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Silbury Hill

Artificial Mound

<b>Silbury Hill</b>Posted by JaneImage © Jane Tomlinson
Nearest Town:Marlborough (9km ENE)
OS Ref (GB):   SU099686 / Sheet: 173
Latitude:51° 24' 56.79" N
Longitude:   1° 51' 27.33" W

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Silbury in August's Edition of Current Archaeology

In August's edition of Current Archaeology, Jim Leary talks about his theory first aired in 'The Story of Silbury Hill'. Did our ancestors build Silbury to mark the source of the Thames. I've always liked this theory.

tjj Posted by tjj
9th August 2014ce
Edited 10th August 2014ce

"The Giants of Wessex ..."

Interesting article in December's edition of Antiquity "The Giants of Wessex: the chronology of the three largest mounds in Wiltshire, UK" - by Jim Leary and Peter Marshall
tjj Posted by tjj
30th November 2012ce
Edited 30th November 2012ce

Crop circle season kicks off near Silbury

Avebury farmer not happy that the field next to Silbury is the focus of the this year's crop circle season - again.
tjj Posted by tjj
13th May 2011ce
Edited 13th May 2011ce

Talk by Jim Leary - Swindon Literature Festival

Another chance to hear Jim Leary talk about the Silbury book ...

JIM LEARY – on The Story of Silbury Hill
Central Library, Regent Circus, Swindon
Tel 01793 463238
7... continues...
tjj Posted by tjj
20th March 2011ce
Edited 20th March 2011ce

Silbury Hill's Anglo-Saxon makeover
Silbury Hill acquired its distinctive shape in more modern times, according to new archaeological evidence.
MelMel Posted by MelMel
30th October 2010ce

David Attenborough's big dig

Silbury Hill is as ancient and enigmatic as Stonehenge. David Attenborough tells Jonathan Jones why he set out to crack it
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
26th October 2010ce
Edited 26th October 2010ce

Silbury Dig tour - 31st August

This afternoon I attended an English Heritage tour of the digs taking place at Silbury in the Swallowhead Spring Meadow and the next hillside meadow. Many people attended; the dig is looking specifically at the Roman settlement that appeared on a geophysics survey published in an English Heritage report about five years ago... continues...
tjj Posted by tjj
31st August 2010ce
Edited 5th September 2010ce

Field trip to archaeological excavation near the Monument

Field trip to the English Heritage archaeological excavation near Silbury Hill, Wiltshire and the Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury.

Wednesday 1 September 2010.
10.30am - 4pm... continues...
Littlestone Posted by Littlestone
9th August 2010ce
Edited 9th August 2010ce

Silbury Hill - new find in the archive!

"New information has emerged from letters written in 1776 about excavations at Silbury Hill and published for the first time in the new volume of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine."

More here -
Littlestone Posted by Littlestone
1st February 2010ce

Silbury Hill repair works stopped

Repair works on an ancient monument in Wiltshire have been temporarily halted because of the recent heavy rain. ... more here;-
moss Posted by moss
27th July 2007ce

Tunnel to re-open at mystery hill

Engineers are to re-open a tunnel that goes deep inside the ancient monument of Silbury Hill in Wiltshire.
Pilgrim Posted by Pilgrim
11th May 2007ce
Edited 11th May 2007ce

Roman clues found at ancient hill

Archaeologists have found traces of a Roman settlement at a 5,000-year-old landmark man-made hill in Wiltshire.

English Heritage believes there was a Roman community at Silbury Hill about 2,000 years ago... continues...
goffik Posted by goffik
10th March 2007ce
Edited 10th March 2007ce

Silbury Repair Schedule Announced

As you may have seen in the Press English Heritage recently announced the appointment of engineering contractor Skanska to take forward the next stage of repair work to Silbury Hill. Skanska will now begin working with English Heritage to draw up detailed repair plans for the Hill... continues...
Posted by BrigantesNation
1st June 2006ce
Edited 1st June 2006ce

