Photo propose that it was an observatory or sundial by means of the shadows cast by the mound on the plain to the north towards Avebury – used to track the seasons. It is certainly tied to the other monuments nearby through sight lines and other alignments, and Silbury is an integral part of this constructed sacred landscape. Perhaps the mound was aping a natural hill: Jim Leary points to the similarity of the final phase of Silbury Hill with Picked Hill – a prominent hill in the nearby Vale of Pewsey. In a flat area like the Vale of Pewsey, a feature such as Picked Hill would have stood out and may have had symbolic value – was Silbury an attempt to emulate it in the Kennet Valley? Jim also points to the Hill’s lowland setting and proximity to a river and spring. These are important features in the landscape and may well have been sacred for generations of earlier inhabitants – was Silbury marking them for all to see and ensuring their sanctity was never forgotten? Was the mound a response to the influx of new Beaker ideologies, materials and know-how- a way for the local population to assert their identity? The concentration of different local materials – clay, gravel, chalk, turfs, topsoil, and even small sarsen boulders - found in Silbury 1 suggests that the builders were bringing their landscape into the construction; was this a way of focussing their landscape and creating a microcosm of their world in one place?
There are plans to venture beyond previous discussions of Silbury and consider the later uses of the hill. Atkinson reported finding pottery from the Late Saxon/Norman period on the hilltop, and the present excavation found further evidence of this activity. One of the most exciting new theories to have emerged from the project is that the hill’s iconic shape may be the result of significant modification by the placement of a large Saxon or Norman military structure on top; archaeologists believe it may have originally been domed, rather than flat-top as we see today. If so, where was the top of the hill dumped, and what could possibly be found in that material? There will be work done on locating the source of the materials used in the primary mound; were the Pleistocene gravels dug up from deep underground, or exposed in a river valley? Additionally, no evidence of the large workforce that would have been needed to construct Silbury Hill has yet been found; was it a shared workforce with the other monuments in the surrounding area? It is interesting to consider a segregated population, with lumberjacks cutting the forest of trees needed to construct the West Kennet Palisaded Enclosure while stonemasons banged away at Stonehenge and Avebury and chalk quarriers got down to business at Silbury Hill. Certainly, better dating will start reducing the possibilities, especially as more information trickles out of the Durrington Walls excavation. ‘Eureka’ moments tend to happen in post-excavation, so it is possible that stunning results could be just around the corner.
Above View from the top. Silbury Hill is an integral part of the StonehengeAvebury-West Kennet prehistoric landscape. This photo, taken from the top of the mound, shows the Long Barrow at top right. Swallowhead Springs lies far right within the copse of trees just down the slope.
Source For further information, please contact Jim Leary at Jim.Leary@englishheritage.org.uk.
Further information Jim Leary will be speaking about Silbury Hill at Archaeology 2008 on 9-10 February at the British Museum