The World Heritage Site of Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites lies within Wiltshire. World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO after a lengthy assessment of the international significance of their cultural or natural heritage. The UK currently has 25 sites inscribed.
Stonehenge is the United Kingdom's most famous prehistoric site. The stone circle, with its shaped stones, lintels and unique jointing, is unparalleled in the world. Probably built for ceremonial activities, it was originally approached along the Avenue, a processional way aligned with the midsummer sunrise. This enigmatic monument is a powerful testimony to a civilization of 5000 years ago.
The first phase of development in the Neolithic period (around 3000BC) was a large earthen bank and ditch ('henge'), later complemented by timber settings. Circa 2500BC a double crescent of 'blue stones' transported from Wales was built, and soon after a new circle with larger sarsen stones was constructed. The monument continued to be used until about 1500BC when it appears to have been abandoned.
Stonehenge is surrounded by a landscape of international importance for its dense concentration of prehistoric remains. It includes several groups of Bronze Age burial mounds, some ancient settlements and field systems, and other distinctive monuments such as the Cursus, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls. The Stonehenge World Heritage Site covers 2,600 hectares of farmed land and chalk grassland, also important as a natural habitat.
The Avebury complex of sites and monuments, situated on the edge of the Marlborough Downs, represents a unique surviving example of outstanding human endeavour in Neolithic times and later. Avebury is the largest stone circle in Britain where some 180 local, unshaped stones were used. The circle and associated sites are seen in juxtaposition to later historic features - small villages, designed parklands and large manor houses. These contribute to a distinctive historic cultural landscape. The particularly rich assemblage of archaeological sites, both visible and buried, provides an important record of past landscape patterns and use.
Avebury is one of a small number of areas in southern Britain, which appears to have acted as foci for ceremonial and ritual activities during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Avebury is one of the richest and most varied of these areas. The remarkable survival of the monuments such as the Henge, Stone Circle and Avenue, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, The Sanctuary and Windmill Hill, provides a unique dimension to a landscape where major archaeological discoveries are still being made.
(With thanks to the Local Authority World Heritage Forum.)
Last updated: 23 February 2011