Ancient hill's holes to be filled

Plans to stabilise the ancient Silbury Hill mound in Wiltshire have been unveiled by English Heritage.
The man-made monument, believed to date to the Neolithic period, developed a hole at the top five years ago after the collapse of infilling in a shaft... continues...
juamei Posted by juamei
28th November 2005ce

The £600,000 plan to shore up Silbury Hill

EXPERTS have come up with a plan to save ancient landmark Silbury Hill from collapsing in on itself ­ but they need up to £600,000 to carry it out... continues...
Jane Posted by Jane
12th August 2005ce

EH suggests three options for Silbury

This from today's Western Daily Press website.
Urgent remedial work must be carried out to save Silbury Hill from collapse, English Heritage said yesterday. The threat to the 130ft mound, which is one of the West's most mysterious prehistoric monuments, was blamed on excavations made for a BBC TV documentary in the 1960s... continues...
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th February 2005ce
Edited 1st October 2006ce

Campaigners Gather in Fight to Save Silbury Hill

From the Wiltshire GAzette and Herald, 31 May 04
Campaigners gathered at Silbury Hill, at Avebury, on Saturday, four years after the summit collapsed, to air their concerns over its future... continues...
Jane Posted by Jane
1st June 2004ce
Edited 2nd June 2004ce

EH 'wants to work constructively' with HA

24hourmuseum reports on Heritage Action's upcoming protest and the response from English Heritage...
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
19th May 2004ce

Ancient monument may be reclassified

by Maev Kennedy of The Guardian, Monday 17 May 2004

An attempt will be made today to have a hill reclassified as a building to protect one of the most enigmatic prehistoric structures in Europe... continues...
Jane Posted by Jane
17th May 2004ce
Edited 18th May 2004ce

English Heritage 'forced to act'...

I'm sure Mr G will share with us The Truth..


Civil engineers have returned to Silbury Hill to begin further exploration of the prehistoric mound... continues...
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
13th March 2003ce
Edited 22nd September 2003ce

More drilling

"English Heritage is now planning to investigate the area of the previously collapsed shaft. As part of this assessment we intend to test the consistency of the backfilling in the lower part of the shaft by drilling a borehole through it from the top. Another borehole will be drilled nearby as a control... continues...
baza Posted by baza
5th March 2003ce
Edited 5th March 2003ce

Save Silbury Peaceful Protest

September 8th, 2001:

Venue Avebury main car-park with walk to Silbury Hill... continues...
Posted by RiotGibbon
30th August 2001ce

Seismic study underway

Scanners probe Stone Age mystery

Archaeologists are using computer imaging to try to solve one of the biggest mysteries of Stone Age Britain... continues...
Posted by RiotGibbon
20th August 2001ce

The Hole

Yes, it's true that a huge hole has appeared at the top of Silbury. I've just come back from checking it out, and the entire area is roped off and the NT is not letting anyone near. The hole has appeared precisely where it was excavated in the late 1700s, and an NT spokesperson believes that it was re-opened as a result of all the recent rain... continues...
Posted by JoAnne Wilder
31st May 2000ce

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Add fieldnotes Add fieldnotes
What can possibly be added to what has already been said? Only to reiterate that this is a MUST SEE site to anyone who is able to make the trip to Avebury - an incredible place. Perhaps best viewed from West Kennet Long Barrow? Enjoy! Posted by CARL
17th June 2010ce

A few years ago I stood on top of Silbury Hill, and was absolutely gobsmacked by the sheer effort required to raise this behemoth. Why? Deep thought fails to bring an answer. With all the comforts and ease of a modern day life I bet we couldn't be arsed to do anything remotely as big with the tools they had to hand. Their life would be hard work without the hassle of this monumental construction.
To get into the mind of these people is impossible, and beyond the realms of archaeologists, who can, like us, just theorise.
Looking from The Sanctuary, on 07/07/09, I could see the downs rolling across the landscape, and there, in the middle of it all, was a flat-topped mini-down, dear old Silbury Hill. It didn't look at all drawfed by the surrounding landscape, truly a tribute to her architects, for she always seems a she to me. Bless 'er.
The Eternal Posted by The Eternal
9th August 2009ce
Edited 9th August 2009ce

Access none at present due to well documented subsidence and English Heritage's inability to get its finger out. May be able to walk around it at ground level. Can view from road. (And various other points around the area!)

