I have a real affinity for standing stones and ancient monuments… I really feel drawn to them and if I see a sign post pointing down a lane with the inviting words ‘stone circle’, ‘megalith’, hill fort, or an intriguing name which just shouts ‘old stuff!’ such as Brown Willy Cairns, Devil’s Arrows, Hoarstones or The Merry Maidens, then I just have to investigate if I possibly can. Stonehenge is possibly the most famous of these ancient and mysterious places, and I have been there a couple of times but not recently. I have, however more recently been to Avebury, a mighty monument to the engineering abilities of people who lived five or more thousand years ago. Avebury is a place I can visit again and again, if I lived nearer then I would be there almost all the time.
Avebury is a henge monument on a massive scale with the village of Avebury within and on top of it. There are three circles of stones and a huge series of banks and ditches which must have been enormous when they were constructed. Think how peaceful the times must have been, how good the harvests and the hunting to sustain a workforce needed to build such an edifice over so many years. The exact purpose of the place is lost now forever, but certainly it was for ritual, probably had some religious and maybe astrological significance too. The Neolithic people who constructed it used a site which already had ritual significance; there is evidence of a wooden henge as well as flint tools and other artefacts which may date back to nine thousand years ago… imagine that… nine thousand! The people then may have been hunter gatherers but they were sophisticated users of their own technology and their skills and abilities to live off the land would have enabled them to survive and lead complex and organised social lives – obviously I don’t mean they were having cocktail parties but their interaction between the different clans and tribes would have been as rich as we think ours are.
Actually, I quite like the idea of a Neolithic cocktail party!