The Sanctuary

on 14 November 2017.

the sanctuary

In the guardianship of English Heritage, The Sanctuary forms part of the huge Avebury Neolithic Complex of standing stones and ritual sites. It once consisted of a stone circle large enough to contain the outer ring at Stonehenge, and is also peppered with post holes which once held large upright timbers.

Situated on Overton Hill in Wiltshire, the Sanctuary is connected to the stone circle at Avebury by the 25m wide and 2.5km long Kennet Avenue, a parade of stones, many now missing, which connected the raised and highly visible area of the Sanctuary to the lower lying stone circle.

Drawn in the 1700’s by William Stuckley. the Sanctuary consisted of twin stone circles which appeared as the terminal of the Kennet Avenue. Stuckely believed Avebury to be a mysterious Druidic site so he called the Sanctuary, the ‘Serpents Head’ or Hakpen.

Excavated in 1930 by Maud and Ben Cunnington, it became apparent that the Sanctuary had evolved in several stages. Firstly, it was a collection of large timber posts which may have been freestanding or acted as the supports for a large thatched structure, and over time these posts were replaced by stones to form a large stone circle.

The Sanctuary’s true purpose is now lost in the mists of time, but the excavation of large amounts of human bone suggest it played an important part in funerary practices.

In modern day Mumbai Zoroastrians ‘expose’ the bodies of their dead to the sky in high towers leaving the dead to be picked clean by vultures. The long bones and skulls that were entered in the East and West Kennet Long Barrows may well have been the result of this practice, the dead being placed on platforms atop of the Hill

To this day large birds of prey such as buzzards and red kites wheel above Hakpen Hill, perhaps due to some ancestral memory of their distant relatives feasting on the exposed bodies of the residents of Avebury.

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