Encounters with the Neolithic (2)

(Read Part 1.)

Avebury beeches 1

When Alexander Keiller, the marmalade magnate, restored Avebury Ring in the 1930s, they cleared a lot of trees. But for whatever reason a few token beech trees were left, and these have now become a focus of reverence perhaps rivaling the stones themselves.

Avebury beeches 2

Decades of foot traffic from visitors have exposed the roots, and exposed beech roots are nothing if not eldritch. Though so often over-use can end up devaluing or even destroying something, especially in nature, in this case the beech trees seem almost to have gained in power as an indirect consequence of having so many people attributing power (or “energy,” etc.) to them.

Avebury beeches 3

Or not. When we started looking a bit more closely, we realized that the trees were littered with prayers and offerings.

Avebury beeches 7

Flowers, ribbons, Native American dreamcatchers, photos, written-out prayers, crosses, hammers of Thor — you name it, they had it.

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Nor were all the worshipers British, apparently. So tempting as it may be to dismiss all this as evidence of the peculiarly British appetite for eccentricity, I think there’s a lot more to it than that.

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In fact, I don’t dismiss it at all. Although I am far from a New Ager or neo-pagan myself, I am very interested in how people relate to the natural landscape, especially in this age of deep alienation from nature.

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Of course, not everyone approaches these trees with the same degree of reverence.

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But not all the graffiti carved into the bark appeared secular in origin.

Avebury beeches 9

Holes formed either by human scarring or disease had been converted into miniature altars for the placement of glass balls, probably purchased (as “healing crystals”) in the village bookshop.

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Clearly, modern humans can relate to a place like Avebury in a number of complex ways. I myself kept up a running commentary of jokes, but that didn’t mean I was completely insensitive to the intense charisma of these big old trees and their standing-stone neighbors. It occurred to me that the people who built Avebury and the surrounding sites were, in all likelihood, every bit as varied and conflicted as we are. That impression only intensified as the day wore on.

(Continue to Part 3.)

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

2 Comments


  1. Enjoying these posts, Dave. I never went to Avebury, but did go to Stonehenge when you could still walk among the stones. It was foggy, and hardly anyone else was there: it was one of the more memorable mornings of my life. But no beech trees or offerings or picnics!

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