ENGLAND ***Avebury, Wiltshire: largest stone circle in Britain, surrounded by an earthen bank, almost a mile in circumference. Leading to it is a great avenue of standing stones. Nearby are Silbury Hill, a conical 'step pyramid', Windmill Hill ditched enclosure (a ceremonial centre, 3500 BC) and the great tomb at West Kennet (3500 BC). *Castlerigg, Cumbria: beautiful stone circle, 30 metres across, erected in c 3000 BC. **Grimes Graves, Norfolk: not graves at all, this site was a huge flint-mining complex with more than 360 shafts and three miles of underground galleries. Mining started in c 3300 BC and went on for 1,700 years. One small underground area is open to the public. **Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire: stone circle, made up of 77 stones (3000 BC). ***Stonehenge, Wiltshire: this ancient temple was built at the very end of the neolithic period in about 2100 BC. Other parts of the complex date from the bronze age. **Wayland's Smithy, Oxfordshire: according to legend this ancient tomb was the abode of a metal-working god who would magically shoe the horses of any traveller. The structure, however, dates to 1,500 years before the introduction of metal into Britain.
WALES *Barclodiad y Gawres, Anglesey: a tomb decorated with mysterious carved symbols. Another Anglesey tomb site is Bryncelli Ddu.
SCOTLAND **Brodgar, Orkney: impressive stone circle. Nearby, **Stenness (3000 BC) is a second great circle, and a tall standing stone (5.6 metres high). **Callanish, Lewis: a complex of stone avenues radiating from a stone circle. Dates from c 2500 BC and was probably the temple in Britain (the land of the north wind) referred to by early Greek explorers. *Camster, Caithness: two great tombs (with internal burial chambers) standing on bleak moorland; ***Maes Howe, Orkney: magnificent 3000 BC tomb with corbelled roof; ***Skara Brae, Orkney: one of the least known - but most important - archaeological sites. Here in 1850 a winter storm blew away a great sand dune to expose a perfectly preserved neolithic village built in c 2900 BC - stone beds, stone dressers, wall cupboards and hearths. Two more neolithic houses - even older (3200 BC) - can be visited at *Knap of Howar on the island of Papa Westray, Orkney.
IRELAND ***Newgrange, Co Meath: decorated with mysterious symbols, this huge tomb (3000 BC) forms part of an extraordinary cemetery of 40, often large, neolithic mounds covering three square miles. The largest tomb in the complex is at **Knowth, rich in symbol art.
BRITTANY ***Barnenez: the oldest of western Europe's neolithic stone monuments (4700 BC), built as a multiple tomb; ***Carnac: greatest complex of prehistoric standing stones with 2,671 out of 10,000 surviving in three groups - Menec, Kerlescant and Kermario - the 'village of death'. See also the burial mound - the tumulus St Michel. ***Gavr'inis: covered in mysterious carvings of stylised goddesses, suns, axes, snakes and other symbols, this great funerary temple was constructed in c 4000 BC. ***Locmariaquer: the Great Broken Menhir (stone obelisk) now broken in five pieces, was once 20.3 metres long and built, some scholars believe, for astronomical observations. Nearby at Les Pierres Plates see another tomb, covered in carvings, believed by some to represent human ribs, stomachs, hearts, lungs and livers. A second tomb, La Table-des-Marchands, is also rich in carvings.
CHANNEL ISLANDS **La Hougue Bie, Jersey: neolithic funerary temple. Recent excavations have revealed that it was built as a vast two-tier stone-faced truncated cone.
NETHERLANDS *Papeloze Kerk: the 'priestless church', is one of a series of impressive neolithic tombs in the province of Drenthe. Constructed of 18 giant stones. Others in the area can be seen at Shimmeres, Havelte West and De Tweeling van Bronneger.
PORTUGAL ***Monchique: large complex of 3500 BC tombs containing beehive-shaped grave chambers. Excavations yielded stone knives, daggers, pieces of elephant ivory and model phalluses. **Valverde: the great tomb of Anta Grande do Zambujeiro.
SPAIN ***Antequera: three large tombs - the Cueva de la Viera, the Cueva de Romeral, and the Cueva de Menga.
MUSEUMS: the British Museum, London, has a good collection of neolithic pottery, flint implements and arrowheads. The Musee des Antiquites Nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, has a superb collection of neolithic jewellery, made from gold, greenstone, shell and discs of human cranium, as well as carvings, pottery and weapons.
FURTHER READING: books covering this period can be on the academic side, but some are suitable for the general reader. Neolithic Europe by A W R Whittle (Cambridge University Press, pounds 15.95); The Domestication of Europe by I Hodder (Blackwell, pounds 14.99); Knowth and the Passage Tombs of Ireland by G Eogan (Thames & Hudson, pounds 12.95); Newgrange by M J O'Kelly (Thames and Hudson, pounds 14.95); Prehistoric Britain by T Darvill (Batsford, pounds 15.99); Megalithic Mysteries by M Balfour (Dragon's World, pounds 19.95), from which all the pictures on these pages are taken; Megalithomania by John Michell (Thames and Hudson, pounds 8.95), an entertaining account of the many rival theories; Prehistoric Avebury by Aubrey Burl (Yale University Press, pounds 12.95), an accessible history of the Wiltshire site; Stonehenge: Archaeology and Interpretation by R J C Atkinson (Penguin, pounds 5.99) and Stonehenge Complete by Chippendale (Thames and Hudson, pounds 10.95); The Shire Archaeology series books (pounds 3.95 each).
These are available from good bookshops, and mail order from Daunt Books for Travellers, 83 Marylebone High St, London W1M 3DE (071-224 2295).
(Map omitted)Reuse content