Silbury Hill - History and Facts | History Hit

Silbury Hill

Beckhampton, England, United Kingdom

A Stone Age chalk mound with a mysterious past, Silbury Hill is the largest man-made mound in Europe.

Peta Stamper

28 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Silbury Hill

Only 1500 metres south of the main Avebury Rings stands Silbury Hill, the largest and perhaps the most enigmatic of all megalithic constructions in Europe. Crisscrossing the surrounding countryside are numerous meandering lines of standing stones and mysterious underground chambers, many positioned according to astronomical alignments. Despite multiple excavation attempts, the origins of Silbury Hill remain a mystery to this day.

Silbury Hill history

It is not known why Silbury Hill was built, but at the time of its construction between 2400 and 2000 BC, Neolithic society was undergoing significant change. This period marked the beginning of new pottery forms, shifting burial rites as well as the first metal-work in Britain. While the specifics have remained a mystery, such a monumental structure would have been a significant place where people gathered for events and building.

Silbury Hill was made from around half a million tonnes of mostly chalk taken from the Avesbury area. First, the topsoil and stones were removed from the ground, before a small, 1 metre-high gravel mound was built. At a later stage a ring of stakes were laid out to mark a bigger area of 16 metres in diameter which was filled with mud and dark soils. People continued to add soil and turf, even boulders, to the mound as well as digging an external ditch.

During the Roman occupation of Britain, they built a road and extensive settlement around the foot of the mound, suggesting it provided perhaps a ceremonial or strategic purpose. In the early medieval period, the top of the mound was flattened to accomodate a defensive structure.

In 1776, a failed excavation was conducted by the Duke of Northumberland hoping to find a central burial chamber. This attempt was replicated later in 1849 by John Mereweather. During the 1970s, the BBC televised an excavation of Silbury Hill. However, full precautions were not made and in 2000 a 14 metre-deep crater appeared on the summit as the inside tunnels began to collapse.

Silbury Hill today

Today, Silbury Hill continues to stand at over 30 metres-high and 160 metres-wide, surrounded by a wide ditch that fills with water during the winter. Those approaching on the Roman road will see the hill from a significant distance away. Entry to Silbury Hill is free and remains open during reasonable daylight hours.

Getting to Silbury Hill

The most direct way to getting to Silbury Hill is via car. Just off the M4 from Bristol, take the A4 between Chippenham and Newbury, and you will find a car park on the left-hand side. Parking is available albeit with charges for non-English Heritage members.

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