John Aubrey: The Man who ‘Discovered’ Avebury

On 7 January 1649  John Aubrey  wit, raconteur and sometime antiquary was out hunting with friends when he chanced upon a north Wiltshire village. What he stumbled upon there – and more importantly recognised – were the remains of an ancient earthwork containing a series of stone circles and settings.

John_Aubrey[1].jpg

John Aubrey

 Today travellers from across the planet have little difficulty in recognising Avebury henge and stone circles as ancient. But it was far from easy in Aubrey’s day. A thriving village had grown up around and between the stones.

Fields, houses, gardens and even inns had been laid out within the bank and ditch and many stones that we see upright today lay buried (it would be another three hundred years  before Alexander Keiller revealed and re-erected them).

If truth be told John Aubrey wasn’t actually the first person to recognise the antiquity of Avebury. John Leland in his, ‘Itineraries,’ based on journeys he made through England and Wales between 1535 and 1543 made a passing reference to both Avebury and Silbury Hill.

And of course there had been a settlement at Avebury since Saxon times – and some at least of the generations of its residents must have pondered  the origins of the gigantic stones and earthworks that framed their daily lives.

But Aubrey went further than Leland, he not only recognised Avebury’s significance he was  captivated by it, famously declaring that Avebury, ‘does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stoneheng (sic) as a cathedral doeth a parish church.’

Avebury by John Aubrey 1663 plan

Aubrey’s Plan of Avebury

In fact he was so smitten that  in 1663 he produced the first plan of the henge and stone circles in his Monumenta Britannica . The plan was created using a simple surveying device known as a plane table and its an astonishingly accurate record of the monument as it  then was.

Its a lasting and fitting tribute to the painstaking work of the man who, ‘discovered,’ Avebury that three and a half centuries after Aubrey drew his plan (now housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford) researchers endeavouring to unravel Avebury’s secrets continue to consult it.

Have archaeologists found Stonehenge quarries?

Mike Pitts on the latest findings, published in Antiquity today, from Mike Parker Pearson’s team’s work on the origins of the Stonehenge Bluestones.

Mike Pitts – Digging Deeper

Bluestone open spread.jpgThey certainly think so – not all, but two important ones. I went to visit their excavations in Pembrokeshire this summer, and was sufficiently impressed to ask them to write about their discoveries for British Archaeology. You can read their report with many photos – including this fabulous opening shot by Adam Stanford – in the new magazine later this week. Digital on Wednesday December 9 (as an App and in web form) and print in the shops on Friday. Copies for Council for British Archaeology members and magazine subscribers are on their way.

Carn Goedog M Pitts.jpgExcavations at Carn Goedog (photo M Pitts)

In the meantime, here is the UCL press release.

Stonehenge ‘bluestone’ quarries confirmed 140 miles away in Wales

Excavation of two quarries in Wales by a UCL-led team of archaeologists and geologists has confirmed they are sources of Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’– and shed light on how they were quarried…

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