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  • Writer's picturetonygulliver

The Enigma of Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill in Wiltshire is just one element in the amazing prehistoric landscape that surrounds Avebury, which in turn is part of the Avebury World Heritage Site. Okay, it may not be the most ancient of Avebury’s features, dating back “only” to 2400BC. But it is an object of great fascination – particularly as nobody really knows why it was built. Contemporaneous with Egypt’s pyramids, it is the largest man-made mound in Europe, nestled here in the chalk landscape of the Marlborough Downs. It was originally a stepped structure, but the steps were smoothed over 4,350 years ago. It has nothing within it of any archaeological interest, such as burials; all it is known to contain is the equivalent of 1.3 million wheelie bins of rubble.

However, this enigmatic structure is worth visiting at any time of year, and now that we have been going through one of the rainiest autumns on record, perhaps even more so. Being in an area of chalk downland, there are no permanent streams around Avebury, just the Winterbourne. Winterbournes are streams that only flow during periods of high precipitation, and after prolonged periods of heavy rain the one that flows towards Silbury Hill bursts its banks and fills the shallow depression surrounding the base with water. The result: a conical hill surrounded by a moat. It looks amazing, but perhaps not quite as amazing as it would have done when first constructed. Back then, the whole hill was faced in gleaming white chalk, and to locals it must have looked like something quite out of this world. Perhaps it was simply built as a sign; a sign that you’d arrived in an ultra-special place.

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