Long lost theory on Silbury Hill is uncovered

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill

First published in News by

Letters that lay undiscovered in national archives for more than 230 years suggest that Silbury Hill, the enigmatic man-made mound that stands between Marlborough and Beckhampton, may have originally be constructed around some sort of totem pole.

Historians have uncovered in the British Library in London letters written in 1776 that describe a 40ft-high pole which once stood at the centre of Silbury Hill. Europe’s largest man-made mound.

The letters detail an 18th century excavation into the centre of the man-made mound, where archaeologists discovered a long, thin cavity six inches wide and about 40ft deep.

A separate excavation found fragments of oak timber within the cavity leading historians to believe that the mound was built around the pole dating from around 2,400 BC.

David Dawson, director of the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, said: “This is important, lost information dug out of the library, rather than through field work.

“It tells us that in one of its earliest phases some kind of totem pole was erected on the mound, then subsequent additions to build the hill up were piled up around that timber.”

The 18th century letters, written from Edward Drax to Lord Rivers, described excavations Drax had supervised at Silbury Hill.

He oversaw the digging of a vertical shaft from top to bottom that is sometimes claimed to be the work of the Duke of Northumberland.

Drax, a wealthy landowner who lived in Bath, had hired a team of miners to dig a shaft from the top of Silbury Hill, to the centre of the hill, 125 feet below.

To begin with the miners found little but chalk and pieces of deer antler, but 95 feet down - some 30 feet above where they expected the base of the mound to be – they stumbled upon a deep, narrow cavity.

The hole was six inches across but Drax noted: “We have already followed it already about 20 feet, we can plumb it about eleven feet more.”

In his letter he wrote that “something now perished must have remained in this hole to keep it open”.

Together with a later, independent account of fragments of oak timber found at the centre of the mound, the evidence adds weight to the totem pole theory.

Last year English Heritage completed a £2 million restoration programme on the mound to prevent it from collapsing after previous excavations, including the one by Drax, had left the structure weakened and prey to erosion.

Drax’s letters have been published for the first time in the new volume of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine.

Comments (6)

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11:41pm Wed 3 Feb 10

maryannnews says...

Must it be a "totem pole"? Not everything our ancestors did was religious or superstitious in nature. I would tend to think that the pole was placed as a guide to building the mound. Attach a rope to the top, swing it in a circle. Viola! A perfectly circular base for the mound, and the sides all sloping evenly. When the mound reaches the top of the pole, add another pole and continue until the mound is the desired size.
Must it be a "totem pole"? Not everything our ancestors did was religious or superstitious in nature. I would tend to think that the pole was placed as a guide to building the mound. Attach a rope to the top, swing it in a circle. Viola! A perfectly circular base for the mound, and the sides all sloping evenly. When the mound reaches the top of the pole, add another pole and continue until the mound is the desired size. maryannnews
  • Score: 0

12:53pm Sat 6 Feb 10

John Cowie says...

Fascinating new theory that Silbury Hill was built around a six inch diameter ‘totem pole’ or oak tree - presumably with the branches lopped off?

Is the perpendicular cavity discovered by Edward Drax more likely to have been part of the structure of a Roman or Anglo Saxon fort built at the summit of Silbury Hill as suggested by English Heritage? Or the more practical possibility that the construction was built as a military watchtower during their occupation of England? Could the six inch diameter pole be a legacy from this wooded structure? A stake pointed at one end and around six inches in diameter and around six feet long could have been hammered into the hill using the huge sarsen stones which can still be found on the hill but now in fragments? Another stake of similar length and diameter but without the point would then be placed on top of the initial stake and hammered down forcing the first stake further into the hill. This process repeated a few times and in at least four separate locations would provide a substantial foundation for a number of stilts raising the look-out platform to the requisite height above the summit of the hill?

