WESSEX

After the Show

2000 B.C., the Avebury complex began to fall into decline. It was about this time that Stonehenge was built. Whether this smaller, but more sophisticated piece of architecture proved a greater attraction to the punters, or whether there was some distinct social change - no-one knows for sure. In any case, Avebury went out of fashion for a while - nearly 4000 years, in fact.

We know that Roman Britons visited the site - they left their picnic pots in the ditch. We also know that Roman road builders were forced to put a kink in a road between Bath and Mildenhall because of Silbury Hill (they must have hated that). After that, it all becomes rather vague.

A Christian church was founded at Avebury in the late Anglo-Saxon era, and it seems that the Christians mistrusted these symbols of pagan worship. Devilish beliefs and actions were ascribed to the stones. By this time, all knowledge of the origins of the monuments had been lost - it was assumed that such structures could only have been built by the Romans.

The church began a campaign against these manifestations of pagan rituals, and urged good Christians to topple and bury the stones, to prove Christ's pre-eminence over fallen gods. Ironically, these burials served to protect many of the stones, for they lay there for Keiller to discover in the twentieth century.

Later attacks on the stones were less spiritual in motive; the stones were simply broken up for building material. Much of the present Avebury village, including the church and manor, was built with broken monument stone. Right up until Keiller's time, the Avebury locals treated their monument casually and (sometimes) cruelly.

In fact, only in the last few years have they come to terms with the wonders they live amongst - if only because of the money of tourists. Even in the last ten years, there have been a series of proposals - for hotels and theme parks. The locals have been enthusiastic, visitors appalled. Since Avebury has now been designated a World Heritage Site, it probably has a better chance for survival than it has had for 4000 years.

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