The Big Show

2600 B.C., the Avebury locality began to hum with activity - activity which lasted some 200-400 years. The Avebury rampart and ditch and the Silbury Hill and ditch were built during this period, but a great deal more as well.

Originally, there were at least two avenues of stones leading away from the Avebury circle (possibly, four). Today, only the West Kennet Avenue remains. Dotted round the neighbouring hills were dozens of smaller stone circles. There are probably all sorts of stone monuments we haven't found yet (this territory has only been investigated sporadically - and investigators have tended to concentrate on the known sites).

But there is a danger that we pay too much attention to the stones and the earthworks. We have to be impressed by human structures which survive 5000 years, but we need to be aware that those humans probably built other structures which haven't survived.

Wood, thatch, wattle and daub would have been obvious building materials for them to use, but not very easy for us to find. As it happens, archaeologists have found traces of such buildings. About half a mile East of Silbury, remnants of a large timber building have been found - it was dubbed the Overton Sanctuary (although there is no proof of a religious purpose). Indeed, when Alexander Keiller excavated the Avebury monument in the 1930s, he could barely lean on his spade without turning up some evidence of building.

Keiller is the man to whom we owe most for our knowledge of Avebury's monuments. He worked furiously to discover the wonders beneath this site (it was in a sorry state when he came to it in the early 30s) and to protect it for the future. Indeed, he lived in Avebury Manor until his death in 1955.

He is also responsible for re-erecting most of Avebury's stones. Modern evidence has suggested he may have made a mistake or two, but they were honest mistakes, and he deserves our respect.

You can pay your respects in the Alexander Keiller Museum, housed in the Manor stables. After Keiller's death, ownership of the museum (and much else) passed to the National Trust.

You can also buy a pot of Keiller's Marmalade - the source of Alexander's fortune.

In recent years, some have suggested that this entire landscape had some ritual/ceremonial significance to the people of that time, and have found (or interpreted) evidence that the major monuments of this region were all part of one enormous plan. They suggest that there were broad, palisaded walkways between major sites, that ceremonial processions would move along these walkways (maybe for many miles), carrying out some inscrutable rituals.

In truth, the evidence is a little shallow, but the idea of the ceremonial procession is a common one in ancient societies - the Minoan maze (and the Celtic maze) has the same form and purpose. In fact, there is much better evidence of such walkways just a few miles away - at Stonehenge.

The rest is down to your imagination. Can you see columns of solemn-faced priests pacing out ancient footsteps around these stones, down those avenues, round a shining white hill?

(It's all right, you don't have to admit to it in front of witnesses.)

But first... But first... After the Show After the Show
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