Tag Archives: landscape

“…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!


Adding a soundscape

Thanks to Phill at Satsymph, I now have a first pass at a soundscape in virtual Avebury; wind sounds, skylark, buzzard, wolf and roe deer – wonderful! Here is a video of a short walk with the soundscape playing, and I’ve also been experimenting with waving grass, as it didn’t seem quite right to have wind sound and no movement in foliage. As a first pass I’m pleased with how this is looking – still lots to do though. More stones are also starting to appear as I get to grips with Blender, but I’m still very unhappy with the textures on the stones, so still got a way to go with that, I think. I’ve signed up for a 5 week 3D modelling course on FutureLearn this week, so hoping to make faster progress as a result of that!

As a technical footnote, I’m using this blog as the streaming service for the media stream to Kitely, so you can hear the soundscape .wav file by clicking on the player below.



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 – 2,400 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 – 30 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.