Tag Archives: Avebury

Summer Solstice 2017

Today is the summer solstice, so I watched the sunrise at Virtual Avebury and then took a walk around the completed simulation. I love going back here, particularly on days like today ūüôā

Just as an update, I submitted my dissertation in early May and should be getting the results back very soon – gulp! As long as all is well, I’ll post some parts of my dissertation on this blog, although I’m writing a book chapter from it too, so I’ll need to be careful about not publishing anything I’ll be incorporating in the chapter.

Sunrise at The Cove

IMG_1651 (640x480)The arrangement of stones in the northern circle of Avebury is known as “The Cove”. It originally would have consisted of 3 stones, of which only 2 remain standing today as shown in the picture on the left. The third stone was to the left of the megalith in the centre and the arrangement would have created a box shape with an open side pointing north east, i.e. in the direction the picture is pointing. The smaller stone you can see to the left of the central stone is all that is left today of the circle that surrounded The Cove. There were some other stones inside the circle, and geophysical investigation has suggested that there may have been a row of smaller stones facing the open side of The Cove, but this isn’t yet known for sure.

As I’ve been constructing virtual Avebury, the northern and southern circles have been feeling more and more important, so I erected the Obelisk in the southern circle, which I discussed in the last post, and now I’ve put up the 3 stones of The Cove in the northern circle to see how they look, shown in the picture below. The stone pyramids are markers for stones I have yet to make and place.

Cove sunrise 1

As with every new stone setting I¬†make, I’m fascinated by them! As the open side faces the position of the rising sun at the summer solstice, I thought I’d try out some of the sky preset effects in¬†Firestorm (the viewer¬†I use) to get the sun to rise at¬†its summer solstice position at virtual Avebury. To do that, I checked the time of sunrise on 21st June this year (OK, not strictly correct as it should be 4.5K years ago but it’s near enough!) which was 03:43 GMT. I then went to the NOAA Solar Position Calculator¬†and entered the date as 21st June, the latitude and longitude for Avebury (51.4295N, 1.8530W) and the time of 03:43. The sun position calculator then gave me the solar azimuth as 49.29, i.e. the sun’s position¬†on the horizon measured in degrees clockwise from north at that time, location and date. However, the elevation above the horizon at that time was -0.06, so whilst that may be¬†technically sunrise, it wouldn’t be visible as a spectacular rising above the horizon, so I tweaked things until the elevation was 1, which actually made very little difference to the time (03:55) and the azimuth setting (51.33). So far so good!!

Firestorm¬†has the facility to change the position of sunrise and sunset from its default of rising dead east and setting dead west. In the sun controls (the slider known as the ‘easting’ control) east is set as 0, as the sun rises dead east at the equinoxes (roughly 21st March and 21st September). Running the slider along its length moves¬†the sun through 360 degrees around the border of the sim, ending up east again at 1.0. North is set as 0.75. As the azimuth setting I’m looking for is 51.33 degrees east of north, I took that away from 90 to find out how many degrees north of east¬†I’m looking for. Answer = 38.67. I then worked out what decimal fraction¬†of 360 that is (answer was 0.105), and then subtracted that from 1 to find out what I had to slide the easting control to for midsummer sunrise. Still with me?? ūüôā Anyhoo, 1 minus 0.105 is 0.895, so that’s what I set the sun position to be in Firestorm. And hey presto!

Cove sunset 3_001

Here is the result. The sun rising directly into the mouth of The Cove. I’m blown away by this! Reading some of the literature on theories relating to astronomical alignments at Avebury, writers like Burl (2000) are unconvinced of The Cove’s orientation to the rising summer sun because the width of the “sightline” would make it inaccurate. But I think this completely misses the point. The builders of Avebury were not building an observatory, where sightlines and accuracy matters, but were more likely building monuments that had particular meanings for them. The days before and after the solstice, when the sun would still fill The Cove on rising, may have had special significance. Perhaps that period of several days was a festival of some sort. In any case,¬†we need to be very careful about overlaying post-Enlightenment, western scientific criteria onto our interpretations of structures that may have had very different meanings to their builders. Here endeth the first lesson ūüôā

