3.4 West Kennet Avenue

A further point of interest when considering the viewshed from the Sanctuary is the course of the avenue. The avenue does not go directly to Avebury but veers to the west. Burl (1993, 46) puts this wandering down to the avenue being built in stages. But would a community that could engineer such marvels as Silbury Hill or the stone circles of Avebury not be able to lay a straight line of stones? Figure 5 offers an alternative explanation: the course of the avenue appears to track the edge of the viewshed from the Sanctuary all the way to the point that it disappears just before Avebury. If a direct line were taken, then the avenue would not be visible from the Sanctuary for much of its length. This desire to display the avenue's route can be explained in three ways. Firstly, it can be used to show the path that one will be taking into the land of the ancestors. Seeing a monumental pathway reaching out below would create a sense of awe while at the same time it could give a sense of security: it would have been known that a liminal or dangerous area was being entered but the path could be seen as being well marked and protected, guarded by stone sentinels. Secondly, the display of the avenue would let any who remained at the Sanctuary watch as a procession made its way along the avenue. Thirdly, when returning from the land of the ancestors along the avenue, it would have allowed the Sanctuary to be seen for the majority of the journey, acting as a guiding beacon back to safety in the land of the living.

Figure 5 Figure 6

Figure 5: Viewshed from The Sanctuary.
Figure 6: View from The Sanctuary.

The initial exit of the avenue from the Sanctuary is to the west-north-west, towards Silbury Hill, rather than to the north-west, towards Avebury. This not only gives a good view of Silbury Hill but also of West Kennet long barrow (Figs. 5 and 6). The contrast in the views to these two sites is immediately obvious. Silbury Hillstands proud on the horizon above the end of Waden Hill. However, West Kennet long barrow is slightly below the horizon and one gets the impression of looking down on it, as its tail can be seen beyond its façade (Fig. 7). As one then ventures a little further along the avenue, Silbury Hill recedes behind Waden Hill while the barrow rises up to sit on the horizon where it appears much more dominant (Fig. 8). The metaphor of entering the domain of the ancestors is thus further acted out: the symbol of the living, Silbury Hill, recedes out of sight and out of mind and the symbol of the ancestors, West Kennet long barrow, rises up to dominate and look down on the avenue, as a reminder that a different space is being entered where the ancestors watch and control action.

Figure 7 Figure 8

Figure 7: Viewshed from West Kennet Avenue on leaving the Sanctuary.
Figure 8: Viewshed from West Kennet Avenue at foot of Overton Hill.

It is around this point that the first view of Falkner's Circle (Fig. 8) appears; at the same time the route of the avenue is lost from view shortly ahead of the present position. From approximately 1km away this stone circle appears small. This, coupled with the loss of the avenuefrom sight, may give an exaggerated impression of the distance left to travel, especially if one had been told that the objective of the journey is a gigantic henge (Avebury) and one sees in the distance a henge that appears miniscule. The view from the Sanctuary (Fig. 5) did not take in Falkner's Circle so it was not obvious that the avenue ran past it, not to it.

It is also at this point that the form of the avenue may vary, either becoming discontinuous, consisting of a single line of stones, or having had longer intervals between stones than other sections (Gillings et al. 2008, 139). Gillings et al. ( 2008, 140) suggest several explanations: it may have been thought of as inappropriate to use stones in the avenue so close to the wooden palisade enclosures; if there were a gap here it may have represented a way of crossing the avenue to gain entry to palisade enclosure one; the avenue may have been unfinished at this point; or the presence of earth-fast sarsens here may have meant that stones erected by humans were not required. Alternatively, it may be that the transitory nature of this section and the possible feelings of calmness and shelter (below) might have meant that the protection of the stones was less important.

Figure 9

Figure 9: Viewshed from West Kennet Avenue.

This central section of the avenue has very limited views (Fig. 9). A similar effect is seen at the dip in the Stonehenge avenue just before the henge comes back into view (Exon et al. 2000, 73). It is easy to see this as an area of limbo – the monuments of the living have been left behind and the monuments of the ancestors not yet reached. Furthermore, the area is more sheltered from the wind than the Sanctuary, on top of Overton Hill, and thus the feeling of calmness or stillness may have been emphasised in the later Neolithic as it is sometimes today.

Figure 10

Figure 10: Viewshed from West Kennet Avenue.

As one continues, Falkner's Circle is again temporarily lost to view; when it reappears one is almost upon the lithic scatter site around stones 28-32 (Smith 1965, 206) (Fig. 10). At this point the avenue kinks slightly to the west. This kink is exactly opposite Falkner's Circle and thus allows the avenue to pass it at a slightly higher elevation and from slightly further away than would a direct line. Thus Falkner's Circle appears smaller and the view is more down into the circle than across to it. It would appear that people paused here, at the lithic scatter site, possibly for two reasons. Firstly it would allow preparatory rites to be conducted immediately before Avebury is first encountered. Secondly, it would allow the group to wait in the relative safety of the avenue while a deputation visited Falkner's Circle.


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