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Understanding Avebury

11 October 2007

A survey conducted for the Arts and Humanities Research Council by PricewaterhouseCoopers has shown the real economic impact of archaeological research undertaken by a Bristol academic.

Avebury remains one of the most spectacular and enigmatic prehistoric monuments in Europe.  Constructed in several stages during the course of the third millennium BC, the massive earthwork enclosure and stone settings have had a complex history; one which has included later episodes of avoidance, neglect and deliberate destruction, through to more recent antiquarian and archaeological ‘re-discovery’, investigation and preservation.

Since its late Neolithic beginnings, Avebury has been the subject of a host of interpretations and understandings, each of which has a crucial place in the developing life-history of the site, making Avebury what it is today.

The AHRC-funded Longstones Project has shed important new light upon the remarkable group of structures at Avebury.  It revealed wholly new prehistoric monuments, such as the Longstones enclosure, and confirmed the existence of others long thought lost such as the Beckhampton Avenue, a curving 1.5 kilometre strip of paired standing stones which runs broadly south west from Avebury towards the Longstones at Beckhampton.  Although the stones are now gone, excavations in 2000 revealed the parallel rows of holes that held them.  A 120 metre section of the avenue was uncovered, indicating that it consisted of a double row of stones placed at 15 metre intervals.

The project revealed wholly new prehistoric monuments, such as the Longstones enclosure

These discoveries alone served to effectively double the area known to be covered by the monument complex.  The research also enhanced understanding of the chronology of monument building from the erection of the individual stones that make up the Avebury circles (the largest stone circle in Europe) to the group of monuments that collectively make this landscape so extraordinary.

The results of the project have already informed a significant new published history of the site: Avebury by Mark Gillings and Joshua Pollard, published by Duckworth, 2004. 

Detailed results of the AHRC-funded work are to be published as a monograph entitled Landscape of the Megaliths (Oxbow Books) in Spring 2008.

The project was awarded £149,362 under the AHRC Research Grants Scheme (2000-2004).  This funding supported the majority of the research activity and facilitated substantial excavation, survey and the provision of equipment and other research costs for the project.

The Longstones Project has not only added to our academic understanding of the monument complex.  A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that research projects conducted at Avebury collectively could have generated an additional £13 million of visitor expenditure in the period 1986-2006. Details are available on the AHRC website

Dr Joshua Pollard/Department of Archaeology and Anthropology

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