If you’d like to visit virtual Avebury you’re welcome to. Simply go to Kitely.com, set up a free avatar account (remember your u/n and password!) and then download the Firestorm viewer (Google ‘Phoenix Firestorm’). Open the viewer and enter your u/n and password and when you have rezzed on the welcome site, click on the search magnifying glass in the viewer and enter EIC at UWE. Teleport there and you’ll land at the visitor centre. Look at the top of your screen and click on Avatar, then Preferences and then Graphics. Set your draw distance as far as possible (Avebury is a big sim!) and then feel free to have a good look around. If you’d like to hear the soundscape too, just click on the movie camera icon in the top right of your viewer. Virtual Avebury¬†is still very much still under construction, but I’d love to get as much feedback as possible as I go along – evaluation is one of the things I need to do lots of for my Advanced Dip dissertation! I’ve set the sky to be perpetual summer solstice sunrise at the moment, so I’d be particularly glad to get feedback on how it makes you feel.

P.S. The horizon hills are being made as a mesh sculpture by my genius collaborator Aaron Griffiths, in New Zealand. Looking fab already, Aaron!


Burl A. 2000 The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. London: Yale University Press.

“…their exits and their entrances…”

obelisk foggy sunrise

The Obelisk through the southern entrance

Outside the henge August 2016


The construction is moving on well, so I think I need to step back, take a breath and think about what I’m learning from all this. It’s easy to get carried away with the research and building as it is so absorbing, but I’ve also realised that I am beginning to develop a different sense of Avebury than I have previously had. I’ve visited the physical place probably more than a hundred times in my life; as I only live 7 miles away it is a place I go to frequently. But constructing a virtual simulation has given me a different perspective, and made me think about some things that have never really struck me before. So these are some thoughts about insides and outsides, and entrances and exits.

Inside the henge August 2016



I’m becoming more and more affected by the difference between being inside and outside the henge in virtual Avebury. In physical world Avebury the outside¬†and inside are not as clearly delineated¬†as there are roads and paths running through the henge and there are several buildings inside it, including a shop and a pub, that block the view across it. In some places it is easy to lose the sense of whether you are inside or outside the henge, but in virtual Avebury the difference is very clear. And that strong sense of being inside or outside has made me realise why the gaps in the ditch and bank system, that are often referred to as entrances, might be so important. The evidence seems to show that the stones in front of the entrances are some of the largest in the complex and that the banks were higher and the ditches deeper as they got close to the entrances, giving them an extra emphasis. There may even have been some wooden supports around the ends of the banks. The act of moving from outside to inside, and the other way round, feels important in virtual Avebury in a way it is harder to comprehend in the present day remains of the henge. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the entrances were for anyone to use; it may have been restricted access for certain people. Or the entrances may not have been for people at all, but for spirits, or light, or something insubstantial. But whatever the gaps in the banks and ditches were for, they certainly feel important, even key, in virtual Avebury.

West entrance closer Aug 2016

West entrance

Another thing that has struck me is that the remaining 3 stones at the entrances today (2 at the southern entrance and¬†1 at the northern entrance) suggest that the builders chose very large, rectangular stones deliberately. The 2 stones at the southern entrance are set square in the ground, whereas the remaining northern stone is set on one of its points to give the iconic Avebury diamond stone shape. In all the years I have been going to Avebury, it didn’t really strike me that the stones are very similar shapes, and they have been deliberately set to create the¬†rectangular and diamond shapes. It was only when I was modelling and setting them that it really struck me. Seems ridiculous that I have looked at these stones for years, but that I hadn’t fully realised the significance of deliberately turning the northern one through 45 degrees compared to the southern ones. ¬†So, I have set the partner of the northern entrance stone in the same way, as it seems likely to me that they were both set as a pair, as are the southern entrance stones. Then I thought about what to do at the eastern and western entrances. Well, perhaps the northern half of the henge was represented by diamond shapes and the southern by rectangular shapes, so I have set the northern stones at the eastern and western entrances as diamonds and the southern stones as rectangles. Of course, that’s my interpretation, but as long as I’m clear about the distinction between evidence and interpretation, that’s fine. After all, without interpretation we wouldn’t be able to make sense of sites like Avebury at all!