Incidentally, in a recent lecture held at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes on Saturday the 23rd January 2010 titled Silbury Hill: the Archaeology of a Monumental Mound by Jim Leary, the English Heritage archaeologist responsible for the survey on Silbury Hill in 2007/8 - there was no mention of a totem pole or oak tree found at the centre of the hill. There was also no mention of a separate excavation that found “fragments of oak within the cavity leading historians to believe that the mound was built around the pole dating from around 2,400 BC”. So, when did this separate excavation occur and where did this date come from? I doubt we have the technology today to accurately date pieces of wood to 2400BC?

Where at the summit of Silbury Hill was the perpendicular cavity found? Was it off-centre? Could other similar cavities exist at the summit to support the ‘watchtower’ theory?

Drax’s intriguing letters written in 1776 certainly provides a very important input to the debate on Silbury Hill and hopefully will prompt further serious investigation.

For the latest conclusions from Jim Leary’s detailed analysis of the data since the survey in 2008/9 and other theories from independent researchers relating to the construction, age and purpose of Silbury Hill, visit the forum at www.SilburyDawning.c
om
Fascinating new theory that Silbury Hill was built around a six inch diameter ‘totem pole’ or oak tree - presumably with the branches lopped off? Is the perpendicular cavity discovered by Edward Drax more likely to have been part of the structure of a Roman or Anglo Saxon fort built at the summit of Silbury Hill as suggested by English Heritage? Or the more practical possibility that the construction was built as a military watchtower during their occupation of England? Could the six inch diameter pole be a legacy from this wooded structure? A stake pointed at one end and around six inches in diameter and around six feet long could have been hammered into the hill using the huge sarsen stones which can still be found on the hill but now in fragments? Another stake of similar length and diameter but without the point would then be placed on top of the initial stake and hammered down forcing the first stake further into the hill. This process repeated a few times and in at least four separate locations would provide a substantial foundation for a number of stilts raising the look-out platform to the requisite height above the summit of the hill? Incidentally, in a recent lecture held at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes on Saturday the 23rd January 2010 titled Silbury Hill: the Archaeology of a Monumental Mound by Jim Leary, the English Heritage archaeologist responsible for the survey on Silbury Hill in 2007/8 - there was no mention of a totem pole or oak tree found at the centre of the hill. There was also no mention of a separate excavation that found “fragments of oak within the cavity leading historians to believe that the mound was built around the pole dating from around 2,400 BC”. So, when did this separate excavation occur and where did this date come from? I doubt we have the technology today to accurately date pieces of wood to 2400BC? Where at the summit of Silbury Hill was the perpendicular cavity found? Was it off-centre? Could other similar cavities exist at the summit to support the ‘watchtower’ theory? Drax’s intriguing letters written in 1776 certainly provides a very important input to the debate on Silbury Hill and hopefully will prompt further serious investigation. For the latest conclusions from Jim Leary’s detailed analysis of the data since the survey in 2008/9 and other theories from independent researchers relating to the construction, age and purpose of Silbury Hill, visit the forum at www.SilburyDawning.c om John Cowie
  • Score: 0

6:06pm Sun 7 Feb 10

Richard Matthews says...

I have a theory. That giant we all heard of when growing up? Well, he decided to throw a party for the cobbler who told him he had worn all those shoes out just walking from Devizes (or wherever you live that fist the tale). He decided to put some cocktail onions on sticks as one hors d'œuvre, boredom caused a lack of attention and he speared the earth with a cocktail stick.

Seriously, is there any precedent that historians/ archæologists can point out to us that explains any earthly reason as to why the people of the time should bury a totem pole? After all, if the pole is a totem to a significant deity or event in the past worthy of praise, why bury it?

As for the idea that the pole was the centrepiece of an ancient compass, while being a reasonable explanation, it still fails to address the question of why the hill exists.

My own theory for Silbury Hill, Avebury Circle and Stonehenge is that they are a form of the ancients "Kilroy woz Here". They had either the wealth, the slaves or the force of strength to order these monuments just to claim territorial rights of ancient tribes. Nothing religious, superstitious or science fictional about them. They are there just as we find graffiti on walls now.

