The Avebury Hares - Wiltshire's Traditional Love Of Hare Symbolism Traceable All The
Way Back To The Construction Of Avebury's Henges.
Click on the thumbnails below to view larger versions
When I started really looking at Avebury the last thing on my mind was the existence of stone hares. Although Wiltshire today is scattered with prints, drawings and bronzes showing single or fighting pairs of hares, I made absolutely no connection between these homely animals and the ponderous chunks of grey sarsen apparently lying about Avebury.
This view started to change when Professor Meaden emailed telling me where to find the incredible Hare carved onto the western face of Cove Stone II, arguably the most important stone at Avebury, immediately below left:
An beautifully rendered carving hidden in plain view. I wonder how surprised many of the drinkers sitting outside the Red Lion pub would be to learn that they are being studied from across the road by a sacred stone hare as old, or possibly older, than the pyramids of Egypt.
The next stone hare (above right) I learned about from the net, apparently it is well known by walkers that Stone 32A in the West Kennet Avenue represents a hare. Battered and rebuilt, presumably by Keiller, this creature faces eastwards apparently waiting for the sunrise.
I have rephotographed the Cove Stone II hare to show its eye area more clearly, and the resulting animal has an identical appearance to the West Kennet Avenue hare! - the same erect ears and large eye socket - an amazing unity of style, presumably the Cove version was created first as its host monolith was put up long before the Avenue was built?. Here is the newer photograph of the Cove hare, compare witht the Avenue hare above right:
I may have missed the Hares on Cove Stone II and 32A, but I didn't miss the extraordinary imposing hare statues on Stones 102 and 103 of Avebury Henge's South-East Quadrant (below, left and right respectively). I believe these are original discoveries by me with major implications for the understanding of Avebury:
Throughout time hares have been strongly symbolically linked with fertility. As Avebury is profoundly linked to the creative/rebirthing force of nature (personified by the neolithic Great Goddess) why should we be surpised to see multiple sacred hares carved into the sarsens here?
The two hares incorporated into Stones 102 and 103 are appropriatedly placed in the arc of a stone circle that Professor Meaden has alreadly linked to a neolithic early summer festival celebrating fertility. He shows (on p22 of his Avebury Stones book) that on May 8 every year the rising sun cast a shadow from a large Obelisk stone set in the centre of the Quadrant, and that this shadow was designed to touch a Vulva Stone set in the opposite part of the circle (in the same arc of monoliths hosting our hares). At this moment Avebury's builders believed the Great Goddess had been re-fertilzed by the Sky God, and the great cycle of nature could unwind for another year.
My discovery of 2 hare carvings in the same arc of stones as the Vulva stone could be seen as strong support for the view that the South-East Quadrant is especially concerned with fertility. These hares could be seen as moving clockwise around the pivotal Obelisk stone (much like dancers around a Maypole), and facing the Vulva stone down the line of the circle!
Additionally I have discovered an enormous stylised carved hare on the crucial Cove Stone I:
There is even an Avebury carving of a hare with a man's face, click here to view.
The prominence of stone hares at Avebury makes me wonder if the Windmill Hill people who initiated the building of Avebury, in whatever language they spoke, thought of themselves as "The Tribe of the Hare" or the "Hare People"#. Tangentially in support of this unsubstantiatable idea, even today the galleries and shops of Wiltshire are stocked to the rafters with art showing hare imagery. Wiltshire and hare art appear inseparable, and this may have its root at Avebury.
(# Certainly the idea that Neolithic people may have adopted specific animals as totems is uncontroversial, for example Dr Burl on page 103 of his book refers to possible candidates such as a whole goose found in a barrow not far from Stonehenge, 24 dog skulls found in a tomb in Orkney, and sea eagle remains found interred in Isbister's "Tomb Of The Eagles").
In September 2021 I came across a blog online which discussed my photo of the Cove Stone II hare shown above. This blog claims "There is much folklore surrounding hares, but as they weren’t introduced until 3000 years after the erection of this stone we can surmise that it is a more “modern” carving, perhaps carved by an Anglo-Saxon in preparation for a fertility ritual during the spring equinox".
3 things occur to me in response:
1. The claim that there were no hares in the UK during the neolithic is untrue - Lepus Timidus was in the country long before the time of Avebury, in fact since the last glaciation [see Dale Serjeantson "Review Of Animal Remains From The Neolithic And Early Bronze Age Of Southern Britain (4000 - 1500 BC)", Section 3.8 - Published by English Heritage, 2011, ISSN 1749-8775].
2. As to the claim that the hare on Cove Stone II was carved in Anglo-Saxon times, I would say this does not fit the evidence. The Cove Stone hare co-exists with, and is validated by, the close proximity of the massive and clearly neolithic hare statues on Stones 102 and 103. The consistent theme is conclusive proof of their prehistoric status.
3. Another proof that the hare on Cove Stone II is both real and neolithic lies in its dual nature. What I mean by this is that when the hare is viewed from the side (an elevation not as yet photographed by me) it appears to morph into a strong image of a gigantic human face in profile. This amazing duality was discovered by Terence Meaden+ and is absolute proof of the hare's neolithic authenticity - such duality/multiplicity of imagery is uniquely the hallmark of the prehistoric style of Avebury's artists, as very many of my own photographs themselves prove. Artists of later millennia wouldn't have produced lithic work of this originality or cunning.
(+ See his text and photos in "Stonehenge, Avebury and Drombeg Stone Circles Deciphered", pp 128-9, Lambert Academic Publishing, 2016, ISBN 978-3-659-89725-2)