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 Location: Wiltshire, England. (O/S SU119680)  Grid Reference: 51.41 N, 1.83 W.

 

The Sanctuary, England.      The Sanctuary: (Concentric Stone Circles.).

The Sanctuary, situated on Overton Hill next to the Ridgeway and near Avebury, was begun around 3,000 BC. (1).  It originally comprised six concentric rings of timber uprights. Later, the timbers were replaced by two double stone circles of sarsen stones, the largest being 39.5m in diameter. The site, of which only the post and stone holes remain today (now marked by concrete blocks) was destroyed in 1723 and 1724 for farming land, but not before William Stukeley made a drawing of it.

For Stukeley, the Sanctuary represented the head of a great stone serpent the body of which was formed by the West Kennet Avenue, Avebury and the Beckhampton Avenue.

The Sanctuary sits almost at the end on the Ridgeway, and would have been on the natural route to Avebury/Silbury complex for anyone travelling there. Dating suggests that the first structures were there slightly before the construction of either Avebury or Silbury Hill, although other prominent structures such as West Kennet and Windmill hill henge etc.

(Location of the Sanctuary in relation to the Avebury-Silbury landscape)

 

   The Sanctuary:

Much of what once existed here will remain speculation. It seems that the site was host to  large wooden roundhouse here, with archaeological evidence of ceremonial activities and feasting. It is suggested that the roundhouse was increased in size twice, leaving three progressively larger sets of concentric holes. Somewhere around 2,100 BC (2), two concentric circles of stone were set in its place.

In the 1930's, the Cunningtons excavated Beaker items from this phase including the remains of an adolescent interred with a pot (2).

 

Silbury Hill (behind 'Waden hill') from the Sanctuary.

 

The only surviving image with the original stones in place. (1723. W. Stuckeley)

 

Extract From: (The Ancient History of Wiltshire by Sir Richard Colt Hoare).

'It was, (alas! it was) a very few years ago, crowned with a most beautiful temple of the druids. They still call it the Sanctuary. I doubt not but it was an asylum in Druid times, and the veneration of it has been handed down through all succession of times and people. It had suffered a great deal when I took the prospect of it with great fidelity, in 1723. Then farmer Green took most of the stones away to his building at Beckhampton, and in the year 1724 farmer Griffin ploughed half of it up; but the vacancy of every stone was most obvious, the hollows still left fresh. In the winter of the same year, the rest were carried off, and the ground ploughed over'

 

Stuckeley believed that the Sanctuary was the 'head' or 'Hakpen' of a huge ceremonial 'snake' formed across the landscape with the West Kennet and Beckhampton avenues.

 

The Significance of the Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary is an important part of the both the local landscape and is integral to the overall design of the Salisbury Landscape. It not only lies at the foot of the Ridgeway and The West-Kennet River, but represents the first step in a ceremonial route that leads to Avebury, then the Beckhampton Cove (avoiding Silbury altogether), via the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues, built 500 years later and revealing the continuing importance of the location as the entrance to the whole complex. It is also incidentally, one of the only local vantage points from which all the other important sites in the area can be seen at the same time.

The megalithic ruins on the Salisbury landscape can be seen as integral parts of an overall design on Salisbury. although it is difficult to see today, these monuments were deliberately positioned in order to align with each other, astronomical observations and the natural landscape features on Salisbury. We can see for example, that The Sanctuary was positioned exactly 1.4 North of Stonehenge, and on the same line of longitude, suggesting a placement of these two sites at a deliberate distance apart, encompassing earthly measurements. There are indications that this form of separation was carried out at other prominent British sites, extending out from Stonehenge, leading to the proposition that the Avebury/Stonehenge complex may be the remains of a prehistoric Meridian.

 

(More about the Salisbury Complex)

(Other European Megalithic Complexes)

(Silbury Hill)   (West Kennet Long Barrow)   (The Sanctuary

(Other Prehistoric English sites)

 

 

References:

1). http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.16478 
2). http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/The_Sanctuary

 

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