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Avebury’s Stones Selected Shaped Carved

by Di Pattison
Stan Burg Publishing, Cambridge, MA, 2013
328 pp., CD Included, illus. (tot. 199) 88 col/111 b & w. Paper,
ISBN-10: 0957650515.

Reviewed by Jason Paul Stansbie, Research Fellow
Transtechnology Research
University of Plymouth


I have a keen interest in the Neolithic, and as a hobbyist archaeologist I love nothing more than investigating large stone circles. Living in Birmingham for many years meant that I had the privilege of visiting one of the best know henges, Avebury, many, many times. Upon receiving Di Patterson’s book, Avebury Stones, Selected, Shaped, Carved, I have been delighted to see the hidden magnificence within these magnificent familiars.

Visiting Avebury, two types of people can be seen in the circles. The first is the tourist; these individuals usually spend a little time walking amongst the stones, maybe touch a few of them and then depart. However, the second group tend to spend many hours communing with the stones, inspecting them, feeling them, lying on them, dowsing, etc.  Many have claimed to see the ‘spirit’ or personality of the stone to emerge; Di Pattison appears to belong to this second group.

Pattison’ s book comprises of 33 chapters, six sections and a CD holding explanatory notes, additional research, discussion of interpretation of imagery and colour photos, a stone by stone history and glossary; this is an extensive and large piece of work – not only in depth but also physicality. The book also comprises two excellent introductions with inclusive figures and diagrams; supportive colour photography, a deep reflective conclusion, a robust bibliography, and a selection of websites for reference; Avebury Stones is a professionally constructed book that overall meets its aims and misses only a well constructed index.

Pattison’s book is a beautiful piece of work with the following aim:

“This is the first book to examine the possible reason why Avebury’s stones were chosen; to determine whether and where deliberate shaping and carving took place and if so to understand precisely how this was done; to identify the entire corpus of shaped and carved stones; to enable others to distinguish the ancient worked surfaces from the unworked, the damaged ones and those containing natural images.” (p. 11)

To achieve these aims, Pattison breaks the book into six sections thus:

Part 1 examines the sarsen stones in various comparative contexts preparing the way for the study of the shaped and dressed megaliths.

Part 2 prepares the reader to distinguish between on-site artefactual making and those of destruction and accident.

Part 3 considers further reasons for the selection of Sarsen for monument-building.

Part 4 & 5 focus on the corpus of carvings, pulling in chalk carvings at Windmill Hill and exploring the nature of megalithic imagery.

Part 6 presents Keiller’s drawings, assessing the likely extent to which the underground portions of formerly buried stones might be artificially shaped.


When reviewing this work, I was instantly struck by the beauty of the collective pages. The book holds just short of 200 images, some figures, others supportive colour photographs, that help to illuminate the content.

“This book demonstrates in detail that the majority of megaliths now standing at Avebury henge and in the avenue plus others at the long barrow were worked, a number very intensively, by people who had no metal tools yet who could nevertheless shape this exceptionally hard local rock, called Sarsen, dress or refine and in other ways alter the surface appearance and carve it.” (p. 7)

Pattison achieves an expert introduction, setting the scene for art in the landscape and asserts that Avebury is, in fact, a massive land-art complex that incorporates Stone Henge, the Sanctuary, West Kennet long-barrow and the Avenue, with Sarsen stones chosen, shaped and dressed to achieve particular effects.

To cement this argument, Pattison presents many compelling figures and supportive photographs that once seen are obvious, for instance, the horned head (p.196), large faces (p. 201, 205, 266, 267), stones that seem to be talking to each other (p. 266) and stones carved in the shape of animals (p. 269) Pattison’s central theme running through this work is that of tool marks upon the stones, something that she provides expert evidence to support.

Moving onto the CD accompanying this book, an astonishing amount of technical data is contained with colour photographs also appearing on the disk. This information is a great accompaniment to the main text and adds a real depth to the work conducted by Pattison.

However, I do feel that the professionalism exhibited within the book has not followed into the production of the CD. The web-interface to the CD, I feel, lacks a polished finish although this does not distract from the content upon the disk. This lack of usability, I feel, is a shame and detracts from the package as a whole. Colour photos are presented with titles such as ‘figure 1 - West Kennet avenue from Waden Hill’, ‘figure 4 - Embankment and ditch near eastern portal’ and ‘figure 6 - Silbury Hill’. However, referencing the book, these figures do not resemble the figures in the main body of the work. With this issue aside, the CD does contain a vast amount of other information that lends weight and depth to the book. I do, however, feel that this work could have been better organised with a more polished interface. Also I feel that the CD could have presented each of the stones photographed so that the reader could have zoomed in to see more detail of the marks mentioned throughout the main book – something I hope will appear in future additions.

Overall, I feel that this text achieves its aims even with the quality of the CD detracting a little from a polished product. However, I cannot fault the main text and the depth of research, evidence and archaeology presented within the pages. Pattison makes a strong case for the reader to look at the stones in a new light.

This book will, I feel, appeal to many people from the enthusiastic new-ager, the hobbyist archaeologist, the coffee table reader, and the spiritual seeker. I also feel that this is a book that I will have to read many times to discover the subtleties within its pages, a task that I look forward to greatly.

Last Updated 28th November 2014

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