New Tools at Avebury
Burton, Nick, Antiquity
Although significant to societies at a local, regional and national level for up to 6000 years, the prehistoric landscape of Avebury, Wiltshire, was formally attributed the accolade of being `globally important' in November 1986. At this time the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) inscribed Avebury onto the growing list of World Heritage Sites (http://www.unesco.org/ whc), and along with England's most notorious prehistoric monument, `Stonehenge, Avebury, and associated sites' (C373) was created.
The joint nomination of both Avebury and Stonehenge by the UK government was rational. At a time when no UK sites were on the list, seven UK applications were being presented to UNESCO and it was considered that there would be a better chance of both landscapes being accepted if they were considered as one site. Indeed, in comparison with the variety of cultural and temporal variation in nominations, Stonehenge and Avebury are similar. It is true that upon closer inspection there are both comparable and contrasting patterns of monument type, construction, use and disuse, but when comparing these differences to those between here and Durham Castle or Ironbridge Gorge, for example, Stonehenge and Avebury certainly have an affinity.
However, the two landscapes are over 20 km apart, which presents problems when approaching the management and study of the cultural environment. Between the two areas lies the broad Vale of Pewsey and the upland of Salisbury Plain which has meant that, to consider the World Heritage Site effectively, two boundaries have been delineated, one for each landscape. This has some advantages. Further to their geographical separation, very different situations have arisen at both sites. For example, Avebury has a village community at the heart of the landscape whereas Stonehenge is more isolated from settlements. However, Stonehenge is troubled by busy roads and the impact of a concentration of visitors on one very small patch of ground. The creation of two boundaries has meant that it is possible, when necessary, to consider them separately.
The production of Management Plans has been one such occasion and Avebury has been the first of the two to pass through this process (Pomeroy 1998). This is not unique to UK sites and follows previous plans for Hadrian's Wall (1996) and Greenwich (1997). What has been unique at Avebury, however, is the construction of a spatial database alongside, and as part of, the formulation of the Management Plan. The construction of the Avebury WHS Geographical Information System (GIS) has been established with the aim of integrating data already held by various bodies, recording information resulting from the production of the plan, helping to formulate decisions and, most importantly, becoming a fundamental tool in aiding the implementation of any recommendations.
The database has been developed in consultation with the Avebury WHS Steering Committee and Avebury Archaeological and Historical Research Group, by English Heritage at its Centre for Archaeology. A GIS study area of 13x12 km has been chosen -- an area much larger than the limits of the WHS boundary at Avebury. …