Night Photography by David Baldwin



What Was Avebury For?

Avebury fulfilled many functions during its 1900 year prehistoric life, a time spanning roughly from the foundation of the West Kennet Long Barrow to the eventual abandonment of the entire site in favour of nearby Stonehenge around 1800BC. Just as Avebury wasn't built all at one time but developed in stages, its practices must also have developed and changed through the years (as Pitts explained, Avebury was a "process" - Burl, page 226). Below is my superficial and brief summation of Avebury's purposes, distilled from the various books I list in the Bibliography.   For the most part I have not included detailed references, most of these can however be found scattered among my webpages at the relevant points with my photographs.

The purposes of Avebury included:

A place to conduct ceremonies intended to entreat the Great Goddess to perform once again the yearly cycle of the seasons.


To provide a link with the underworld through its possession of watery places (see Marshall page 100).


A location to ensure the cycle of human life by ceremonially imploring the Goddess to resurrect the dead.


Space to allow the enactment of sacred processions as symbols of human progress through life, the way marked out with matched pairs of male and female sarsens signifying the dignity and joint creative power of the two sexes.


(Through the construction of Silbury Hill) to provide a physical home for the Goddess to live.


A place to host oracular services (see Marshall page 103).


A funeral site for the disposal of bodies via cremation or excarnation/exposure.


A political center to establish or confirm the authority of priests and chiefs.


A social hub, for visiting families to exchange marriage partners (see Burl page 87), to secure healthy bloodlines and establish political or support networks. Animals, equipment and valuables could also have been traded.


The provision of the first capital of Britain - because pilgrims visited this site from all over our island, and because of the vast amount of effort needed to create the monuments (which probably would have been partly supplied by non-local people), we know Avebury's religious and cultural influence was national. Therefore, spiritually at least, we can claim Avebury as the first capital city of the country, as befitting the chosen home of the Great Goddess.


A centralised repository of knowledge and its application. The learning practiced here would have included:

Religious doctrine and mythology

Shamanic ritual

Naked eye astronomy, including celestial mechanics


Landscape architecture and soil engineering (witness Silbury Hill)

Art of all kinds, probably including music, singing (see Marshall page 53), poetry and dramatic recitation, body art and tattoos, embroidery (see Meaden Goddess page 141) and of course (certainly) the large scale creation of sarsen carvings and sculptures.

In fact the national importance of Avebury, together with its role in demonstrating or promoting religious, technical, agricultural and artistic learning (presumably to both locals and seasonally visiting pilgrims) makes it possible to see the entire temple site as a foundation or institution, a kind of very early academy. Indeed the overall sense I have of Avebury is that it represents a blend of both primaeval superstition and a surprising emergent rationality. These people were neither barabarians nor scholars but highly intelligent people having to construct their own worldview with very little to help them. I admire them enormously.