Northern entrance Avebury August 2016

Northern entrance

I think that once I extend the southern and western entrances into the West Kennet and Beckhampton avenues, the nature of them is likely to change again, and I’m thinking about different ways in which that might be represented. For example, leaving the grass short inside the avenues and long outside would give a different feel to having a short grass path outside the avenue and leaving the grass long inside. I’ve been creating paths inside the henge to see how that makes it feel – I think that will be the subject of the next post!


An evening stroll

The video below is an update on progress so far (June 2016) in the form of an evening stroll around virtual Avebury to music. I have begun work on a visitor centre/orientation area as I’ve got a couple of conference presentations this month about the project and avatars will be visiting during those presentations. The orientation area is still under construction, as indeed is the rest of the simulation! But I’m making good progress – I’ve started on false horizons (I’ll be fixing the irritating line at the top of the transparent skies on the horizon boards very soon) and have made the first stone. Just a couple of hundred more to go! I’m laying vegetation inside the henge and placing trees and and wild areas outside it, as in this imagined past the inside of the henge is free of trees. I’m creating some paths inside the henge and leaving the avenues with a trodden appearance, but of course this may not have been so. The henge and/or the avenues may have been restricted places.

I’ll make the next post on the blog a more detailed description of the technologies I’m using to create the simulation, both for my use as a record, and if anyone is interested!

P.S. I’ve had a go at making a stereoscopic version of this video for use with Google Cardboard and similar 3D viewers. The video quality is not that great on either the 2D or stereo versions of this video, so I think I need to go back to Camtasia and fiddle with the quality and format settings for capture and export. But, despite that, this is a proof of concept for turning 2D machinima to stereo (not true 3D) video. Works quite well! Thanks for my wonderfully talented son for doing the techy stuff in Adobe After Effects ūüôā Video is at¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAUryz1LuI8 – just go to You Tube and search for ‘Avebury virtual walkthrough’ on your smart phone, set it playing and put into your Google Cardboard or similar viewer.

Augmented reality; seeing the ditch

The picture below is a trigger picture for an Aurasma augmented reality aura, showing how the ditch at Avebury has changed over 4,500 years. This picture is of the north east quadrant of the ditch by what is now the road to Wroughton. I have taken an image of the same stretch of ditch at virtual Avebury and made the pictures to the same scale and register.

To see the augmented image, go to the App store on your Apple or Android tablet or phone and download the Aurasma app. ¬† ¬†Register with a username, password and email address, and then press on ‘discover auras’ and search for lizfal. Press on ‘follow’ and then press the small purple square at the bottom of the page. Your camera viewfinder will open. Find the image in your viewfinder and hold still for a few seconds – you should see the augmented image appear! You have to have a wireless connection or 3G active to be able to see the augmented image.


virtual avebury aurasma ditch trigger



John at The Sanctuary; photo direction north east

Well, we finally got a brief sunny window in the wet weather on Wednesday morning this week (30th Dec) so¬†my husband John and I¬†went out for a post-Christmas walk around the Sanctuary and the West Kennett Avenue at Avebury. It was a gloriously¬†clear morning, so a great time to see the views around the landscape¬†and to take some record photos for when I start the virtual reconstruction. My plan at the moment is to construct a virtual representation of part of the Avebury complex from the Sanctuary, along the West Kennet Avenue¬†and including¬†the Avebury¬†henge itself. It would be really interesting to try to simulate the wider Avebury landscape in a square roughly 3 miles by 3 miles, with¬†Windmill Hill in the north west¬†corner and East Kennet long barrow¬†near the south east corner. But that would be a mammoth undertaking and not really necessary for the purposes of my research. As my research interest is in how groups of virtual landscape users interact with each other and with the environment in virtual reconstructions, I’m going to concentrate upon a section of landscape that I can reasonably create in the time I have available for the research.

Firstly though, what is the Sanctuary? In trying to answer that question we encounter a range of different opinions, as is almost always the case in prehistoric archaeology. All Neolithic monuments were built predominantly from earth, wood and/or stone and what is left to us today can vary from stains in the ground and holes in the chalk from wooden posts, to large banks and ditches and standing stones. The difficulty in interpreting these ancient sites is compounded by the changes that were made over approximately 1,000 years of use from around 3,000 to 2,000 BCE. Over that time period their use would be likely to change and their meaning would also evolve, so it is probably not appropriate to ask what sites like the Sanctuary were for as a single question, but as a series of questions at different time periods. So, as I am interested in the Avebury complex close to the time it was constructed, my questions relate to circa 2,500 BCE.

