Monday 19 November 2012

The Avenue - Not A Processional Way?

The Avenue - the detailed EH report argues it was never much used as either a processional or stone dragging route. Was it purely symbolic? This conclusion rather goes against the new favourite theory that the stones were designed to be seen by the masses from the heelstone area. -
31/2012 - Stonehenge World Heritage Site Landscape Project: The Avenue and Stonehenge Bottom
Analytical earthwork survey and investigation, by the former Archaeological Survey & Investigation team of EH, of the area to the north of Stonehenge revealed several zones of archaeological interest. Chief among these and well-known is the Avenue which, for the first part of its course, survives as an earthwork. When studied it is more substantial closer to Stonehenge than elsewhere. The lack of hollowing where the Avenue passes over a steep bluff at the ‘elbow’ is highlighted, raising the question of the degree to which the Avenue can ever have been a heavily used route, either for stone moving or processions.

And from the report itself:

...current theories on the purpose of the Avenue see it as a route for the transport of the bluestones from the River Avon or as a commemoration of that route, the argument being that the Avenue follows the easiest gradients from the river. This may be true for most of the route but at one crucial point,the ‘elbow’,it is not. A route a hundred metres or so further west here, utilising the dry valley which runs down from the current car park,would have avoided the steepest part of the low bluff;this, however, would not bring Stonehenge into view on the solstice alignment — it could be argued that the extra effort of bringing the stones up the bluff on that crucial alignment was part of the purpose. Another curiosity of the Avenue’s route up the bluff, however, is the lack of hollowing which we would expect at this point if it had been subjected to heavy traffic for any length of time. This lack of hollowing is clear both from surface observation for the current project and from the excavations. It is precisely on shoulders such as this that hollow ways first develop. This argues somewhat against the ‘elbow’ either as a route for the stones or as a well used procession route over any length of time. If processions did take place up this slope they either did not happen very often or did not involve many people....


  1. Hi Tim

    Rutting occurs as a result of weakening of the top surface layer of a material and is usually approximated to the square of contact pressure (though it's more complex than this).

    What this means in practice is that the route is unlikely to have been used for carts, cattle, dragging of equipment and so on. It also perhaps mitigates against the route being used for people walking in fixed processional lines. However, a lack of rutting does not suggest that the route was not used for large volume light access traffic (people).

    For example, if you walk along the South Downs Way, routes which have vehicle access are rutted. However, routes which are only used for random pedestrian access do not tend to be rutted, despite having had an exceptionally high volume of light access traffic (people) over the last few decades.

    Another way of looking at it is to look at the route around the perimeter of Stonehenge as it exists now. Every year, this route has a volume of people walking around it probably equivalent to the entire population of Britain in the period that Stonehenge was in use.

  2. As the stones themselves seemed 'off limits' for most, perhaps so too with the Avenue. It may well have been only a very few 'chosen' that traversed the route from the river to the monument. Maybe those fields with their older and contemporary monuments were just too sacred for the ordinary people--or full of malign spirits that only priests or chiefs could face unharmed.

  3. Hi Tim & Janet

    I've put forward a book containing a possible theory which links Stonehenge in with some recent research into renewable energy (I put a link on the site earlier).

    We're about to file for grant (the filings are just markers with narrow claims). I thought I'd mention it only because the current filings would mean that English Heritage would no longer be able to claim certain rights if subsequent applications were made by anyone along the same lines.

    Only a concern if Stonehenge was later confirmed to have this link. I've talked to a large number of EH people about this in the past. Nobody I talked to seemed interested or concerned, but though it worth one last mention.

    All the best


  4. One thing in which I have been sorely neglectful is finding a comparative date between the Avenue and the Hedge at the Stones.
    If the Hedge surrounded the edifice, it must have been prior to the Avenue when blasphemous wrong-doers could be prevented from wandering in from anywhere. If contemporary and only partial it was intended to screen the flanks only from the Avenue perspective.

    I for one believe the Avenue was a Processional for both Big-Shots as well as the rank & file. The Big-Wigs would lead the Procession and either enter the Circle or hang about the Heelstone. Steve the Dustman and his ilk would have a seat on the grass beyond. It would be interesting, if along the ditches or bank, we were to find the equivalent of a Neolithic lunch-box.

    Someone recently said that the Ice Striations were actually gouge-marks left from dragging the Stones. This makes little sense to me, as it is widely presumed that they used a kind of sledge arrangement to haul the Stones from Fyfield, So why dismount this great honking brick only to drag it the last 500 yards? Lots of direct & indirect evidence indicates that the channels in the chalk were made by Ice, so let's put that one to bed.

    Perhaps I'm biased, as I have always been a vocal proponent for these coincidentally aligned gouges used as a rationale for Stonehenge being situated in this otherwise really boring location.
    (My previous detractors are somewhat muted now, as it’s clear that recently some pretty heavy-hitters have come to profess this.)

    Anyway, as the workstation for shaping the Stones is located slightly to the west of the Avenue, north of the Heelstone, it becomes doubtful that the crafted track was used for transport. Also, the Stones were probably in place before the Avenue was built.

    So then, to paraphrase Jon Morris, simple foot-traffic would leave little evidence, while carts or sledges would leave ruts ― ergo: a fancy Processional winding through an otherwise Sacred Landscape, avoiding nearby Mounds & Barrows.

    Notice also that this Boulevard mimics the peculiar inner bank of the main Henge. If, as I suspect, this bank was intended as a symbolic Barrier between the Sunny Overworld and the Blackness beyond Sky, it follows that the Avenue was built as a safe route by which to navigate across the landscape unmolested by Evil Spirits.

    So, in conclusion, I believe the Avenue to have been both a Processional on its long run from the River, as well as front row theater seats, if you will, for the Regular People to celebrate whatever it was they celebrated.

    Best from this chair,


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