Monday 15 September 2003
This is one of those 'what the hell can I say that hasn't been said?' places isn't it? One thing I have to mention however is that my ass is numb from kicking myself for not walking up the damn thing back in 95 or whenever it was....

What the bl**dy hell DO English Heritage think they're playing at?

Most impressively viewed (in my opinion) from the hill above and to the west of East Kennett Long Barrow, the field below West Kennett Long Barrow, the bank of the Kennett on the way from Avebury, from Windmill Hill and, best of all, coming round the top of Waden Hill from Avebury.
Moth Posted by Moth
30th September 2003ce
Edited 1st October 2003ce

Ah Silbury.
so sorry
So sorry
to think of them filling you with polystyrene
my tears a lake around you
so sorry they forgot you
but I'll see you next solstice!
Posted by mindweed
9th April 2002ce

I shouted to stop the car when I saw Silbury just after leaving Avebury. I wasn't expecting to see it. When I did I felt priveliged. I just gawped for 10 mins from half a mile from the hill. 2 years ago, 500 miles and I want to come back here. The impression I remember was that the hill has a magic, living presence. Posted by winterjc
27th November 2001ce

Big beautiful steam pudding shaped Silbury wearing a frosting of snow. On a cold November day we stood in awe of this mighty mound. The slushy sounds of the traffic povided a soundtrack to our wondering. Why the fuck........ fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
19th November 2001ce

at the green gathering last year i met a bloke who said that he'd lowered himself into the gaping 17thc excavation shaft. i asked him what it was like down there. he said that it was pretty warm. Posted by greentara
12th October 2001ce

Having made the long trip down from london via stonehenge, primarily to climb and meditate on the top of the hill I was very depressed to find it fenced off.
It is impossible even to walk completely round the base of the hill at present (if it ever was), since barbed wire stops progress seemingly at every juncture.

Still, this being my first visit, I was awestruck at the sheer size and shape of silbury. It is easily within walking distance of West Kennet longbarrow, and a suitable consolation? is close by in the form of Devil's Den.
juamei Posted by juamei
30th August 2001ce

Sorry, but I just had to climb it and when I got to the top I just started dancing - I have no idea why and have told everybody since and they now think that I am weird! Shrimp Posted by Shrimp
20th March 2000ce


Add folklore Add folklore
Silbury Hill. ---"Silbury Hill is to this day thronged every Palm Sunday afternoon by hundreds from Avebury, Kennet, Overton, and the adjoining villages.*"

*Wilts Archaeological Magazine, December, 1861, p181.
Quoted in Wiltshire Folklore
T B Partridge
Folklore, Vol. 26, No. 2. (Jun. 30, 1915), pp. 211-212.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
1st October 2006ce

Hecateus of Abdera, a Greek writer writing in the 4th century BCE, wrote of a large island to the north of Gaul populated by a race called the Hyperboreans. Their chief god was Apollo, and they had a city dedicated to him, with a "remarkable round temple".

The large island is thought to be Britain, and the round temple has previously been identified as Stonehenge. However, the Greek word translated as "round" is "sphairoeides" which actually means "spherical" and not round. Geoffrey Ashe in his "Mythology of the British Isles" suggests that the word in question has been misspelled at some point in the past, and originally may have been "speiroeides", meaning "spiral".

Ashe discusses the possibility of a "spiral temple" being a labirynth of some kind, or even rock art, but surely there's a chance that Hecateus' "remarkable round temple" - when "spiral" is substituted for "round" - could actually be Silbury Hill, with it's spiral path?
BigSweetie Posted by BigSweetie
1st September 2004ce

You expect to stir up a thunderstorm if you mess with any barrow - but what if you start digging into Silbury Hill? You're surely asking for it. Perhaps that's why EH won't touch it - they're scared of the consequences.

