The Ancestors - Avebury World Heritage site - Silbury Hill
Type of Spiritual Experience
Silbury Hill is a man-made chalk mound near Avebury in the English county of Wiltshire. It is part of the complex of Neolithic monuments around Avebury (which includes the Avebury ring and West Kennet Long Barrow). Silbury Hill was built about 4,750 years ago.
Silbury is the tallest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe and one of the world's largest. Composed mainly of chalk and clay excavated from the surrounding area, the mound stands 40 metres (130 ft) high and covers about 5 acres (0.020 km2). The base of the hill is circular and 167 metres (550 ft) in diameter. The summit is flat-topped and 30 metres (98 ft) in diameter.
In 1968-70 professor Richard J. C. Atkinson undertook careful excavation of Silbury. He believes that the hill was constructed in steps, but that each tier was then filled in with packed chalk, and it has weathered into a slope. Others, however, believe there to be a spiral path climbing to the top - symbolic of ascension. A ditch once surrounded the mountain and archaeologists believe that it was a purpose-built water-filled barrier placed between the hill and the rest of the world. This is thus one of the few man made hills in the world where we have the symbolism of the ‘mountain’ and its surrounding ‘water’ together.
It is worth noting that Silbury could not have been built by a simple late Neolithic primitive tribal society. It is a display of immense technical skill and prolonged control over labour and resources. Archaeologists calculate that it took 18 million man-hours, or 500 men working 15 years (Atkinson 1974:128) to deposit and shape 248,000 cubic metres (8,800,000 cu ft) of earth and fill on top of a natural hill. Euan W. Mackie believed it could only have been built by an ‘authoritarian theocratic power elite with broad ranging control across southern Britain’.
A description of the experience
Prehistoric Britain – Dr Christopher and Jacquetta Hawkes
Everyone who has been to Avebury has also seen Silbury Hill. There it stands, less than a mile from the temple, in a slight circular hollow like a steamed pudding dished up for a giant. One hundred and thirty feet high, with a base covering more than five acres, it is the largest artificial mound in western Europe.
From its appearance it might well be a huge barrow built over some outstanding Early Bronze Age celebrity, but a shaft sunk from top to bottom in the eighteenth century and a tunnel driven from ground-level in the nineteenth, followed by some recent trenching, have discovered virtually nothing.
The source of the experienceThe Ancestors
Concepts, symbols and science items
ConceptsLevels and layers
Science ItemsSacred geography
Sacred geography - artificial hills
Sacred geography - citadel
Sacred geography - cursus
Sacred geography - hollow roads
Sacred geography - islands
Sacred geography - isthmus
Sacred geography - ley lines
Sacred geography - mark stones
Sacred geography - pyramid
Activities and commonsteps