avebury stones

England’s first prehistoric stone ‘circles’ may have been square

One of Britain’s most famous prehistoric monuments  - Avebury in Wiltshire – may be substantially more ancient than previously thought.

Investigations within the UNESCO World Heritage designated stone circle - the largest in Britain - have revealed a hitherto unknown, and probably very early, series of ancient standing stones, are arranged, not as a circle, but as a 30 metre by 30 metre square.

It is believed to be the first prehistoric “stone square” ever discovered – in Britain or continental Europe.  It is conceivable that the newly discovered monument, which would have originally consisted of around 17 standing stones, was built up to a thousand years before both Stonehenge’s  and Avebury’s surviving stone circles. Read more.

'Highly unusual' square monument found within Avebury stone circle

Stones at the Avebury stone circle PA Archive/PA Images

England’s first prehistoric stone ‘circles’ may have been square

Investigations within the UNESCO World Heritage designated stone circle - the largest in Britain - have revealed a hitherto unknown, and probably very early, series of ancient standing stones, are arranged, not as a circle, but as a 30 metre by 30 metre square.

What’s more, at the centre of the square, archaeologists, re-analysing pre-war archaeological records, have discovered the remains of a substantial Neolithic timber building – constructed in mid-fourth millennium BC style.

That would make the ten metre long, six metre wide building the oldest feature yet found at Avebury. It would also raise the possibility that the stone square, constructed around it, is equally old or was built slightly later but while the building was still standing (i.e., up to a few hundred years later). The sides of the building and the sides of the stone square are aligned with each other – so a relationship between the two is likely.

If the building does indeed date from some five and a half thousand years ago, the discovery helps push back the date of the origins of Avebury by up to a thousand years.


Yarnbury Castle, Wiltshire, England

Yarnbury Castle is a multiphase, multivallate Iron Age hillfort near Steeple Langford in Wiltshire. Excavations have revealed Iron Age and Romano-British pottery, Roman coins and burials of human remains. There is much evidence of prolonged and extensive settlement of the site including around 130 separate structures of various sizes, most probably representing a mix of round houses, pits, and other features. Stonehenge, Avebury stone circles and other ancient landmarks are also located in Wiltshire.


She knew it would be strange and lonely to study abroad. She knew she’d feel lost, bewildered. It even had a name - culture shock. Like something benign, almost. Like jumping into a cold stream on a hot day, her mother said, it almost blanks your mind out to start with, but if you tough it out and stay in it, you adjust.

But she didn’t adjust, was the thing. It wasn’t just the distance, staying up late or getting up early to put fuzzy, stuttering skype calls through to her family, writing letters and postcards when that stopped working so well. It wasn’t the differences in language, the big and small adjustments she had to make for culture. (Why did Americans have to smile so wide, talk so loud?)

The place was weird was the thing. There were a thousand better words maybe - unsettling, abnormal, offset - but it all just boiled down to weird.

Home - England - could be weird too, but that was home weird, a right and natural weird. A weird of small tree copses and unloved council estates, of dark shadows traipsing the motorways and black dogs in the fog. She knew that magic. She’d tasted it already, knew the poisoned honey taste of it on her tongue. Merlin and Arthur sleeping until a prophesised time of great need, The Beast of Bodmin roaming wild, the sun behind the stones at Avebury.

Oh, she saw them, the gentry of Elsewhere University, she saw them in shadows and from the corners of her eyes and reflected in smooth surfaces. She knew them for legend and myth, she knew them - but she didn’t know them, either. They were different here, like the people were. She avoided eye contact, and never listened to the music from the lake no matter how beautiful it was, and when that pretty couple at the bar asked her home she didn’t go, because they smelled like chamomile flowers and poppies and blood.

It might have been fun, though.

She got fewer and fewer responses to her letters. Skype didn’t work at all any more. She made no friends, and none of her teachers remembered her name for more than three minutes. (she counted, on a stopwatch.)

She was disappearing, bit by bit from life, and no-one would care, no-one would remember. Nothing left of her.

She thought, in sharp jagged moments, of forcing some kind of remembrance. Of some kind of destructive public display - But she didn’t want to hurt herself, didn’t want to bring herself back into the world through destroying herself.

There was another option, her reflection said to her, when she looked into it too long. You’re vanishing anyway, what does it matter? It’s beautiful, you know, it’s beautiful.

She spent days, weeks, centuries in her room, letting the dust gather over her, hands pressed to her face. Or maybe it was just days, and there was no dust.

Once, as a child, she’d had a friend who wasn’t there. An invisible friend, as so many children do, only - only - she knew. She knew the way magic felt on her skin, tangled up in her heart. She’d never even known she missed it so intently, like some organ in her that had been torn out and only now started aching.

It wasn’t so hard, in the end, to make the choice. To walk out on a cold clear night, when the moon was a thin crescent, and to say Yes.