The following is a description of what happened during the 1849 dig (I don't know who wrote it.. could it be Lukis mentioned below? it is quoted in 'The Secret Country' by J&C Bord).
"As a finale to the excavations, the night following work in unfavourable weather, a dramatic high Gothick thunderstorm set the seal on [Dean] Merewether's Wiltshire sojourn. This event was much to the satisfaction.. of the rustics, whose notions respecting the examination of Silbury and the opening of the barrows were not divested of superstitious dread. It must have been a spectacular affair. The Dean described it as 'one of the most grand and tremendous thunder-storms I ever recollect to have witnessed.' It made the hills reecho to the crashing peals, and Silbury itself, as the men asserted who were working in its centre, to tremble to its base."
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
15th July 2004ce
Edited 15th July 2004ce

Stukeley wrote that the country people "make merry with cakes, figs, sugar, and water fetched from the 'Swallow head'." (see 'Swallowhead Springs.)

It has been suggested that this ceremony had some connexion with the gospel story of the barren fig tree, but it is much more probable that the tradition has a very early origin. As a matter of fact the cakes were mostly made with raisins which are called figs by natives of Wessex.
from Wanderings in Wessex by Edric Holmes (date?)
online at project gutenberg:
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
11th September 2003ce
Edited 14th July 2010ce

Aubrey noted that "No history gives any account of this hill; the tradition only is, that King Sil or Zel, as the countrey folke pronounce, was buried here on horseback, and that the hill was raysed while a posset of milke was seething.."

Or you could believe the story that it was dumped there by the devil - it's a story found all over Britain about various mysterious mounds and hills. The people of Marlborough hated the people of Devizes, and somehow they'd got the devil to agree to smother them with a big spadeful of earth, to get them out of their hair for good. A cobbler (or St John?) was walking towards Marlborough with a cartload of worn out shoes, which he was going to mend. He asked the devil what he was doing. On hearing the reply he explained that he'd set out from Devizes a very long time ago, and pointed to all the shoes in his cart - explaining that he'd worn them out along the way. The devil's very lazy, so he decided he couldn't be bothered to walk such a distance. He dropped the spadeful of earth by the side of the road in disgust, and it became Silbury Hill.

Jordan (in her 'folklore of Ancient Wiltshire' records another variation which she heard from a old local man. He claimed that the devil was travelling from Salisbury plain and Stonehenge to smother the people at Avebury, complaining that there was too much religion in the area. Grinsell's source (Folklore v24) completes the story:
"but the priests saw him coming and set to work with their charms and incussations, and they fixed him while he was yet a nice way off, till at last he flings down his shovelful just where he was stood. And THAT'S Silbury."
A turn up for the books - the Devil actually trying to get rid of a pagan site?

On a moonlit night you might see King Sil in golden armour ride by the hill. Perhaps that's because he's buried on horseback - or maybe in a golden coffin. A headless man is also sometimes seen. Kathleen Wiltshire (in her 'Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside') recounted how she'd been told these legends when she was a small girl, by an old stone-breaker, Worthy Gaisford.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
15th May 2002ce
Edited 21st July 2005ce


Add miscellaneous Add miscellaneous
Squinancywort (asperula Cynanchica)

"Every time a botanist journeyed from London to Bath, he was tempted to get down from his horse and climb Silbury, as Thomas Johnson had done in 1634, for in 1570 the Flemish botanist De l'Obel had written having been up the mound..this 'acclivem cretaceam et arridam montem arte militari aggestum'(this steep chalky hill dry hill raised by military art) as he called it.... On Silbury he found a plant blossoming in July and August which seems to have been Asperula Cynanchica, which he called Anglica Saxifraga, the first record for Gt.Britain.

Squinancy is the quinsy,sore throat and this waxy--flowered little perennial of the downs made an astringent gargle"

Taken from The Englishman's Flora by Geoffrey Grigson.

