Avebury Stone Circle

England

The Avebury Stone Circle, covering around 28 acres (11 hectares), is the largest known stone circle in the world. It partly embraces the linear village of Avebury, 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of London in a part of England that is replete with prehistoric remains: Silbury Hill: the Sanctuary; and the long barrows of East Kennet, West Kennet, and Beckhampton. John Aubury, who accidentally discovered if while foxhunting in the winter of 1648, wrote that Avebury “does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge as a Cathedral doeth a parish Church.” Indeed, it is sixteen times the size of Stonehenge.

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Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire, England, ca. 2600–2000 b.c. Aerial view.

When the Avebury circle was intact, its complex, if rather irregular, geometry comprised a 30-foot-deep (9.2-meter) ditch inside a 20-foot-high (6-meter) grass-covered chalk bank 1,396 feet (427 meters) in diameter. One observer describes it as “a curiously amorphous ‘D’ shape.” The ditch, possibly once filled with water, enclosed an outer circle of about 100 enormous, irregular standing stones that varied in height from 9 to 20 feet (2.7 to 6 meters). Within the large circle, there were two inner circles, each about 340 feet (104 meters) in diameter. The northern one (now largely destroyed) seems to have comprised two concentric rings, one of twenty-seven stones and one of twelve; at their center stood three larger stones. The southern circle had a single 20-foot-high (6-meter) stone at its center. The inmost circles are thought to have been set up about 2600 b.c.; the outer ring and enclosing earthworks have been dated at a century later.

Its construction called for colossal effort on the part of the builders. The standing stones were quarried and dressed 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from their final position, dragged or perhaps sledded to the site—some weighed 45 tons (41 tonnes)—and set upright. The excavation of the vast surrounding ditch with rudimentary stone tools yielded an estimated