The Sanctuary is a particularly confusing site. It was first excavated by Maud and Ben Cunnington in 1930 (cited in Pollard 1992), and from their excavations and those carried out subsequently (the last excavation was in 1999 by Mike Pitts [Pitts 2001]) it appears that the earliest structures on the site were concentric rings of wooden posts, first erected around 3,000 BCE. Since the discovery of these post holes there has been split opinion as to whether they supported a roof or whether they were stand-alone posts. In either case, standing stones were later added to the monument finally resulting in a stone circle approximately 40 metres in diameter, possibly still containing wooden circles but definitely containing a concentric stone circle within it. This latter phase of stone construction appears to be contemporary with the construction of the West Kennet Avenue and Avebury henge (i.e. around 2,500 Р2,400 BCE). The Sanctuary appears to have fallen out of use in the early Bronze Age around 2,000 BCE. From human bone and pottery remnants discovered at the site it seems to have been associated with mortuary practices, but its uses, and how those uses evolved over time, is unclear.

Whatever its purpose, it appears that the Sanctuary had considerable significance, as it was incorporated into the Avebury complex as the end point of the West Kennet Avenue. The photographs below show the views of the surrounding landscape from the Sanctuary today. The land rises to the north and east and the view is blocked by the rise of Overton Hill as you can see in the picture of my husband above, so the visual emphasis is very clearly to the south and west. Standing in the Sanctuary you can see how the land drops away to reveal clear views of the East and West Kennet long barrows, Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Avenue to the south and west. We spent around 20 Р30 minutes there, and I became very conscious just in that short time of how my gaze was constantly drawn to the open landscape and the monuments I could see from there. At the time the Sanctuary was in use these monuments would be even more striking in the landscape, particularly if the surrounding woodland had been predominantly cleared by that time.


Looking west from the Sanctuary; the small bump near the skyline left of centre is West Kennet long barrow. West Kennet Avenue led away from the Sanctuary following the lines marked by the rows of stones  leading to the modern-day gate



Zoom of West Kennet long barrow; photo direction facing west



Looking South; East Kennet long barrow under the copse of trees right of centre near horizon



West Kennet Avenue from The Sanctuary; looking north west



On the West Kennet Avenue

These pictures give me a good start for planning the virtual reconstruction and I’ll post my progress on this blog.


Pitts M (2001) Hengeworld. Arrow Books.

Pollard J (1992). The Sanctuary, Overton Hill, Wiltshire: A re-examination. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, vol 58, pp. 213-226.


Adam and Eve

IMG_1651 (640x480)

The Cove at Avebury

I find all the ancient stone circle monuments in the U.K. fascinating and evocative, but Avebury Henge in Wiltshire is right up there as one of my favourites. I guess some of that is to do with its scale and complexity. After all, it has a whole village inside it. The picture to the left is of The Cove, possibly the oldest part of the monument , which consists of 2 large stones, more or less at right angles to each other. It is in the northern inner circle of the henge complex, but is likely to pre-date the henge and circles. There are other coves nearby too, and other large henge monuments such as Stanton Drew near Bristol also have coves in close proximity. In the case of Stanton Drew it is in the nearby pub garden!

The meaning of coves is long lost to time; some theories claim that they are male and female representations as there tends to be one large flat stone and one tall thin stone. They are also known as Adam and Eve stones in some places. Some researchers contend that they may echo the entrance stones to earlier Neolithic long barrows whilst others have noticed astronomical alignments to the midsummer sunrise. But it is impossible at this distance in time to know what they originally signified.


Avebury henge ditch

I am just beginning to study for an Advanced Diploma in Archaeology at Cambridge University, where I’ll be researching the potential of virtual world technologies in helping us to understand ancient sites like Avebury. Whatever these ancient sites were originally for, and however they were used, they seem to have been social places, both when they were being constructed and in use. So I’m fascinated to see if we can gain a different understanding of ancient sites when we reconstruct them in 3D online environments and have the opportunity to interact with them and with other people as we all take the form of avatars and join together in our exploration.¬†This blog will be a diary of my journey through the Diploma, so here goes!