| 8 December 2003
Discovery of buried megaliths completes Avebury circle
Archaeologists have discovered an arc of buried megaliths that once formed part of the great stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire (England). Visitors to Avebury will see most of the standing megaliths in the western half of the stone circle. The famous map of the site drawn in the 1720s by William Stukeley, the first secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London, showed that many of the stones in the south-east and north-east quadrants of the circle were missing.
Now, the first geophysics survey of these areas of Avebury, carried out by the National Trust, has revealed that at least 15 of the megaliths lie buried in the circle itself. The massive stones show up very clearly as computer images and the National Trust has been able to identify their sizes, where they lie and how they fit in the circle.
The National Trust said the existence of the stones has puzzled scientists for the past 300 years. Martin Papworth, the National Trust's archaeologist for Wessex said: "This is a truly exciting find and completes the circle of Avebury. These stones were erected over 4,500 years ago and the world of archaeology suspected that most of these stones had been demolished and lost for ever. We know that many of the Avebury stones still standing up to 300 years ago were broken up for building stone in the 17th and 18th century. Until now, no one had realised that some of these stones had survived intact and that they actually lay buried in the earth, next to their original locations. It is quite likely that they have lain there since the 13th and 14th centuries, pushed over and buried there by the local population who may have seen these pagan symbols as a threat to the established church."
In the 1930s, Alexander Keiller excavated and re-erected many of the stones that can be seen today, standing in the western half of the circle. The outbreak of the Second World War brought an end to his project. The National Trust has said it has no plans to raise the stones that have been so well protected by the earth for about 700 years. But it is considering using ground-probing radar to create three-dimensional images of each of the buried stones and raise them as computer images.
But maybe one of the fallen megaliths at Avebury may be restored to its original place, even though there are no plans to excavate its long-buried brothers. Archaeologist Mike Pitts is applying to reinstate a stone on the eastern side of the circle, which fell over in the 18th century. Mr Pitts, the editor of British Archaeology Magazine, wants to carry out some excavation around the stone in the hope of revealing tools used to construct the site thousands of years ago.
"The principal reason for wanting to excavate in the stone circle is that we do not know when it was built," he said. "Our best chance is to find something organic, such as a red deer antler pick, which we can carbon date." He has been talking to English Heritage and the National Trust for two years about his idea, but feels a full-scale restoration of the circle wouldn't be appropriate.
"Generally, I think it would be good if one or two megaliths were re-erected at Avebury," he said. "Some people would like to re-erect all of them, but I believe we have to draw a balance because the way Avebury looks at the moment is the way it has looked for many generations. It would completely transform the place and then it would become something that really dated from the 21st century."
Sources: Ananova, BBC News (2 December 2003), The Independent (3 December 2003), Swindon News (5 December 2003)
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