Note; Squinancywort is similer to sweet woodruff which you can find in woods, but I doubt Silbury still has Squinancy on its slope.
moss Posted by moss
9th November 2011ce

from an article entitled Folk Games at Silbury Hill with details provided by Mr John Goulstone

An account in The Gloucester Journal on 9 November 1736 describes how a dinner was served on the summit while between 4000 and 5000 people sat at the foot of Silbury and on a facing eminence, all of which was made a very agreeable appearance. A bull was baited at the top and bottom of the hill and:
There was also backsword, wrestling, bowling and dancing. The same diversions were repeated on the 2nd day, and also running round the hill for a petticoat. The 3rd day the bull was divided by Mr Smith amongst his poor neighbours on top of the hill, where they diverted themselves with bonfires, ale and roast beef for several hours...

Folk Games at Silbury Hill and Stonehenge
Notes and News
Vol. LIX No. 225 March 1985
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
9th November 2007ce

From "The Secret Places Of The Heart" by H. G. Wells (1922).
"Clumsy treasure hunting," Sir Richmond said. "They bore into Silbury Hill and expect to find a mummified chief or something sensational of that sort, and they don't, and they report nothing. They haven't sifted finely enough; they haven't thought subtly enough. These walls of earth ought to tell what these people ate, what clothes they wore, what woods they used. Was this a sheep land then as it is now, or a cattle land? Were these hills covered by forests? I don't know. These archaeologists don't know. Or if they do they haven't told me, which is just as bad. I don't believe they know.

..."To-day, among these ancient memories, has taken me out of myself wonderfully. I can't tell you how good Avebury has been for me. This afternoon half my consciousness has seemed to be a tattooed creature wearing a knife of stone. . . . "
-online at Arthur's Classic Novels.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
5th April 2005ce

Thoughts on Silbury's innards:

An account from 'An Illustration of Stonehenge and Abury' by Henry Browne, 1823 (in Wilts Arch & Nat Hist Mag v95, 2002). It's an eyewitness account of the 1776 dig.

"... This elderly gentleman [a Mr Hickley from Avebury] when a youth, was at Silbury Hill on the occasion of some miners sinking a large hole or well down the centre of it to the ground on which it began to be raised. In doing this they found a piece of timber continued down the whole way, evidently for a centre from whence to take the measurement of the hill in working it upwards."

It was nearly 50 years after the event, so although you might expect some elaboration / misremembering - surely this isn't an obvious yarn to tell? Wouldn't you be more likely to come up with the old 'skeleton / treasure' option rather than a central timber?

Another contemporaryish account is interesting: James Douglas, in his 1793 'Nenia Britannica' recorded that the Duke of Northumberland's foreman of the work (a Colonal Drax) "had a fancy that this hill had been raised over a Druid oak, and he thought the remains of it were discovered in the excavation."

And indeed, Richard Atkinson, leader of the 1960s BBCized dig thought that the 1776 shaft would probably have destroyed any central deposit at the base of the mound, and no doubt anything vertical in the core...
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th November 2004ce

I was reading an article from WANHM (v95, 2002 - a missing drawing and an overlooked text: silbury hill archive finds) - sounds like the hole was never filled in properly. Does this mean the structure has been precarious - for centuries? Is this why EH don't feel they have to do anything immediately?

This is what I gleaned from the article:
The vertical shaft was mined in 1776, the brainchild of the Duke of Northumberland. A horizontal tunnel was later mined at the base of the hill in 1849. The Rev. WC Lukis was on hand to draw this one, but he also included a dotted line dipping like a cone into the top of the hill, indicating the entrance to the 1776 shaft was open - open to a similar depth to that which opened up in 2000?

A Dr Merewether visited with Lukis, and he recorded that there were mounds of soil on top of the hill that the miners from 1776 hadn't bothered to throw back in. You can see heaps of soil on one of Hoare's illustrations from 1821 and in a late 19thC print (these are in the article). A Major Allen took some aerial photos in the 1930s and these show the heaps too - and a dip in the ground next to them. So it seems the hole has been present to varying depths since the 1770s, and was only filled in to near the surface level in 1936. However, the filling material gradually disappeared.
In 1963 Silbury was capped with chicken wire, to prevent what was perceived to be rabbit damage. Later this wire (covered in soil and grass) actually hampered some surveys that were being done to check the state of the hole. 'The capping has now disappeared from view'.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
8th January 2004ce
Edited 27th April 2007ce


Add a link Add a link

Silbury Hill - Silent Earth

A fascinating history of Silbury over the years.
moss Posted by moss
15th May 2016ce

The Heritage Trust

Silbury Hill by Jake Turner.

