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Silbury Hill

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Robin Barquenast
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« on: July 23, 2007, 09:25:21 pm »




Silbury Hill (grid reference SU100685), part of the complex of Neolithic monuments around Avebury in the English county of Wiltshire (which includes the West Kennet Long Barrow), is the tallest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe and one of the world's largest.
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Robin Barquenast
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« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2007, 09:26:12 pm »

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« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2007, 09:26:46 pm »

Composed principally of chalk excavated from the surrounding area, the mound stands 40 metres (130 feet) high, and covers about 5 acres (2 hectares). It is a display of immense technical skill and prolonged control over labour and resources. Archaeologists calculate that Silbury Hill was built about 4600 years ago and that it took 18 million man-hours to deposit and shape 248,000 cubic metres (8.75 million ft³) of earth and fill on top of a natural hill.

The base of the monument is 167 m (550 ft) in diameter and perfectly round. Its summit is flat-topped and 30 m (100 ft) wide. The construction took two phases: soon after work was started on phase 2, a re-design was undertaken, and the mound enlarged.

The first phase, carbon dated to 2750 ±95 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 present height using material from elsewhere.
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Robin Barquenast
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« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2007, 09:27:32 pm »

There have been several excavations of the mound, which attracted the notice of the seventeenth-century antiquary John Aubrey, whose notes in his Monumenta Britannica still await publication.[1]. Later, William Stukeley wrote that a skeleton and bridle had been discovered during tree planting on the summit in 1723. It is probable that this was a later, secondary burial, however. The first purposeful excavation came when a team of Cornish miners led by the Duke of Northumberland sunk a shaft from top to bottom in 1776. In 1849 a tunnel was dug from the edge into the centre. Other excavations were undertaken in 1867 and 1886, and William Flinders Petrie investigated the hill after the First World War.

In 1968-70 professor Richard Atkinson undertook work at Silbury in front of BBC television cameras. This last work revealed most of the environmental evidence known about the site including the remains of winged ants which indicate Silbury was begun in an August. Atkinson dug numerous trenches at the site and reopened the 1849 tunnel, where he found material suggesting a Neolithic date, although none of his radiocarbon dates are considered reliable by modern standards. He argued that the hill was constructed in steps, each tier being filled in with packed chalk, and then smoothed off or weathered into a slope. Others  have identified a spiralling path climbing to the top and prefer to see the construction as being more incremental with the benefit of also providing a processional route to the summit.


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Robin Barquenast
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« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2007, 09:28:11 pm »

Few prehistoric artefacts 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 and it seems that the hill was reoccupied by later peoples.

After heavy rains in May 2000, a collapse of the 1776 excavation shaft caused a hole to form in the top of the hill. English Heritage undertook a seismic survey of the hill to identify the damage caused by earlier excavations and determine the hill's stability. Repairs were undertaken, though the site remains closed to the public.

English Heritage's archaeologists also excavated two further small trenches as part of the remedial work and made the important discovery of an antler fragment, the first from a secure archaeological context at the site. This produced a reliable radiocarbon date of c. 2490-2340 BC, dating the second mound convincingly to the Late Neolithic. Other recent work has focused on the role of the surrounding ditch which may not have been a simple source of chalk for the hill but a purpose-built water-filled barrier placed between the hill and the rest of the world.

In March 2007, English Heritage announced that a Roman village the size of 24 football pitches had been found at the foot of Silbury Hill. It contained regularly laid out streets and houses.

On 11 May 2007, Skanska under the direction of English Heritage began a major program of stabilisation work to Silbury Hill with the tunnels and shafts being filled with hundreds of tonnes of chalk. Concurrent with the repair work a new archaeological survey will be conducted using modern equipment and techniques.

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Robin Barquenast
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« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2007, 09:28:56 pm »

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« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2007, 09:29:36 pm »

The exact purpose of the hill is unknown. Moses B. Cotworth stated at the beginning of the twentieth century that Silbury was a giant sundial to determine seasons and the true length of the year. More recently, the writer Michael Dames has identified Silbury Hill as the winter goddess, but he acknowledges that the monument remains finally a stupendous enigma.

According to legend, this is the last resting place of a King Sil, represented in a lifesize gold statue and sitting on a golden horse. A local legend noted in 1913[5]states that the Devil was carrying an apron of soil to drop on the citizens of Marlborough, but he was stopped by the priests of nearby Avebury. In 1861 it was reported[6] that hundreds from Kennet, Avebury, Overton and the neighbouring villages thronged Silbury Hill every Palm Sunday.

Michael Dames (see References) put forward a composite theory of seasonal rituals, in an attempt to explain Silbury Hill and its associated sites (West Kennet Long Barrow, the Avebury henge, The Sanctuary and Windmill Hill), from which the summit of Silbury Hill is visible.

Paul Devereux (see References) observes that Silbury and its surrounding monuments appear to have been designed with a system of inter-related sightlines, focusing on the step several metres below the summit. From various surrounding barrows and from Avebury, the step aligns with hills on the horizon behind Silbury, or else with hills in front of Silbury, leaving only the topmost part visible. In the latter case, Devereux hypothesises that ripe cereal crops grown on the intervening hill would perfectly cover the upper portion of Silbury with the top of the corn and the top of Silbury coinciding.
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Robin Barquenast
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« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2007, 09:30:22 pm »

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« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2007, 09:31:48 pm »

Location

Silbury Hill is located at Ordnance Survey mapping six-figure grid reference SU100685 (51°24'56"N 1°51'27"W). It is close to the A4 between Beckhampton and West Kennett.
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Robin Barquenast
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« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2007, 09:32:27 pm »

Biology

The hill's vegetation is species-rich chalk grassland, dominated by Upright Brome and False Oat-grass, but with many species characteristic of this habitat, including a strong population of the rare Knapweed Broomrape. This vegetation has led to a 2.3 hectare area of the site being notified as a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest, this notification initially being given in 1965. The site is unique in that its slopes have 360-degree aspects, allowing comparison between growth of the flora on the differently-facing slopes of the hill.
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Robin Barquenast
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« Reply #10 on: July 23, 2007, 09:33:31 pm »

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« Reply #11 on: July 23, 2007, 09:34:08 pm »

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« Reply #12 on: July 23, 2007, 09:34:54 pm »

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