Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link Weider History Group RSS feed Weider Subscriptions Historynet Home page

Silbury Hill - Stone Circles

Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: September 23, 1997 
Print Friendly
0 comments FONT +  FONT -

Silbury Hill, the largest earthen mound in Europe, surpasses all other prehistoric monuments in Britain not only in size but also in the degree of utter puzzlement it has created among those who have studied it. The site bears a superficial resemblance to the many smaller round barrows found in the vicinity of Avebury, and local tradition suggested that a great leader lay buried somewhere in its depths–encased in golden armour, according to one legend. A series of extensive excavations, however, has failed to reveal any trace of a burial or any other objects entombed within. So, the massive mound's purpose remains a complete mystery.

But while excavation produced no clues to why Neolithic labourers spent an estimated eight million man-hours to build this artificial mountain, it did reveal a surprisingly sophisticated method of construction. The mound's turf facade hides a series of partitioned circular chalk enclosures, packed with earth and stacked one atop another to create a stepped shape resembling a wedding cake. The smooth finished appearance was achieved by filling in the steps with additional chalk and dirt. In all, it took about 61Ž2 million cubic feet of material to create the mound.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to British Heritage magazine

The structure seen today, though, represents only the final phase of three distinct stages of building. The first phase, begun about 4,000 years ago, consisted of consecutive layers of dirt, clay, chalk and gravel, contained within a ring of vertical stakes. Following this phase, Silbury's builders constructed a conical mound over the top of the original earthwork. Material for the huge undertaking came in part from a circular ditch excavated around the mound, and partially from transplanting a natural hillside. Before this phase was even finished, a third stage of construction began. The final form is similar in shape to the mound of phase two, but bigger yet, covering an area of 51Ž2 acres.

The absence of any apparent burials within the mound has left researchers without a clear-cut indication of why the Neolithic people spent so much time and energy building Silbury Hill. The hill's location, within sight of Avebury, seems to suggest a possible connection with the famous stone circle. Some researchers have suggested that it was a huge sundial, designed to cast a shadow, the position of which would indicate time and seasons.

Though they have been unable to guess its true purpose, late-comers to the area have found their own uses for Silbury Hill. Roman engineers took advantage of the view from atop the hill when laying out the course of the road they built between Bath and Mildenhall. When the Saxons arrived, they found the mound to be a useful defensive position, and apparently fortified the small flat area at the summit. Finally, a research team that tunnelled into the hill in 1849 decided that it made a convenient time-capsule, and left behind a sealed jar filled with newspaper clippings and other ephemera, which was later found by a 20th-century team of archaeologists.

 


SIlbury Hill is located by the A4 road one mile west of West Kennet. Visitors may stop at the parking area at any reasonable time for no charge. There is no access to the hill itself. Tel: 01345 090889.

 



Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.


Related Articles


History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer
HISTORYNET READERS' POLL

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
STAY CONNECTED WITH US
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet?

The HistoryNet.com is brought to you by Weider History, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
Weider History

Weider History Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer! | StreamHistory.com
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 Weider History. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy