Secrets of the Avebury stones: Britain's greatest Megalithic temple - Terence Meaden
224pp, pbk, Souvenir Press, July 1999,
Order from
This is Terence Meaden's second full book on megalithic sites, although as his 1993 book based around Stonehenge was given a major update in 1997, perhaps it counts as his third.

 AVEBURY2.jpg (40424 bytes)As with the previous books the subject of sexual symbolism is an important theme. Male and female stones, earth mother and sky father, specially chosen stones with triangular and cleft shapes. Again he takes a not-quite-new theory touched upon by other authors and explores it in his well-researched and relatively level headed style.

So the 'secret' is that there are dozens of faces in the stones, created by taking advantage of natural irregularities in stone and in some cases augmented by subtle carving. Most represent left facing human profiles, although Meaden also provides photographs of a convincing sheep's head inside West Kennet Long Barrow, and several more stones that show parallels with the Yoni symbolism of the Hindu/Tantric religion, namely having deep slits on display.

Some faces and heads are inescapable, but many rely on shadows at a particular angle to show them clearly. Meaden counters the obvious 'staring at ink blots' criticism by claiming that 50 profiles are left facing, and only nine face to the right. Others can only test whether he has found more left than right through the phenomenon of seeing what one expects to see. I would liked to have seen some evidence that any of these features had been augmented by carving; surely there must be clues to be found in the surface of the stones? I would be more convinced by some independently taken or previously published photographs of the stones showing faces visible. I find the female symbolism in the stones presented more engaging than the faces, perhaps the greater level of abstraction helps.

freeplayer_g2.gif (966 bytes)Terence Meaden gave members of the Stones Mailing List a guided tour of Avebury on the 7th August 1999, just before the solar eclipse. Listen to the tour.
Avebury Tour Part 1 (7'46")
Avebury Tour Part 2 (3'58")

Meaden, who lives not far away in Bradford on Avon has a close personal connection to Avebury, and has put a huge amount of work into this book. Whilst not especially long at 150 pages, his style is succinct and to the point. It is a welcome change that he does not spend half a book re-hashing old ground, and overlapping with the contents of his other books, like some writers in this field I could mention. He lays out the background and history in a few paragraphs and then gets stuck in. He gives a nod to the other authors who have studied Avebury: Drs Burl and Isobel Smith (who wrote up Keiller and Piggot's excavations), Paul Devereux, Michael Dames, and as if to mark a patch of territory he makes a point of correcting one of Burl's observations.

head2.jpg (22331 bytes)Some of the material, such as the reconstruction of the tall obelisk stone and the shadow it cast is an extension of the Yorkshire TV documentary "Secrets of Stonehenge", first shown on Channel 4 and the Discovery channel in New Year 1999. It seems odd that the book wasn't released in time to tie in with the repeat and the general solstice furore in June.

The most interesting part of the book for me is where Terence brings together information about the obscure sites in the vicinity of Avebury that has previously been scattered amongst various archaeological sources, or found by his own extensive study of the area. As someone who has tracked down some of these sites with Megalith Map co-author Alastair McIvor, including staring incredulously at a square patch of scrub in the corner of a field (The Broadstones stone circle), this is fascinating. It shows how many sites are out there to be found, even in this well-explored area of the country. The book also sadly illustrates just how many stones have been damaged and destroyed in the last thirty years, and it appears stones are still being removed from this World Heritage site.

Stone circle completists will be pleased to see details of a site Meaden has re-discovered on Harestone Down. Archaeologist Michael Pitts visited the site, and has an open mind, saying that an excavation will be the only way to resolve the question. He challenges Channel 4 TV's Time Team to explore the site, a sentiment I can only echo here.

A simple factor in favour of this book is how much publishing technology has moved on since the Avebury books of the 1970s. The quantity and quality of the photographic reproductions is worth 12.99 in itself to stones lovers.

206.jpg (39256 bytes)So whilst I'm still a little sceptical on the quantity of faces presented, Meaden must be applauded for the fresh challenges he presents. 'Secrets of the Avebury Stones' follows the spirit, if not the style or eccentricity of 'The Modern Antiquarian' - there are eight figure grid references for many stones, and precise dates and times of the images. This will give hours of amusement for some in tracking down and identifying the faces and obscure stones featured.

Meaden's arguments are convincing enough to open a new avenue in the study of Neolithic carving in Britain and I'm sure even the sceptical who visit Avebury having read this book will see the stones there in a new light, if only to take a second look, tilt their head, and think 'that looks nothing like a head...but hang on a minute, perhaps...'

Review and audio tour by Andy Burnham. Photos by Frank Wayman, who's writtten some pages on our day at Avebury.

Secrets of the Avebury stones: Britain's greatest Megalithic temple - Terence Meaden
Order from

Megaliths, Stone Circles & Standing Stones Megaliths & Archaeology in England & Wales, (including Stonenhenge) Megaliths & Archaeology in Scotland & Ireland Archaeoastronomy Archaeology on TV, English Heritage
Music CDs Videos and DVDs New ideas, Consciousness "Earth Mysteries" /
Earth Lights
Folklore / History / Religion

If the book you're looking for is not here try searching

Search: Enter keywords... logo


Search: Enter keywords... logo
Link to
Click for
Link to
Click for
Back to Megalithic Mysteries