This is a fabulous new book from Steve Marshall, beautifully organized, filled with stunning images and with enough hard information to keep everybody happy. Steve's cool and laid-back approach comes through in the text, which is clear and concise -- thankfully there is an emphasis on what we know rather than on what we would like to know. So fantasy is kept at bay, and what we have in its place is a highly informative portrait of a fascinating place which almost everybody seems to prefer to Stonehenge.
In reading through the text, I was greatly taken by the section on sarsen "drifts" (p 14), and the images of the Valley of Stones on Fyfield Down are both atmospheric and revealing. Then there is a good section on the mode of formation of sarsen stone. On p 41 there is a fine section (again illustrated by gorgeous images) on the West Kennet Long Barrow. This is one of the most interesting long barrows in Britain, not least because it is so old -- it's assumed to have been built almost 6,000 years ago. This is one intriguing quote:
In today’s restored monument, virtually all the sarsen stone is original. However, the original construction also included sections of dry walling made with small, thin slabs of limestone imported from outside the area, as commonly found in other Cotswold-Severn long barrows. Much of the stone used as dry walling in the WKLB was identified as originating from Calne, 7 miles to the west; some though, came from an area between Frome and Bradford-on-Avon, some 20 miles to the south-west. Well over a ton of this ‘foreign’ stone had been imported to build the barrow.
As at Newgrange, it seems that the big stones were used more or less where they were found, and infilling or facade materials were carried in from a few miles away. That would not have been a major task -- but one is of course quite justified in wondering whether some of the small stones might be erratic material, carried in by ice from the west........ some of the infill slabs and blocks look quite fresh, and Steve mentions that around a tonne of original (Neolithic) material was so rotten by 1950 that it was replaced by new dry walling stone brought in from Calne. Some of the small slabs look to me (in the photos) to be very worn -- I wonder whether stone shapes and abrasion features have ever been systematically studied?
On p 64 there is a useful explanation of how the stones in the main Avebury stone settings were emplaced. Steve cites the geophysical work of Martin Papworth in identifying a hundred or so buried stones and also sockets assumed to have held monoliths at some stage; but since the majority of the standing and recumbent stones appear to have come from the immediate neighbourhood, some of the holes interpreted as "sockets" might of course simply be extraction pits. These are difficult to tell apart without physical examination -- and even then, the task is not an easy one.
On p 104 there is a chapter called "Where did the stones come from? Again, this is comprehensive, well illustrated and quite revealing. Good geology, simply explained. The ten "primary stones" are assumed to have been used more or less where they were found, but the abundant "henge stones" are thought to have been brought in as batches with certain physical differences (colour, texture etc) from sources not far away. On p 109 there is a good section on possible extraction pits. The author is not particularly keen on confrontation, but he does suggest (ever so politely) that there is no evidence to support the widely-cited Atkinson theory that the Avebury sarsen stones were carried to the site by heroic Neolithic stone-hauling squads from the Marlborough Downs......
Silbury Hill and lots of other features in the Avebury landscape are also dealt with in detail -- there is far too much to cover in a short review. But buy the book! It's very informative, and Steve deserves our congratulations. And even if you are not into detailed archaeology, buy it as an essential piece of archaeo photographic porn to share with your dinner guests! I hope it sells well.
First published 2016
The History Press, The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire, Gl5 2QG www.thehistorypress.co.uk
isbn 978 0 7509 6766 2
soft cover, 226 x 248mm, 144 pages, full colour, £14.99
From Steve's site:
- West Kennet Avenue
- Silbury Hill
- West Kennet long barrow
- The Sanctuary
- Windmill Hill
- Marlborough Mound
- Beckhampton Avenue
- West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures
- Devil's Den
- Adam's Grave
- East Kennet long barrow
- Fyfield Down Valley of Stones
- Lockeridge Dene
- Alton Yew & Springs
- Swallowhead Springs
- and more...