The Sanctuary, Overton Hill


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014563

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 19-Jan-1998


Ordnance survey map of The Sanctuary, Overton Hill
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Avebury

National Grid Reference: SU 11827 68028


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A small number of areas in southern England appear to have acted as foci for ceremonial and ritual activity during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods. Two of the best known and earliest recognised, with references in the 17th century, are around Avebury and Stonehenge, now jointly designated as a World Heritage Site. In the Avebury area, the henge monument itself, the West Kennet Avenue, the Sanctuary, West Kennet long barrow, Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure and the enigmatic Silbury Hill are well-known. Whilst the other Neolithic long barrows, the many Bronze Age round barrows and other associated sites are less well-known, together they define one of the richest and most varied areas of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and ritual monuments in the country.

The Sanctuary forms an integral part of the group of prehistoric ritual monuments concentrated in the Avebury area. Although partially excavated, it survives as a visible and accessible monument which will contain archaeological evidence for the sequence of development from a timber circle to the stone circle structure, and the close association of the latter with the Avenue and Avebury itself.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the Late Neolithic site known as the Sanctuary, situated at the southern end of the West Kennet Avenue and south east of the Avebury henge monument. It occupies a plateau on Overton Hill known as Seven Barrow Hill and overlooks the River Kennet which flows from west to east some 400m south of the monument. The Sanctuary is in the care of the Secretary of State. The monument is known from partial excavation in the 1930s and 1960s to have had two concentric circles of stones and four concentric circles of timber posts. Although these features are no longer visible in their original form, their locations are marked by concrete blocks. The outer stone circle had a diameter of 40m and originally included 42 sarsen stones. The inner stone circle was 15m across and contained 15 or 16 stones. The four timber circles varied in size from between 5m and 21m across and contained between seven and 33 posts. Excavation demonstrated that construction of the site was in four phases, the details of which are as follows: Phase 1: a 5m diameter circle with seven posts forming a circle around a single central post; Phase 2: a 6m diameter circle of eight posts surrounded by a second circle of 11m in diameter consisting of 12 posts. Phase 3: an additional circle of 21m in diameter consisting of 33 posts. It was during the third phase that the smaller stone circle was constructed and an entrance to the structure built on the south eastern side of the monument. Phase 4: the outer stone circle and the Avenue from Avebury were built, replacing the timber structures. This and the fact that the entrance to the Avenue was to the north west, indicate that the Sanctuary was an important monument before the henge at Avebury was built and that it continued to play an important role even after the henge's completion. In addition to the archaeological remains, plans and sketches of the site are known from the 17th and 18th centuries. These show the site with its stones in place prior to their removal in the 19th century. Although the precise function of the site is unclear, a combination of evidence from excavation, the early mapped depictions of the monument and its relationship to other monuments in the Avebury area, suggest that it may have served a ritual purpose, quite possibly as a large circular roofed building. Excluded from the scheduling is the boundary fence which separates the area in which the monument is located from the field to the south, and the concrete blocks, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 21761

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Atkinson, R J C, Stonehenge and Avebury, (1971), 50-1
Stukeley, W, Abury: A Temple of the British Druids, with Some Others, Described, (1743)
Ucko, PJ, Avebury Reconsidered From the 1660's to the 1990's, (1991)
SU16NW107, CAO, The Sanctuary, (1989)
Title: Ordnance Survey 6" Series Source Date: 1961 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing