A Wiltshire Wander in blazing sunshine brought a group of magnificent vehicles to the Museum forecourt today.
Thank you for your visit – safe journey onwards.
To my shame, this was my first visit to Avebury since 1983, when I attended a Royal Society of Chemistry Mid-Southern Counties Local Section Summer Excursion to Avebury, Silbury Hill, and the West Kennet Long Barrow. I attended the SALOG visit as part of a self-imposed mission to visit all the sites depicted in the current exhibition, ‘British Art: Ancient Landscapes’. To this end, following a week’s holiday in Seaton last week, I made a detour to visit the Cerne Abbas Giant (and the village of Cerne Abbas itself) on my way home. Then, following the SALOG visit to Avebury, being such a lovely day, and following lunch at the on-site café, I embarked on the two mile walk along a bridleway to visit West Kennet Long Barrow, taking in Silbury Hill en route. At West Kennet Long Barrow, I was entranced to watch a swallow feeding her brood of chicks which were on a ledge in one of the burial chambers.
At Avebury, it was a delight to have the opportunity to chat with fellow volunteers from the other organisations involved. (I had a fruitful conversation about witches and alchemists, concerning some research I’m doing on a matter unrelated to Ancient Landscapes).
I was interested to hear from our Guide about the two types of stone, ‘pillar’ stones and ‘diamond’ stones, which represent male and female, and these face each other in the Avenue as sexual pairs.
The Guide for my party told us that the heaviest stone weighs an estimated 100 tons. On its outfacing side, she pointed out the head and neck of a ‘dragon’ – a result of natural erosion. (One of my fellow Volunteers pointed out that this is the same stone on which, in the exhibition, the artist has shown the face of William Morris, and indicated that this is to the left hand side of the dragon).
To me, the ‘dragon’ looked more like a snake, and this led me to put two and two together to perhaps make five, in wondering whether this is what inspired William Stukeley to depict Avebury as a serpent whose head rested at the Sanctuary on Overton Hill and whose body was formed by West Kennet and Beckhampton.
This was a very interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile visit. Many thanks to all concerned with its conception and organisation.
Alan Crooks (Engagement Volunteer)
On Monday, volunteers from The Salisbury Museum and other local organisations had the opportunity to visit Avebury, meet and socialise with one another, and to have a guided tour of the site, as well as visit the manor, church and museums. Forty attended in all, eighteen from our museum, seven from Wessex Archaeology, nine from Wiltshire Museum and six from Stonehenge, English Heritage. It was organised by the Stonehenge and Avebury Learning and Outreach Group (SALOG), and hosted, of course, by Avebury itself who opened up their doors and made sure that, amongst other things, we had excellent refreshments by way of coffee, tea and cake.
Feedback from volunteers:
“Thanks for this little adventure, Bridget. Very enjoyable, even if once again I asked awkward questions! Not intentionally, of course!”
“Thank you so much for organising the trip today. No matter how many times I visit Avebury I am always in awe of our ancestors and always learn more about our past. It was a great day out and the Manor House was a revelation too. Mo and I took every opportunity to handle and examine the exhibits. As Miranda would say “such fun”. Thank you.”
“I’ve been before, but not for many years. I had no idea how vast it is. It was so special to have a guided tour.”
Excavations suggest that Avebury was begun around 2 600 BC, with the digging of the spectacular ditch and bank. The addition of the stones, sarsens, was a little later, and presumably undertaken over a considerable period of time. It is said that as many as six hundred stones may have been erected, creating a huge outer circle, two inner circles and marking two avenues, each well over a mile (which is about 1.5km) long . It is thought possible that there were, in fact, four avenues, but there is no evidence as yet. The stones weigh up to ten tons (or tonnes) each.
Most of the stones had fallen or had been broken up for building purposes when, in 1935, Alexander Keiller (of marmalade fame) bought the manor house and much of the land around about. His work followed on from that of earlier archaeologists and antiquarians. He had the stones re-erected and where they were no longer available, he marked the places with concrete posts. This was not guesswork. Stones which had earlier been removed to be broken up for building would have had a fire set beneath them. This was the best way to do it – the hot rock eventually splitting and taken away in wheelbarrows or on carts. It is, of course, the burning in the soil that tells the archaeologist where the stones have been. This is how the archaeologists have been able to trace the avenues, where very few of the original stones remain.
The bank is nearly a mile around and encloses about 28 acres (11 hectares). It is calculated that it would have taken about 1.5 million man hours to complete. It encloses the ditch (originally about 30 feet or 9m deep) , suggesting that the bank was for watching from and the ditch to prevent the ‘audience’ from getting any closer to what was going on. What ever it was, it was important.
