Feature Articles – Avebury-Stonehenge: a scale model of Atlantis?
Few have looked at Avebury and Stonehenge, pondering whether they might be part of a larger complex. But when that question is asked, an altogether different one bubbles to the surface: could this complex also be linked with Plato’s fabled lost civilisation of Atlantis?
by Philip Coppens
Without any doubt, Stonehenge is the most famous megalithic monument of Great-Britain; perhaps even of Europe, if not the entire world. Almost one million people visit the site annually, half of them coming from outside of Britain. But Stonehenge is not the only megalithic complex in this area. Thirty minutes by car, directly north of Stonehenge, are two massive stone circles, in Avebury. In fact an entire village is built inside the enormous henge that surrounds these two circles. Unlike Stonehenge, where the visitor is kept far away from the monument, in Avebury, one can experience the stones up close and personal and the impression Avebury leaves is far superior then anything a tourist to Stonehenge can experience. That is one of the reasons why since the 1980s the number of visitors to Avebury has continued to rise. Both Stonehenge and Avebury are accepted as being part of a larger whole. For example, the henge of Avebury is part of landscape that incorporates West Kenneth Long Barrow, as well as an Avenue – two long lines of standing stones – that connects Avebury to The Sanctuary, next to the River Avon. Finally, Silbury Hill, Europe’s tallest man-made mound, is also part of Avebury’s “sacred landscape”.
The intricate interplay between Avebury and Silbury Hill has been explored by Paul Devereux, who used his eyes to map this “dream landscape” – a natural landscape where human hands had carefully – often subtly – enhanced or created certain features, making it into the sacred precinct that it is known to have been.
Stonehenge too is part of a larger whole, though it is today far less impressive and visible to the eye than it is at Avebury. There is the nearby cursus, another Avenue, this time connecting the complex to the River Avon, and a large numbers of barrows, such as the New King Barrows and Winterbourne Stoke Barrows.
The big question, however, which few if any have dared to pose, is whether these two complexes might be part of an even larger whole, which would hence incorporate both Avebury and Stonehenge. Evidence of a common denominator between the two sites came when English Heritage had to undertake a one million pound conservation project to save Silbury Hill from collapse – the result of unintelligent excavations in previous times. During this work, archaeologists discovered that the Neolithic builders had introduced hundreds of sarsen stones into the hill, which they believe were considered sacred by humans of the period. The interesting fact is that sarsen stones were also incorporated into Stonehenge, actually brought down from the Marlborough Downs – near Avebury.
For further reference, let us also note that archaeologist Jim Leary noted that the discovery of sarsen stones inside the final phase of the monument had been a surprise. Leary argued that Silbury, and monuments such as Stonehenge and the stones at Avebury, had been built in response to a period of great change in Britain, which at the time was being influenced by an influx of European cultures.
Meanwhile, near Stonehenge, evidence was uncovered of a Neolithic village – the largest ever found in Britain – inside Durrington Walls henge. The houses were radiocarbon dated to ca. 2550 BC, the period Stonehenge was built. The dating was one of the reasons that made archaeologists conclude that the people who lived in the Durrington Walls houses were responsible for the construction of Stonehenge.
Little known is that Durrington Walls is the world’s largest known henge. It is some 500 metres across and encloses a series of concentric rings of huge timber posts. Doesn’t it sound quite familiar to a modern description of Avebury? Avebury Both the Avebury and Stonehenge complex is therefore larger than the individual circles themselves. But the question being asked is whether they could be part of a complex that encompasses both megalithic monuments.
The Belgian historian Marcel Mestdagh believed that one vital aspect of the Stonehenge-Avebury complex had been overlooked: a perfectly curved road that connected the two sites. A quick glance on a map will indeed reveal that the monuments are connected by sections of the A360 and A361 roads. It is furthermore clear that east of Stonehenge, this curved road continues (under the designation of the A303), beginning to form the outline of an oval. The map also shows that we have almost half of an oval, made up of various roads, from Avebury curving southwards towards Stonehenge, then eastwards, right to the outskirts of Andover.
Mestdagh next drew a completed oval on the map. The sites located on this oval were Devizes, Potterne, West Lavington, Tilshead, Shrewton, Rollestone, Amesbury, Thruxton, Weyhill, Vernham, Axford and Beckhampton, and, of course, Stonehenge and Avebury. He then made some preliminary observations.
Firstly, it was somewhat bizarre that two megalithic sites were connected by a curved road, which upon later realisation, were part of a half-oval of roads. The important question was whether these roads were built on top of an older construction, e.g. a raised surface, like a giant “henge”, such as around Avebury or Durrington Wall, which would later make them suited for road construction.
Secondly, when the oval was completed, Avebury and Stonehenge weren’t just anywhere on this circle; one could form a perfect triangle – each side measuring 27.5 km long – with the point where the longest axis of the oval cut the oval itself. This site was the tiny village of Little Down (Rockmoor Down), where three counties (Wiltshire, Berkshire and Hampshire) all met. Coincidence, or evidence of the prior presence of something – just like with the road connecting Stonehenge and Avebury?