"Jake Turner was born and bred in Swindon, Wiltshire, England and has been a keen photographer for around 2 years..."
Littlestone Posted by Littlestone
11th April 2013ce
Edited 11th April 2013ce

Vimeo - Highviz

"Aerial views of Silbury Hill. This hill dates back to around 2400BC and is the largest man made mound in Europe. No-one can say what purpose it had, but as usual with pre-historic sites, there are lot's of theory's!

"Filmed with own design hexacopter and Sony CX730."
Littlestone Posted by Littlestone
24th December 2012ce
Edited 28th December 2012ce

YouTube - Graeme Field

Silbury Hill photo and video compilation.
wickerman Posted by wickerman
1st December 2012ce
Edited 1st December 2012ce

British Archaeology

An article by Jim Leary and David Field about their investigations at Silbury, in the online Jan/Feb 2011 edition.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
29th March 2011ce

The Heritage Journal

A Guernseyman among the English megaliths by Mark Patton.

"When, in 1865, Sir John Lubbock and James Fergusson argued, in the pages of the Athenaum magazine, as to whether the Roman road passed around Silbury Hill (as Lubbock thought, making the hill itself prehistoric) or beneath it (as Fergusson insisted, making the hill post-Roman), far more was at stake than simply the dating of one of England's iconic monuments. The argument, fundamentally, was about whether archaeology should be seen as an adjunct to history, its discoveries sterile unless they could somehow be related to the written record; or as an essentially scientific pursuit, allowing prehistoric cultures to be understood on the basis of the material evidence alone."
Littlestone Posted by Littlestone
29th January 2011ce

Silbury Blog

Three films on Silbury, including the BBC 2 Chronicle Series, Silbury Dig: The Heart of the Mound. First Broadcast on 27 July 1968.
Littlestone Posted by Littlestone
7th July 2010ce
Edited 7th July 2010ce

Latest Silbury findings

Report from the Telegraph (information from English Heritage)
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
1st February 2009ce

Silbury Hill: A Last Look Inside

A recent article on Silbury from the current issue of Current Archaeology Magazine
Spaceship mark Posted by Spaceship mark
19th January 2008ce

WAM 'Abury' article by William Long 1858

Part of William Long's 'Abury' article on Silbury Hill
moss Posted by moss
28th November 2007ce
Edited 28th November 2007ce

Google Books

"Diary of a Dean. Being an account of the examination of Silbury Hill, and of Various Barrows and other earthworks on the downs of North Wilts, opened and investigated in the months of July and August 1849. With Illustrations."

How excellent that John Merewether's book should now be available to read online, and especially at this time when the new excavations are going ahead.

The latter part of the book contains loads of information, if you can pin down the locations he's talking about. But it might upset people of a delicate constitution as it is basically 'speed-barrowing', as seemed to be the fashion of the time.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th May 2007ce
Edited 4th May 2007ce

Avebury - A Present from the Past

An almost surreal illustration of Silbury, from Stukeley's 'Abury - A Temple of the British Druids'. Online at Lithop's excellent website.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
28th June 2006ce
Edited 28th June 2006ce

British Archaeology

A green hill long ago

Article on Silbury and The Options to stop it falling in, in the latest online copy of British Archaeology magazine.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
26th May 2005ce

The H.M.J. Underhill Archive

A magic lantern slide from the H.M.J. Underhill Archive showing Silbury Hill as seen in the late 19th Century (with a shepherd thrown in for free). The slide has the date Sept. 16/95 on it.
Kammer Posted by Kammer
7th October 2004ce
Edited 1st June 2007ce

English Heritage air photo

Posted by BrigantesNation
29th March 2004ce

British Archaeology

The Great Sites series features Silbury Hill in the May 2003 edition.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
17th July 2003ce