Silbury Hill


Malborough & Avebury,

Wiltshire

11th February 2011

[2]


Leaving the village of Avebury, we followed another loop of the stone circles and the henge beyond and made our way along the stone West Kennett avenue that led back to the car. Excavations in the 1930s indicated that around 100 pairs of standing stones had lined the avenue and that they dated to around 2200 BC based on finds of Beaker burials found beneath some of the stones. The Bell-Beaker culture is the term for a widely scattered cultural phenomenon of prehistoric western Europe starting in the late Neolithic running into the early Bronze Age. Beaker culture is defined by the common use of a pottery style — a beaker with a distinctive inverted bell-shaped profile found across the western part of Europe during the late 3rd millennium BC. The pottery is well-made, usually red or red-brown in colour, and ornamented with horizontal bands of incised, excised or impressed patterns. The early Bell Beakers have been described as "International" in style, as they are found in all areas of the Bell Beaker culture. From where we had parked the car, another path leads over the hillside. Silbury Hill emerges into view on the other side. Access to the mound is forbidden, although it is clear that many disobey the request. We circumnavigated the ancient monument, at one point walking along the road running directly past it, until we picked up a path once more that led us back over the hillside. It is astonishing that to this day, the purpose of it's construction remains a mystery.

 

Along West Kennett Avenue, walking back to the car. In the distance lies West Kennett Long Barrow.

 

 

Zoltan, a self-portrait, West Kennett Avenue.

 

 

 

 

 

Along West Kennett Avenue, near Avebury.

 

At 37 metres high, Silbury Hill – which is part of the complex of Neolithic monuments around Avebury, which includes the Avebury Ring and West Kennett Long Barrow – is the tallest prehistoric human-made mound in Europe and one of the largest in the world; it is similar in size to some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids. Its original purpose however, is still highly debated. Composed mainly of chalk and clay excavated from the surrounding area, the mound covers about 5 acres. It is a display of immense technical skill and prolonged control over labour and resources. Archaeologists calculate that Silbury Hill was built about 4750 years ago and that it took 18 million man-hours, or 500 men working for 15 years to deposit and shape 248,000 cubic metres of earth and fill on top of a natural hill. The base of the hill is circular and 167 metres in diameter. The summit is flat-topped and 30 metres in diameter. A smaller mound was constructed first, and in a later phase much enlarged. The initial structures at the base of the hill were perfectly circular: surveying reveals that the centre of the flat top and the centre of the cone that describes the hill lie within a metre of one another.

There are indications that the top originally had a rounded profile, but this was flattened in the medieval period to provide a base for a building, perhaps with a defensive purpose. The first phase, carbon-dated to 2400 50 BC, consisted of a gravel core with a revetting kerb of stakes and sarsen boulders. Alternate layers of chalk rubble and earth were placed on top of this: the second phase involved heaping further chalk on top of the core, using material excavated from an encircling ditch. At some stage during this process, the ditch was backfilled and work was concentrated on increasing the size of the mound to its final height, using material from elsewhere. The step surrounding the summit dates from this phase of construction, constructed either as a precaution against slippage, or as the remnants of a spiral path ascending from the base, used during construction to raise materials and later as a processional route.  Few prehistoric artifacts have ever been found on Silbury Hill: at its core there is only clay, flints, turf, moss, topsoil, gravel, freshwater shells, mistletoe, oak, hazel, sarsen stones, ox bones, and antler tines. Roman and medieval items have been found on and around the site since the nineteenth century. Evidence exists that the hill was reoccupied by later peoples.

 

  

 

Ascending the hillside away from West Kennett Avenue as we made our way towards Silbury Hill.

 

 

Approaching Silbury Hill - though out of bounds to visitors, this is largely ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

  

Pondering the origins of Silbury Hill.

 

   

   

   

View from the hillside above Silbury Hill at dusk, with West Kennett Long Barrow in the distance.

   

   

View  across towards the landscape beyond West Kennett Avenue, bathed in late afternoon sunshine.

   

   

Silbury Hill in the late afternoon.

   

   

   

We drove for more than an hour before reaching Paddingtom Farm in Glastonbury, arriving in the dark. I had been assigned a room on the ground floor, with a single bed. The rooms looked comfortable, the kitchen satisfactory and the lounge cosy, though the real test would be quality of the showers, as we would discover later. Many had already arrived and we drove down in a convoy of two cars to the Who'd a thought it pub in Northload Street, not far from the ruins of the Abbey, for dinner. For some inexplicable reason the lack of quality restaurants in the town meant that this establishment charged a premium, considering itself to be a cut above the rest, though not justified, in my opinion. We strolled downtown to the Abbey. With the gates locked and the site in darkness, there wasn't much to be seen. A stroll up the High Street gave one an inkling into how the myths and legends have has a major influence on the commercial aspect of the town, with businesses such as The Celtic Thread (clothes, crafts), Man, Myth & Magick, Temple Room and Miracles Room, Goddess Temple, Bridget Healing Centre, Speaking Tree Bookshop, The Psychic Piglet, The Witchcraft Emporium, The Magick Box, The Goddess & The Green Man, Facets of Avalon and Chalice Well BookShop, not being out of place.

 


 

[UK - index] [Home Page]

Malborough & Avebury [1] [2],  Glastonbury,  Lacock [1] [2]

 

Links to other websites:

Paddingtom Farm Trust - website

Avebury, a present from the past - website

Some detail on Avebury's destruction - BBC webpage

Silbury Hilll's Anglo-Saxon makeover - BBC webpage

Glastonbury Abbey - website

Glastonbury Tor - wiki webpage

Glastonbury Festival - website

Wells Moat Walk - webpage

  • Reclaim Love 12th February 2011 - website

  • Lacock village - National Trust webpage

Note: Some photos on this page taken by Zoltan Kiss.