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Landscape Mysteries - Programme 8:The Terraces of Avalon

Updated Monday, 24th October 2005

For many years, one of the mysteries surrounding Glastonbury has been the origin of a series of stepped terraces on the tor. Were they part of a Neolithic worshipping ground, and are they a clue to the myths and legends which have long been linked to Glastonbury?

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Having established that the terraces could not have been formed by natural geological processes, Aubrey learns that some believe the terraces form a maze, created in Neolithic times. But were people living around here four thousand years ago? There’s little archaeological evidence from the tor itself but down on the Somerset levels there are signs of human occupation. Remains of trackways suggest people lived on islands in a flooded plain, but it seems the tor at this time was wooded, so could not have been terraced.

Aubrey wonders if the terraces were linked to fortifications on the tor, perhaps associated with the legend of King Arthur. But it seems the legend was a concoction by the monks at Glastonbury Abbey, and a geophysical survey of one of the terraces finds no trace of building.

Aubrey then investigates the Abbey more closely. It’s known that the monks drained the flooded Somerset levels to get more pasture and he concludes they probably cut the terraces on the tor to give strips of dry land for crops.

It seems the medieval monks at Glastonbury were equally adept at managing the physical and mythical landscape. The original purpose of the terraces may have been forgotten – but the myths concocted back in the 13th Century continue to swirl around the tor.

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