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When people of the Khanty tribe in western Siberia need to replace the wooden riverside huts used during the winter then the new hut is built upstream of the previous one, if only by a few metres. Not to do so would be considered 'unlucky'. (Jordan 2001) While Peter Jordan offers no further explanation, this is presumably part of a cosmology which – for entirely practical reasons – associates upstream with abstracting clean water and downstream with disposing of foul water.

Daniel Melia has discussed the complex status of water in medieval Irish legal disputes, usually regarding quarrels between mill owners. He tentatively concludes that upstream water was thought of as 'nobler' or more 'senior' (Melia 1982: 376 fn 2). Whether Anglo-Saxons had similar sentiments remains an open question.

Peter Jordan's remarks brought to mind an Anglo-Saxon settlement at Eye Kettleby, on the southern bank of the River Wreake (formerly the Eye) near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. This was excavated about twenty years ago. The oldest structures are downstream of the later ones, which in turn are immediately downstream from the earthworks of a deserted medieval village.

What's this got to do with Avebury? Everything. Two Anglo-Saxon settlements are known. The earlier underlies the area currently used as the main visitors' car park (and probably extends further) while the middle Saxon settlement site was discovered during the construction of the new school in 1970 (now the nursery) and falls just within the sub-rectangular eponymous burh. Both are on the eastern bank of the Winterbourne, and the older one is downstream of the later burh. Interestingly, faint earthwork traces of a deserted medieval settlement probably from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries survive just to the north (and thus further upstream) of the burh.

Furthermore, the small Roman town associated with Silbury Hill is about a mile downstream. In the photo at the head of this page it's in the field on the left beyond the line of trees. If the earliest Saxon settlement was intentionally placed upstream of the Roman town then the successive upstream progression at Avebury spans four known settlement sites and a period of about a thousand years.

Now a car park, once a triving settlement overlooked by Waden Hill.

Silbury Hill seen from the Winterbourne, looking downstream (south). To the left (east) is the mid-Saxon burh. To the immediate left of the meadow is the car park and early-Saxon settlement. Just beyond Silbury was a Roman small town. The remains of a medieval village is a short distance over the photographer's left shoulder (north-east).


Jordan, Peter, 2001, 'Cultural landscapes in colonial Siberia: Khanty settlements of the sacred, the living and the dead', Landscapes Vol.:22, p83–105.

Melia, Daniel Frederick, 1982, 'The Irish church in the Irish laws', in S.M. Pearce (ed),The Early Church in Western Britain and Ireland, BAR British Series 102.

Articles about Anglo-Saxons in and around Avebury

What was a bury?

St Afa

East Kennett: the church on the boundary


Wiltshire battles

Understanding the Wansdykes

Other articles by Bob Trubshaw relevant to Anglo-Saxon Avebury:

Weohs and stapols why Waden Hill is so named.

Places of Anglo-Saxon worship

Anglo-Saxon inauguration sites and rites a possible origin for the King Sil legend associated with Silbury.

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Articles about the prehistory of Avebury and environs

Overview of prehistoric Avebury and environs

Altars not burial mounds

Henges – brands or performances

Henges – dead or alive

Simulacra photos

Sound in the prehistoric landscape

Avebury sunrises and sunsets

Avebury and environs in the Roman period

Articles about Anglo-Saxons in and around Avebury

What was a bury?

St Afa

East Kennett: the church on the boundary


Wiltshire battles

Understanding the Wansdykes

Articles about Medieval life in and around Avebury

Overview of medieval Avebury and environs

St James' – from minster to mother church

St James dedications in Wiltshire

Skew passages

The alien priors

Medieval graffiti

The 'barber-surgeon'

Articles about aspects of Avebury's twentieth century history

Overview of twentieth century Avebury

Avebury ghosts

Keiller's occult connections

Halloween 1938

Mary's annunciation

photo gallery