The Sanctuary (Avebury) - History and Facts | History Hit

The Sanctuary (Avebury)

East Kennett, England, United Kingdom

The Sanctuary near Avebury houses the remains of a Neolithic monument and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Amy Irvine

29 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Adamsan / Public Domain

About The Sanctuary (Avebury)

The Sanctuary near Avebury in England is a monument believed to date back to around 3000 BC. It stands on the southern spur of Overton Hill, offering views across the valley of the River Kennet.

History of The Sanctuary

The concrete markers seen today were once made up of first timber slabs and then stones. The Sanctuary was first constructed around 3000 BC – either as a new clearing on Overton Hill or having already been regarded as of ceremonial importance.

It was built in 4 stages. The first structure was a basic round hut, with 8 posts supporting the outer wall and a single central post supporting what might have been a conical thatched roof. A couple of centuries later, a new extended building on the same site is thought to have completely enclosed the first hut, with two rings of post holes, much larger in size than the first hut.

The third phase appears to have been completed in the later Neolithic period, owing to the pottery found in association with the post holes. This was almost twice as large as its predecessor, with a diameter of 20 metres and 3 concentric rings of post holes. A sarsen stone circle had been incorporated as part of the middle ring of posts, making a near continuous internal wall of stones and posts, with a large entrance.

The last phase of construction consisted of a sarsen stone circle of 42 stones erected to form an outer boundary to the Sanctuary complex. This was 40 metres in diameter and possibly built at the same time as the stone circles at Avebury.

The site was first recorded by John Aubrey in 1648 when many of the stones were still standing. These were destroyed in approximately 1725 by a farmer, shortly after William Stukeley had recorded and drawn the site – his drawings were later used by Maud Cunnington in 1930 to carry out extensive excavations.

As with Stonehenge, the function of the Sanctuary remains a mystery, although archaeologists believe it was a ceremonial site, probably used for burial rituals. This theory stems from the fact that large quantities of human bones and food remains have been found at the site, suggesting that the rituals that took place were accompanied by elaborate feasts involving animals and ceramic vessels.

The Sanctuary today

Sadly little remains of this once impressive monument – small rectangular blocks of concrete indicate the positions of the original holes once occupied by the wooden posts and sarsen stones that formed the site’s concentric circles.

The Sanctuary forms part of the Avebury UNESCO World Heritage site, which is best explored on foot. Begin your visit at the Alexander Keiller Museum to find out about the six sites within the care of English Heritage and their significance, including Avebury Stone Circle, West Kennet Avenue, West Kennet Long Barrow, Windmill Hill and Silbury Hill. (Toilets and a café are available near the museum in Avebury).

Getting to The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary is located 1⁄2 mile south of West Kennett, beside the south side of the A4. Park in the layby next to the site to avoid crossing the busy road. (There is also parking on the opposite side of the road). Avebury is 1½ miles to the southeast.

The nearest stations are Pewsey (9 miles) or Bedwyn (12 miles). Local bus services include the Connect2 Wiltshire service 4 & 5, Taxibus TL3 or Wiltshire Buses X76; one journey on Tourist Coaches service 244 also serves West Kennett village.

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