Tag Archives: Silbury

Ancient Avebury: Walk and Talk with an Archaeologist – Wednesday 20 July


Along the way we’ll delve into the mysteries of West Kennet long barrow


On Wednesday 20 July. I’m going to be leading a half-day walk  through the Avebury  landscape. If you’d like to join me there are  just a few places left, but booking is essential.

We’ll be exploring a Neolithic tomb, encountering Europe’s largest prehistoric mound and talking about how the latest discoveries are transforming our ideas of ancient Avebury. On our return to Avebury after the walk  you’ll join me for a delicious light lunch.

You can find out more and book your place here.

Avebury Dig 2014 – Days 14 and 15

We’ve been having some technical difficulties and haven’t been able to post for a couple of days – but the digging has been progressing nicely all the same!

Day 14 (Tuesday) saw lots of visitors : in the morning the dig was open to local residents to visit, and in the afternoon members of the Avebury & Stonehenge Archaeological & Historical Research Group (ASAHRG) and of the Stonehenge & Avebury World Heritage Site Steering committees visited. One of the ASAHRG members even kindly supplied cake, which looked curiously like a certain ancient monument ….



Silbury Hill in cake form. It was soon totally excavated.

Silbury Hill in cake form. It was soon totally excavated.

Tuesday also saw the appearance of two new artefact types: a medieval coin, not yet fully identified, and a new type of pottery: Fengate Ware.

Two rim sherds of a Fengate Ware vessel

Two rim sherds of a Fengate Ware vessel

Fengate Ware is a type of Peterborough Ware and dates from around 5000 years ago, so is Middle Neolithic and goes with a lot of the other things we’ve been finding. Alexander Keiller found sherds of several vessels in his excavations 80 years ago on the same site. It’s not that common, partly because the pottery is often rather friable and doesn’t survive as well as Mortlake Ware or Ebbsfleet Ware, which are the other types of Peterborough Ware, so it’s really nice to get these sherds. The photograph shows the outside of the vessel, which seems to be decorated with rows of short incised lines, in a sort of herringbone design.

Josh (Pollard) excavating the Fengate Ware.

Josh (Pollard) excavating the Fengate Ware.

At the point when Josh was taking it out of ground we didn’t know what sort of pottery it  was and it was really quite exciting – you can never have too much pottery, I say, as long as it’s Neolithic.

Day 15 (Wednesday) saw more of what is probably the same Fengate Ware vessel come up, and it became obvious that it has some incised decoration on the inside as well as the outside.

Work also continued on a small new trench to the south-east, on the far (eastern) side of the Avenue, but wasn’t very far advanced at the end of the day.


View looking south east, showing the new trench in the background.

View looking south east, showing the new trench in the background.

Not long to go now.

Avebury – the Neolithic Goes Large

There’s no denying there are some astonishing feats of prehistoric engineering in the Stonehenge Landscape, but if you want to ‘Go Large’ in the Neolithic then Avebury is your place. Now size isn’t everything but sometimes it’s tempting to wonder whether the communities who created and used the monuments here were engaged in some monumental game of Top Trumps.

The giant bank and internal ditch of Avebury henge look pretty enormous at 1.3km in circumference. But when you realise that the much-silted-up ditch you see today is a mere fraction of its original depth of 9 metres it really starts to make you think.

Silbury Hill is Europe’s biggest prehistoric mound, and the outer circle – the largest of the 3 stone circles that lie within the henge – is the largest stone circle in the world. And then there’s the back-stone of the Cove – the stone setting named by Stukely that lies within the northern inner circle. Excavations carried out a few years ago by Dr Josh Pollard and Dr Mark Gillings enabled an estimate to be made of its minimum weight. It weighs in at a breath-taking 100 tonnes making it the heaviest prehistoric standing stone in the British Isles. When we tot up the number of stones that would have made up the various stone circles and stone settings and the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues we think there were somewhere between 400 and 600 standing stones in the Avebury landscape originally.

The Cove, Avebury - the stone on the left weighs 100 tonnes

The Cove, Avebury – the stone on the left weighs 100 tonnes

It would be a feat of organisation and engineering to put these things in place with 21st century earth-moving equipment, but the people who built these monuments were subsistence farmers. All of this was done with simple antler picks, ropes they made themselves and timbers hewn using stone axes. So when you next visit Avebury spare a thought for the people who climbed deep into the earth to dig the near-vertical sides of the ditches, hefted basket after basket of chalk into place to create the banks and laboured to raise the mighty stones.