SQUARING THE CIRCLE: Archaeological detectives discover ‘secret square’ beneath world-famous Avebury stone circle

Posted by ap507 at Jun 29, 2017 12:02 AM |
New archaeological survey reveals unique square megalithic monument at the heart of the World Heritage Site

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 29 June

Multimedia/images available from: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dog91kb52rkwuxv/AAAH_EGO_KA4JRMp9-sVtTgha?dl=0

Archaeologists have found a striking and apparently unique square monument beneath the world famous Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, cared for by the National Trust, was built over several hundred years in the 3rd millennium BC and contains three stone circles – including the largest stone circle in Europe which is 330m across and originally comprised around 100 huge standing stones.

A research team led by the University of Leicester and University of Southampton used a combination of soil resistance survey and Ground-Penetrating Radar to investigate the stone circle.

Their work was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and supported by the National Trust, as well as archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and Allen Environmental Archaeology.

Dr Mark Gillings, Academic Director and Reader in Archaeology in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, said: “Our research has revealed previously unknown megaliths inside the world-famous Avebury stone circle. We have detected and mapped a series of prehistoric standing stones that were subsequently hidden and buried, along with the positions of others likely destroyed during the 17th and 18th centuries. Together, these reveal a striking and apparently unique square megalithic monument within the Avebury circles that has the potential to be one of the very earliest structures on this remarkable site.”

Avebury has been subject of considerable archaeological interest since the 17th century. The discovery of new megaliths inside the monument was therefore a great surprise, pointing to the need for further archaeological investigations of this kind at the site. The survey took place inside the Southern Inner Circle, contained within the bank and ditch and colossal Outer Stone Circle of the Avebury henge. Excavations here by the archaeologist and marmalade magnate Alexander Keiller in 1939 demonstrated the existence of a curious angular setting of small standing stones set close to a single huge upright known since the 18th century as the Obelisk. Unfortunately, the outbreak of war left this feature only partially investigated.

Dr Joshua Pollard from the University of Southampton said: “Our careful programme of geophysical survey has finally completed the work begun by Keiller. It has shown the line of stones he identified was one side of a square of megaliths about 30m across and enclosing the Obelisk. Also visible are short lines of former standing stones radiating from this square and connecting with the Southern Inner Circle. Megalithic circles are well known from the time when Avebury was built during the late Neolithic (3rd millennium BC), but square megalithic settings of this scale and complexity are highly unusual.”

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist at Avebury, said: “This discovery has been almost eighty years in the making but it’s been well worth waiting for. 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 goes to show how much more is still to be revealed at Avebury if we ask the right questions.”

The archaeologists who undertook the work think the construction of the square megalithic setting might have commemorated and monumentalised the location of an early Neolithic house – perhaps part of a founding settlement – subsequently used as the centre point of the Southern Inner Circle. At the time of excavation in 1939 the house was erroneously considered by Keiller to be a medieval cart shed.

If proved correct, it may help understand the beginnings of the remarkable Avebury monument complex, and help explain why it was built where it was.

The research team is currently compiling their research into a paper for academic publishing.

You can access a full technical report here http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/archaeology/people/academics/gillings


Notes to editors:

The Avebury henge and stone circles is one of the principal monuments of the Stonehenge and Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site. It is owned and cared for by the National Trust.

The National Trust cares for over 1600 acres and many of the major monuments in the Avebury part of the World Heritage Site including Avebury Henge and Stone Circles, the West Kennet Avenue and Windmill Hill, for more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury.

In the Stonehenge part of the World Heritage Site, the National Trust cares for over 2100 acres of the landscape around Stonehenge which includes monuments such as Durrington Walls, the Stonehenge Cursus and the Stonehenge Avenue.  For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stonehenge-landscape.

Thousands of people visit these special places every year and help us to care for them, for ever, for everyone.

The Avebury henge (an archaeological term that describes a prehistoric ceremonial monument usually made up of a circular bank with internal ditch) encloses the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle, originally of some 100 standing stones, and two inner stone circles. It was created during the later Neolithic (c.3000-2400 BC).

The work described here was part of the ‘Living with Monuments project’, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC).  The Living with Monuments project is five years (Sep 16 - Sep 21)  and AHRC funding amounts to £780,831. It is a collaborative project involving archaeologists from the Universities of Leicester, Southampton and Cambridge, the National Trust, and Allen Environmental Archaeology.  

The survey was directed by:

Dr Mark Gillings                          

University of Leicester                         

email: mg41@le.ac.uk                        


Dr Joshua Pollard

University of Southampton

email: c.j.pollard @soton.ac.uk


Dr Nick Snashall                                 

The National Trust

Archaeologist for Stonehenge and Avebury WHS       




email: Nicola.Snashall@nationaltrust.org.uk


Dr Ros Cleal

The National Trust

Curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury




email: rosamund.cleal@nationaltrust.org.uk

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Most of the Avebury Henge and Stone Circle - as well as West Kennet Avenue - is owned by the National Trust and is in the guardianship of English Heritage. They are managed by the National Trust on behalf of English Heritage and the two organisations share the cost of managing and maintaining the property.


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