The village of Avebury in Wiltshire looks like many other small English villages. There is a Grade I listed church, a welcoming pub, a well-kept cricket ground, and many lovely brick houses. There are also lots and lots of sheep grazing contentedly all around the village giving visitors the impression of having stumbled onto the set for a film entitled “Bucolic Britain.”
But Avebury is really known for being contained inside the largest Neolithic stone circle in the world, a circle that also encloses an ancient complex of earthworks and smaller stone circles. The entire site is at least 4500 years old and its purpose remains a mystery.
The presence of several gift shops and the ubiquitous National Trust cafe convey the illusion that this is just another historical site to be considered, consumed, and consigned to history like a castle or manor house. But Avebury is different because nobody knows what it really was. A place for rituals? A funereal site? Was it, like its more famous sibling to the south, an astronomical observatory? Or maybe it was none of these.
The mystery is simultaneously compelling and frustrating – how can simple folk from so long ago keep a big secret like Avebury from such technologically advanced wizards as ourselves? I asked this out loud and got a few annoyed looks from a couple of sheep who paused their ruminating long enough to make it clear that my ruminating would not get an answer.