Highlights of England | Stonehenge and Avebury
An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983
Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
In 1986, Stonehenge and Avebury were inscribed together on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List, becoming one of the UK’s first World Heritage Sites. The site spans around 50 km2 and includes settlements, burial grounds, healing centres and avenues. Stonehenge and Avebury gained a place on the prestigious list due to their outstanding prehistoric monuments, which are thought to date back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The ancient megaliths of these sites provide an unparalleled insight into the mysterious rituals, beliefs, customs and engineering abilities of prehistoric peoples.
Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most famous prehistoric monument and Britain’s greatest national icon. A standing stone circle monument, cemetery, and archaeological site located on Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge has come to symbolise mystery, power and endurance. It has long fascinated archaeologists and historians, who still do not fully understand the story around it. For example, Stonehenge is known for ceremonial design and the fact that the first 1,600 feet of the avenue from Stonehenge is built on the summer solstice sunrise and winter solstice sunset—a phenomenon that may be because of sun worship, calendar keeping, or other purposes. Regardless of the lack of answer, this continues to fascinate visitors who wander around the concentric structures searching for answers.
Construction of Stonehenge is thought to have begun in 3000 BC, though there are many theories around the rock formation. Radiocarbon dating in 2008 suggested that the first stones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC, whilst another theory suggests that bluestones may have been raised at the site as early as 3000 BC. Archaeological evidence found by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2008 indicates that Stonehenge could have been a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. The dating of cremated remains found on the site indicate that deposits contain human bone from as early as 3000 BC, when the ditch and bank were first dug. Such deposits continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years.
While Stonehenge is considered to be the most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle and Neolithic site in the world, Avebury is the largest. Avebury is a monument containing three stone circles, around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, around half an hour’s drive from Stonehenge. Avebury is thought to have been built and carved over many centuries from around 2850 BC until 2200 BC.
It is important to know that a henge is not a stone circle; they are two different things. The henge refers to the man-made earthen bank with a ditch inside it that contains a large, flat-topped area. It is thought that this flat-topped area is designed to be enclosed as some sort of sacred space. As a result, it is what is inside the henge that makes it interesting. Inside the Avebury Henge, you will find much of the village of Avebury, the largest stone circle in Europe and two smaller stone circles.
Stone Circles: What are they?
Stone circles were first constructed by native farming communities in the late fourth millennium BC. They were generally not built on fertile land but on stony country on hillsides and in the mountains of England, Wales and Scotland. In many cases it is considered that they were built as sanctuaries around stone tombs. The first megalithic rings with henges are thought to have begun about 3300 BC. Burl (2011) describes three categories of stone circles, the first being in the Late Neolithic age 3650 to 2900 BC. The Middle period is late Neolithic to early Bronze Age c. 2900 to 2200 BC and includes Callanish Stones, Stanton Drew, the Outer Circle at Avebury, the Rollright Stones and the Ring of Brodgar. Burl’s third and final group are the late stone circles from the early to middle Bronze Age c. 2200 to 1500 BC and includes Nine Ladies and parts of Callanish. Note that Stonehenge is a somewhat special case with construction elements from c. 3000 to 1500 BC. The Blue Stones for example were first erected about 2700 BC and the large blocks of sarsen moved, and the towering structures built, about 2500 BC.
Travel to Stonehenge and Avebury
Odyssey offers a number of tours that visit Stonehenge and Avebury and provide a glimpse into these monuments and the contribution they have to our understanding of history, our ancestors and ancient stone structures. While they remain shrouded in mystery thousands of years later, they are undeniably significant archaeological finds and represent the chance to learn more about where we come from. Our tours give travellers the chance to enhance their knowledge of these structures with guided tours from experienced archaeologists of Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites. This means you will not just learn the fascinating history of one of the most famous landmarks in Britain, but you will also discover some of the other interesting Neolithic features of the area. In our Prehistoric Britain tour, the group spends three nights based in Salisbury exploring the sites and in the Walking Ancient Britain tour, we are in Salisbury for ten nights, enjoying walks along the Great Stone Way. This allows travellers to view a wonderfully sited Neolithic burial mound atop a hill at Adam’s Grave and enjoy breathtaking views across the Vale of Pewsey.
Salisbury is a medieval cathedral city in the southern English county of Wiltshire, around twenty minutes’ drive from Stonehenge and an hour from Avebury. It is a great base for exploring these Neolithic sites and an incredibly beautiful setting in its own right.