Thirdly, more detailed analysis of this oval revealed that two-thirds of this oval was still intact, and existed in the form of roads.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, when Mestdagh measured the oval, he came to the surprisingly realisation that its dimensions seemed to be in correspondence with the dimensions that Plato had given about a civilisation that he had described as Atlantis. As a historian, Mestdagh wrote that from now on, he would have to embrace notions, which most of his colleagues had treated as being nothing more than flights of Plato’s fantasy. The main axis of the oval (running from Little Down to a location between Potterne and West Lavington) is 35.5 kilometres long. As the kilometre is a relatively modern invention, Mestdagh wondered which ancient measuring system might have been used by those who constructed the oval. Of course, he also realised that to create such a large, perfect, oval, the civilisation that built them, were quite advanced – but that in itself was already in evidence in Avebury and especially Stonehenge, which was known to have been built with complex astronomical alignments in place.
Mestdagh next realised that 35.5 kilometres equalled 200 stadia. As this was a very round number, he felt the stadia was the likeliest measuring system for this oval. A measurement, however, that reminded him of the dimensions Plato had given to Atlantis.
In his “Timaeus”, Plato gave detailed descriptions of Atlantis. A correct reading of these, specifically the plain of Atlantis, reveals that whatever Plato was intending, the dimensions of this plain were an elongated square, each side measuring 3000 stadia (533 km). Mestdagh realised that this elongated square inscribed an oval, with axes of 475 and 591 kilometres long.
In the final analysis, it was therefore clear that both Atlantis and the “Wiltshire Oval” were… ovals, and that both Atlantis’ dimensions and the Wiltshire Oval translated into round measurements in stadia. Coincidence, or evidence that there was a connection between this oval and the lost civilisation of Atlantis? Durrington Walls The Wiltshire Oval has created an oval-shaped space; has it, like a Avebury, delineated a sacred territory? Perhaps – or at least the likeliest explanation. What is known, is that Durrington Walls is inside this… wall? Though this makes the area inside the oval once potentially the largest Neolithic settlement in Britain, today, the area is best described as rural, with some sections completely left to agriculture. Of course, the greatest revolution of the Neolithic was agriculture – which allowed our ancestors to settle, which soon resulted in villages and towns, and the start of an economy, which had a surplus workforce, which across the world would soon be used to construct the likes of the pyramids… and the stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury.
It appears that the people that lived here, principally lived inside the Wiltshire Oval and constructed Stonehenge and Avebury on key locations of the ditch that likely surrounding their territory.
The oval, in shape, is of course close to the egg, which comes with a rich symbolism. The egg in Christianity is mainly linked with Easter, and is – unsurprisingly – seen as the symbol of birth, as well as… death and resurrection; the start of a new cycle. Noting that both Stonehenge and Avebury are believed to be connected with ancestor worship, their incorporation into an oval-design would make perfect mythological sense. It would be dangerous to extrapolate too much from a few, unfinished lines in one author’s treatise of a lost civilisation. Nor do we know all that much about Stonehenge and Avebury. But what we do know, is that both monuments seemed to have been sites of burial and ancestor worship. We know that they were located in a very prosperous “hub” of Neolithic Britain – a true civilisation, even though many historians still refuse to label it the “megalithic civilisation”. Dare we to suggest that when the plans for this new centre were drawn, that – somehow – its designers had access to the same information Plato consulted, and that they built “the Wiltshire Oval” based on Atlantis? Most archaeologist adhere to isolationist stances, but it is a fact – as Leary highlighted above – that Stonehenge and Avebury were built at a time when Britain was influenced by European cultures. Could these cultures have introduced the concept of a lost civilisation, which the budding Wiltshire economy then incorporated in its building plans? Woodhenge Just south of Durrington Walls is Woodhenge. Also situated just inside the Oval structure, Woodhenge has six concentric rings of postholes, encircled by a single ditch and finally an outer bank, around 85 metres wide. There is a central burial, of a child, which most archaeologists accept was likely a dedicatory sacrifice.
Though known as a “wood henge”, it is now known that there were several standing stones on the site, arranged in the formation of a cove. Furthermore, the depth of some of the potholes descended to two metres, which suggests that the post themselves might have been as high as 7.5 metres above the ground. Each post would thus have weighed up to five tons – underlining that even though the structure was “only” made from wood, its construction was no less impressive than nearby Stonehenge.
Both Woodhenge and Stonehenge have entrances oriented towards midsummer sunrise and both have similar diameters. Furthermore, another timber circle, on the same scale as Woodhenge, was discovered in 1966 within Durrington Walls.
However, one observation – unsurprisingly – has escaped most: Plato describes Atlantis’ capital as a series of concentric circles. Can it truly be a mere coincidence that Woodhenge is a series of concentric circles, located inside a large Oval, which shares dimensional characteristics with Atlantis? Note that no-one is suggesting Woodhenge was Atlantis’ capital – merely that the designers of the various structures in, on and near the Wiltshire Oval had access to the same knowledge and traditions Plato found in Egypt and worked inside his “Timaeus”. If the answer to all these questions is “yes”, then it is clear that not only the likelihood of Atlantis as a real civilisation has increased its odds, but also that we need to completely re-evaluate the megalithic monuments dotted around the Wiltshire countryside. It is but a thirty minute drive to connect Stonehenge with Avebury, but it’s a large step for archaeology.