The intelligentsia always look for meanings they can neither prove nor disprove and ignore the fact the the human animal possesses a virulent ego and sense of wicked fun. Have you ever considered burying an unusual object thinking, let future archæologists explain THAT.
I have a theory. That giant we all heard of when growing up? Well, he decided to throw a party for the cobbler who told him he had worn all those shoes out just walking from Devizes (or wherever you live that fist the tale). He decided to put some cocktail onions on sticks as one hors d'œuvre, boredom caused a lack of attention and he speared the earth with a cocktail stick. Seriously, is there any precedent that historians/ archæologists can point out to us that explains any earthly reason as to why the people of the time should bury a totem pole? After all, if the pole is a totem to a significant deity or event in the past worthy of praise, why bury it? As for the idea that the pole was the centrepiece of an ancient compass, while being a reasonable explanation, it still fails to address the question of why the hill exists. My own theory for Silbury Hill, Avebury Circle and Stonehenge is that they are a form of the ancients "Kilroy woz Here". They had either the wealth, the slaves or the force of strength to order these monuments just to claim territorial rights of ancient tribes. Nothing religious, superstitious or science fictional about them. They are there just as we find graffiti on walls now. The intelligentsia always look for meanings they can neither prove nor disprove and ignore the fact the the human animal possesses a virulent ego and sense of wicked fun. Have you ever considered burying an unusual object thinking, let future archæologists explain THAT. Richard Matthews
  • Score: 0

2:30pm Mon 8 Feb 10

H.Sivertsen says...

The central post of Silbury would have been a structural member that aided the construction of an evenly sloping circular mini mountain. This was not seen when the structure was complete.

The hill would have been left in a truncated form, flat at the top.

Its purpose is still unknown but given that upon its completion a view at midsummer of the Great Bear or Big Dipper swooping down and skimming the top would have been seen from its southern base, one can speculate regarding any religious or spiritual element that may be involved.

There is more to be seen regarding this aspect of Silbury Hill, which to the best of my knowledge has been aired elsewhere in Chapter 7 of the book
Measurements of the Gods
pp233-238

This can be read at:-

http://www.completel
ynovel.com/authors/2
0580
The central post of Silbury would have been a structural member that aided the construction of an evenly sloping circular mini mountain. This was not seen when the structure was complete. The hill would have been left in a truncated form, flat at the top. Its purpose is still unknown but given that upon its completion a view at midsummer of the Great Bear or Big Dipper swooping down and skimming the top would have been seen from its southern base, one can speculate regarding any religious or spiritual element that may be involved. There is more to be seen regarding this aspect of Silbury Hill, which to the best of my knowledge has been aired elsewhere in Chapter 7 of the book Measurements of the Gods pp233-238 This can be read at:- http://www.completel ynovel.com/authors/2 0580 H.Sivertsen
  • Score: 0

6:35pm Mon 8 Feb 10

Richard Matthews says...

Another "spooky" theory.
Have you ever heard that WWI song that goes to the tune of Auld Lang Syne? It makes a lost of sense.
"We're here because we're here because we're her because we' re her (and so ad infinitum)."
Why look for shadows in the forest when they are all around you? Why seek answers to non-existent questions? We are no more than another animal - high in the food chain and intellectual levels, but we are here to propagate the human species and when our work is done, we turn to a lower level in the food chain.
Another "spooky" theory. Have you ever heard that WWI song that goes to the tune of Auld Lang Syne? It makes a lost of sense. "We're here because we're here because we're her because we' re her (and so ad infinitum)." Why look for shadows in the forest when they are all around you? Why seek answers to non-existent questions? We are no more than another animal - high in the food chain and intellectual levels, but we are here to propagate the human species and when our work is done, we turn to a lower level in the food chain. Richard Matthews
  • Score: 1

10:19pm Tue 16 Feb 10

starladybj says...

Could it be possible that the ancients were trying to connect earth energy with sky energy by drawing the lightning with a high "totem" pole? They were atuned to weather as well as cosmic happenings and the shamans might have tried to draw the energy of the sky gods.
Could it be possible that the ancients were trying to connect earth energy with sky energy by drawing the lightning with a high "totem" pole? They were atuned to weather as well as cosmic happenings and the shamans might have tried to draw the energy of the sky gods. starladybj
  • Score: 1

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