And in the end it got boiled down, reduced to a new legend. The international student who couldn’t handle the change any more, who got stressed and gave herself away.

No-one even remembers her name.



November Night by Paul Humphrey


Vocabulary ; Henge monument

A henge is simply a Neolithic round bank and ditch formation, the bank on the outside, with causewayed entrances. They do not require stone circles to be classes as a henge, although this is a common addition.

The name was coined from Stonehenge, from the Saxon name describing the lintel stones at the top of the trilithons. Ironically, Stonehenge is not a henge under these terms as its bank and ditch formation is backwards.

The largest henge known is the one present at Avebury (photo 2), which contains the entire village of Avebury and a total of four stone circles. The stones here are the same Sarson stones used to build the trilithon rings at Stonehenge, but are unworked and the largest weigh as much as 100 tonnes.

Most importantly, even though the current state of the bank and ditch is still very impressive, these are stabilised versions of the original monument as it was weathered overtime. Excavations in the early 20th century showed the original monument would have been twice as high and up to three times as deep, and coloured bright white by chalk gravel (reconstruction from avebury-web).

Most henges are on a much smaller scale, but the sheer man hours needed at Avebury show they were very important spaces to the people building them.


Barney’s Visit to Avebury Stone Circle

We’ve been away most of this past week, visiting my auntie & her family. I didn’t take many photos but we went to Avebury on Thursday & despite nasty weather, I took some pictures on our walk around the huge stone circle there. It was built around 2600BC & the outer circle is biggest of its kind in the UK & one of the largest in Europe. Magical place.

Barney was good: he managed to *mostly* ignore the resident sheep. I’ve successfully taught him not eye/stalk/chase cattle, horses, chickens etc etc  but lets just say Barney clearly hasn’t forgotten his sheep herding ancestry! If they run, he wants to give chase, if they challenge him, he goes all slinky & fixated on staring them down. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to teach him to properly work sheep, so he needs to resist temptation. 

We don’t encounter sheepies all the time at home, so it’s been hard to build up reliable good/calm behaviour around them. However, Barney managed to control himself the whole walk this week. He looked at them a bit but didn’t make any serious attempts at getting closer & more importantly, listened to me & easily re-focused when asked. (I should just say, I’ve cloned it out on most shots but he was wearing a long lead throughout!)

This is one of the models at the Stonehenge visitors centre.

There are several stages of the monument, where bits were added or moved around through its usage.

The earliest pieces of the site are the henge style monument itself (the ring ditch and bank formation) and the avenue leading away to the Cursus. This avenue itself follows enormous gouge marks in the chalk made by a glacier during the last Ice Age. The oldest standing stone, the Heelstone which sits in the entrance to the avenue, is aligned along the walkway to be in the exact point to watch the midwinter sunset behind it.

Aubrey Holes running around the inside were next. They were backfilled with chips from the large Sarson stones and other bits of debris. Their use is debated, with same suggesting wooden posts influenced by the nearby Woodhenge, and some following Parker Pearson’s interpretation that the holes originally contained the 56 Bluestones.

The Bluestones were transported all the way from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales. This is around 180 miles. The stones are thought to have healing properties according to local tales, so this may attribute to their presence at the monument. The stones are a shifting piece of Stonehenge throughout the 2000 or so years it was in use. Aside from the theory they originally occupied the Aubrey Holes, they were moved a further two times within the inner horseshoe of stones, and some were placed in pits with cremations in them.

The final stage of the monument is the part we all think of as being Stonehenge, the circle of lintel Sarson stones. These stones were transported around 25 miles from the north, a little further than Avebury (the biggest henge monument) where the stones were also used. The difference is that the Stonehenge megaliths have been precisely shaped and worked to create the architectural illusion of the stones tapering off towards the tops, making them look taller and more imposing than they really are. They are arranged to allow the midwinter sunset be seen through the central trilithon from the direction of the avenue, while the external 4 Station stones chart the lunar rises and sets.

This is widely thought to be a very important time for Neolithic and early Bronze Age people, due to many other monuments such as Irish passage tombs, other stone circles and Scottish cairns. At this time of year, everything is dying and the world is a cold and harsh place to live. The symbolic sunset heralded the last of the days getting shorter and the world starting to come back to life. The nearby site of Durrington Walls - the largest Neolithic village found - gives evidence for the pilgrimage to Stonehenge being during the winter through the tooth eruption of 9 month old pigs taken from all over the British Isles to be slaughtered. This village could swell to hold and look after up to 4000 people. The two sites are connected by avenues leading to the River Avon, suggesting a possible processional way. This theory created by Parker Pearson is one of the most widely accepted around today.

The surrounding landscape is full of spiritual usage, with the hilltops and rises covered in round barrows leaning in slightly towards the henge, yet more evidence for the Stonehenge Ritual Landscape being a hugely important place for prehistoric people.