Described variously as the largest henge in the world, in Europe, but certainly in Britain, this monument is apparently pre-dated by Stonehenge (in its earliest form), although both were almost certainly in use at the same time in the third millenium BC and it is possible that Avebury is earlier than currently estimated (see recent newspaper reports). Were they used for the same purpose, or same sort of purpose? Were they linked in some way? Were they rivals? Why were they built in this part of Britain? How were so many people drawn in to help construct these places? The assumption is that it is religion (in the broadest sense) that provides the motive and impetus, the focus, for such undertaking. Is it just so far from our modern view of the world that we can’t quite comprehend it?
A great day out. Many thanks to Bridget and all others concerned.
Summer is here. ArchFest cannot be far behind…
Katy England reminds us it is a really exciting weekend with lots going on including talks in the lecture hall, a showground of living history and heritage, and an archaeological dig by Dr Phil Harding to search for the remains of the museum’s lost gatehouse. Volunteers are needed again this year for what is usually a very busy weekend. Two briefing sessions are planned:
Friday 16 June 10.30 – 11.30am and
Tuesday 20 June 2.30 – 3.30pm
Please contact Katy at email@example.com if you would like to be involved, and to let her know which of the two sessions would be convenient for you.
Extra engagement volunteers in the galleries are also needed for the two days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you can help with that.
Anyone who is not in the habit of attending the regular talks put on by the museum – you are missing something! Not just something, but many things.
High quality speakers, at the cutting edge of their areas of expertise, and sometimes talking about things which are a surprise to their audience.
Many of us present at Professor Richard Bradley’s talk on 25 May thought rock art was confined to Australia and the caves of France. Not so. Even those with some knowledge of it all will have been surprised by how much rock art is being discovered in Britain, and fascinated by Richard Bradley’s theories on it all.
The markings are usually concentric circles with associated dots or ‘cups’, sometimes spirals, often with ‘tails’ or lines which link parts of the overall image. That, in itself, is intriguing. What degree of collective thinking and communication was involved in the same markings appearing all over the country?
Archaeological excavation around the sites dates this art to between 3 000 and 2 000 BC. It is almost always found on high ground, ‘pecked’ into natural outcrops of rock which nevertheless are situated above prime grazing land. And, as Richard Bradley has discovered through careful observation, lined up with views of astronomical events (eg the setting summer sun) or significant geographical sites. One set of markings in the north west lines up with a natural break in the rock which in turn is a view of the peak above Britain’s most prolific prehistoric axe quarry. This is another intriguing fact. A survey of two thousand axes discovered all over the country shows that nearly thirty percent came from a single site – Langdale in Cumbria. More collective thinking and communication!
Not surprisingly, quartz was favoured as the ‘canvas’ for this work, giving off a glitter which is still effective today – thousands of years later.
New examples of this art are being found all the time. As with all things archaeological, we will never have all the answers, but how exciting the questions are!
Museums at Night – a twice-a-year event when museums, galleries and heritage sites try to do something a bit different to highlight British culture.
Friday 19 May was a damp evening, in contrast to the weather recently, but visitors turned out to see Greg Chapman, back by popular demand. His lively (juggling, story telling and unicycling) version of history is not to be forgotten!
A first visit to this exhibition is a delightful surprise. Apart from anything else, there is such variety – Stonehenge on everything from photographs to phone cards! And for those of us of a certain age, those wonderful Shell posters of yesteryear…..
A favourite? Perhaps John Constable’s tiny, exquisite, pencil sketch but it will take a few visits to make a final decision.
As I write, there are considerable numbers of visitors in the galleries and great Volunteers looking after them.
There are a number of talks and events associated with this exhibition. Notice ‘Ancient Landscapes Through the Lens: A guided photographers walk to Breamore’ led by David Walker and Peter Norton on 23 May 10am – noon. For details, click here.
Photo courtesy of David Walker
We hope this one is in your diary already – Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 July. ArchFest has been enormously successful in its first two years and we have our fingers crossed for fine weather (that helps!) and happy crowds once again this year.
Tickets will soon be on sale for the talks (click HERE for link), and will be, soon, for the ‘taster sessions’ which we hope will include calligraphy, Roman cooking, spinning and weaving, and sword skills for adults. The latter could be very popular so book soon!
Even as I write, preparations are under way for the first of two Volunteer coffee mornings taking place this week. If you can’t make it today, then come along tomorrow – 10.30 – noon for coffee, cake, company and a talk by Director Adrian Green. He will be speaking about “Who runs Salisbury Museum”.