Books, Prehistory, Avebury A Temple of British Druids, Avebury Chapter VI

Avebury Chapter VI is in Avebury A Temple of British Druids, With Some Others, Described by William Stukeley.

Concerning antiquities found about this place; with a more particular chorography of the country around. Description of the roman road here, via Badonica. A plain demonstration that these works we are writing upon, are older than the roman times. Another like demonstration. Of Divitiacus, of the british Belgæ, who made the wansdike. A Druid axe or celt, found under one of the stones in Abury. Burnt bucks-horns, charcoal, and the like.

SEVERAL Roman coins have from time to time been found here, and in the neighbouring fields. A mile off goes the roman way, which I have described in my Itinerary, p. 132. called Via Badonica, being the way from London to Bath. It comes from Marlborough Cunetio, crosses the Hakpen-hill [Map] by Overton-hill, quite over the neck of the snake belonging to our temple, goes close by Silbury-hill, thro' Bekamton-fields; then, a little southward of the tail of the snake, ascends Runway-hill, up the heath, where 'tis very plain, just as the Romans left it. Plate IX. exhibits a view of it from the present road to Bath and Devizes, and at the same time affords us a demonstration that our Druid antiquities, which we are here describing, are prior in time to these works of the Romans. This way is not composed, as they generally are, of materials fetched from a distance, made into a high bank, but only a small ridge of chalk dug up all along close by. We discern upon the heath the little pits or cavities, on both sides, whence it was taken to make the ridge of the road. For this road is not finished, though mentioned in Antoninus's itinerary, journey XIV, only chalked out, as we may properly say. Moreover, the workmen for readiness, have pared off above half of a sepulchral barrow on the right hand, of a very finely turned bell-like form, to make use of the earth; and there is a discontinuance of the line of the little cavities there for some time, till it was not worth while any longer to fetch materials from it. And on the left hand they have made two of their little pits or cavities within the ditch of a Druid's barrow (as I call them) and quite dug away the prominent part of the barrow, consisting of a little tump over the urn, inclosed with the circular ditch of a much larger dimension. This observation is of a like nature with that of Plate IV. of Stonehenge. It must be noted, that this roman road here, being marked out only; I suppose it was done toward the declension of their empire here, when they found not time to finish it.

I could well enough discern from which point the roman workmen carryed this way, by observing the discontinuity of these little pits, on account of the materials they took from the larger barrow, viz. from Cunetio Marlborough, to Verlucio Hedington, and so to Bath.

This road, as it goes farther on, and passes to the other side of Runway-hill (Roman-way hill) gives us two other remarkable appearances, both which are seen in Plate X. which I have repeated again in this book, to which it 27more properly belongs. It serves to rectify our notions concerning the high antiquity of the temple we are writing upon. 1. We discern the artifice of the roman workmen, in conducing their road along the precipicious side of this hill, and preserving at the same time the straight line, as much as may be. 2. We see a part of the famous Wansdike, or boundary of the belgic kingdom in Britain, drawn under their king Divitiacus, spoken of by Cæsar in his commentaries. He built the neighbouring town, the Devizes, so called from his name, and most probably the city of his residence. I treated of this matter in Stonehenge. 3. We may remark the union of the roman road and Wansdike, for some space, and a proof that Wansdike was made before this roman road, because the bank of the dike is thrown in, in order to form the road. Cæsar says, this Divitiacus, king of the Suessions in Gaul, lived an age before him.

Table XIV. Prospect of the Cove [Map] Abury 10 July 1723.

At the bottom of this hill is Hedington, another roman town, called Verlucio. Calne, less than five mile off Abury, was a roman town too, where many roman coins are found. Several of them I saw. Hence, the romans being very frequent in this country, 'tis no wonder their coins are found about Abury. I think I may well be excused from entering into a formal argumentation to prove that we must not hence gather, the Romans were founders of Abury. In my own opinion, who have duly considered these affairs, the temple of the Druids here is as much older than the roman times, as since the Romans to our own time.

Return we down Runway-hill, and contemplate that most agreeable prospect, of which I have given a faint representation in Plate XI. We see here the whole course of this Via Badonica hence, in a straight line to Marlborough, by Silbury-hill, the great tomb of the founder of Abury. I saw several roman coins found about this road on Overton-hill, near the white-hart alehouse. On the left hand is the strong roman camp of Oldbury. Every where we behold great numbers of the barrows of the old Britons, regarding the temple of Abury. On the right hand we may discern a vast length of the Wansdike, carried along the northern edge of the high range of hills parting north and south Wiltshire. Below is a pretty work like a roman camp, cut in the fine turf. It should seem to be somewhat belonging to the Druids, of which afterwards.

Beside some roman coins accidentally found in and about Abury, I was informed of a square bit of iron taken up under one of the great stones, upon pulling it down. I could not learn particularly what it was, tho' no doubt it belonged to the British founders. They found likewise a brass ax-head, under an ash-tree dug up near the smith's shop by the church. I understood, by the description they gave of it, it was one of those Druid axes or instruments called Celts, wherewith they cut the misletoe, fastening it occasionally on the end of the staff, which they commonly carryed in their hands, one of the insignia of their office, as a pastoral staff of bishops.

When the Lord Stowell [Note. Ralph Stawell 1st Baron Stawell], who owned the manor of Abury, levelled the vallum on that side of the town next the church, where the barn now stands, the workmen came to the original surface of the ground, which was easily discernible by a black stratum of mold upon the chalk. Here they found large quantities of bucks' horns, bones, oyster-shells, and wood coals. The old man who was employed in the work says, there was the quantity of a cart-load of the horns, that they were very rotten, that there were very many burnt bones among them.

They were remains of the sacrifices that had been performed here; probably before the temple was quite finished, and the ditch made. These are all the antiquities I could learn to have been found in and about the town of Abury.