History of Avebury
People have been visiting Avebury for thousands of years. This ancient land is still revealing its secrets through archaeological surveys and research. Discover more about the history of Avebury and what recent excavations have revealed.
People have used the Avebury landscape for many thousands of years, but the first people to farm crops and keep domesticated animals lived here from around 6,000 years ago.
More than a thousand years later, at around 4,600 years ago, the bank and ditch you can see today were built, and soon after that local stones were set up in at least three circles, surrounded by the bank and ditch; together these form Avebury Henge.
There are many more monuments within walking distance of Avebury, and this area is recognised as a World Heritage Site for its outstanding Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, around 700 years ago, people started to pull down some of the standing stones and bury them beneath the turf. There is no real evidence as to why they did this.
One theory is that it was because the local people believed the stones to be pagan, but another is that they were in the way when the area inside the bank and ditch was farmed. Later on, around 300 years ago, many stones were broken up for use in building.
The twentieth century
In 1934 archaeologist Alexander Keiller started excavations on West Kennet Avenue, a double line of standing stones which originally included around 100 pairs, running south from Avebury Henge.
He returned to dig throughout the 1930s and he discovered many of the stones which had been buried in the Middle Ages. He set those stones upright again and marked the places where other stones had once stood, so how Avebury looks now is in part due to his work.
Alexander Keiller was a wealthy man whose money was derived from Keiller’s marmalade; his wealth also enabled him to buy Avebury Manor and use it as the base for his archaeological work.
Recent surveys and excavations
Archaeological research helps us to understand this globally important area, and there have been several research projects in recent years which are in the process of being finished and published.
Avebury Down excavation
In 2017 an excavation took place on Avebury Down, just east of Avebury Henge, as part of the ‘Living with Monuments Project’ to investigate an area where many flint tools were found in the early 20th century.
The dig involved the Universities of Leicester and Southampton, and the National Trust, and uncovered pits, stake-holes, stone tools, pottery fragments and other signs of occupation extending over thousands of years, from the hunters and gatherers of the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age.
Further research is ongoing. The link to the interim report can be found at the bottom of this page.
A new discovery in the stone circle
In 2017 the ‘Living with Monuments Project’ team found a striking and apparently unique square monument within one of the stone circles inside Avebury Henge. The team used ground-penetrating radar, a form of geophysics, to look beneath the surface without digging.
The geophysical work revealed an unusual square setting which had once held standing stones within one of the smaller, inner, circles. It seems that this square may be among the earlier structures on the site.
Alexander Keiller had discovered part of this setting when he excavated within the circle in 1939 but it was not clear that the features he found were part of a square setting, so this recent work has added considerably to our knowledge of this remarkable site.
The work is now published - you can find a link at the bottom of this page.
‘The completion of the work first started by Keiller in the 1930s has revealed an entirely new type of monument at the heart of the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle, using techniques he never dreamt of. And it goes to show how much more is still to be revealed at Avebury if we ask the right questions.’
– Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust World Heritage Site Archaeologist
Stone circles tour
Find out more about the history of the stone circles and henge by joining a stone circle tour. Enquire at Visitor Reception when you arrive.
Avebury Manor and Garden
Just a few minutes' walk from Avebury Henge you'll find Avebury Manor and Garden. This small manor house has been owned by the National Trust since 1991. The earliest parts of the Manor probably date to the mid-16th century but there have been several periods of alteration since then.
Inside, many of the rooms are presented to reflect a particular time in the house’s history, ranging from the Tudor period of the early owners, to the time of Alexander Keiller, who used it as a base during his excavations at Avebury in the 1930s.
Visiting Avebury and the surrounding landscape is a unique experience. The area contains multiple Neolithic and Bronze Age features including the largest stone circle in the world which you can enter and explore.
Discover artefacts from archaeological excavations in the museum. Step inside the large threshing barn and see the 16th-century dovecote near the wildlife pond.
The 16th-century manor house is furnished to display the time periods of some of the previous residents, from Tudor times until the 1930s. Unlike many places, at Avebury Manor you are allowed to sit in the chairs, touch the displays or play a game of billiards.
The origins of Avebury by Mark Gillings, Joshua Pollard, Kristian Strutt. 2017 geophysical survey and re-examination of earlier excavation records.
Excavations on Avebury Down, Avebury, Wiltshire. An interim report July-August 2017