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Not So Prehistoric Avebury

Avebury Stone Circle is proclaimed as the largest in Europe, forming the centre of what remains of the most impressive Neolithic landscape in Britain. Guidebooks sometimes mention, however, although almost only in passing, that the stones were ‘partly restored’ by Alexander Keiller in the 1930s. The meaning of this ‘part’ restoration was made clear to an unsuspecting public last autumn, when the press learned of the discovery of a cine film of Avebury’s ‘prehistoric’ stones being erected. The heirloom film had lain in a wardrobe for more than thirty years, having last been shown to children in Avebury more than fifty years ago.

Broadcast news footage featured the amateur archaeologist and marmalade millionaire Alexander Keiller, who, having bought large tracts of Avebury, was busily unearthing and erecting in concrete numerous stones that had been buried hundreds of years previously by jealous Christians and obstructed farmers. Keiller also replaced stones that had been removed – broken up for use in buildings and roads – by concrete markers where a receptor pit was evident but no stone was found. He even placed a marker where he thought a megalith should have been, but where no stone nor pit was discovered. Through the installation of these markers and the reinstatement of stones not visible when William Stukeley surveyed Avebury in the early part of the eighteenth century, Keiller fashioned a landscape that no one in Avebury’s history would recognise.

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