehenge blocks. They were obtained from the same place, the nearby Marlborough Downs. Now there are only 27 in place, because a few hundred years ago many of the stones were broken up by lighting fires beneath them and pouring cold water over them. They were then used to construct the present village which grew up within the earthwork (one of the buildings of the village houses the tiny but very interesting Alexander Keiller Museum, with many of the archaeological finds of the site; it is well worth visiting).
    In the 14th century some of the stones were buried. In that period, a man was killed by one of the stones falling over unexpectedly in the pit which was being prepared for its burial. No attempt was made to extract his body. A pair of scissors, a lancet, and three silver coins were found next the poor skeleton, and the stone is now called the Barber's Stone. Other remarkable stones are the Swindon Stone, the largest (it weighs about 60 tons), the Devil's Chair (local legends attribute mystic powers to the stone such as the ability to summon the devil if you run round it 100 times anti-clockwise) and the Repaired Stone, which has been reconstructed in an odd shape.
    The two smaller circles within the great ring were probably the heart of the ritual or ceremony. Of the northern one, only few stones are visible. Two of the central ones are called The Cove and may have been erected first, even before the great circle. Shortly before mid-summer 1996 they were daubed with graffiti, but they were promptly cleaned by a sculpture restoration team, as the megalithic monument is in care of the National Trust.
    There were two ceremonial avenues of standing stones departing from the main ring. Only one survives, the West Kennet Avenue, which was originally 2.5km (1.5 mi) in length and connected Avebury to the small stone circle called The Sanctuary on Overton Hill. South of Avebury are two other interesting sites: West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

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