Nearest town: Marlborough
Nearest village: Beckhampton
Map reference: SU 100685
The largest man-made prehistoric
mound in Europe is 39.6 m (130 ft) high
Silbury Hill, part of the complex of Neolithic
monuments around Avebury in Wiltshire (which includes the West Kennet long barrow), is the tallest prehistoric man-made
mound in Europe and one of the world's largest. On a base covering over 2 hectares (5 acres), it rises 39.6m (130ft) high.
It is a display of immense technical skill and prolonged control over labour and resources.
Archaeologists calculate that Silbury Hill was built about 4600 years ago and that it took 18
million man-hours to dump and shape 248,000 cubic metres (8.75 million cu ft) of earth on top of a natural hill. Every man, woman and child in Britain today could together build such a
mound if they each contributed one bucketful of earth.
The base of the monument is 167m (550ft) in diameter and it is perfectly round. Its summit is flat-topped
and 30m (100ft) wide. We know that the construction took two phases: soon after work was started,
a re-design was ordered, and the mound enlarged. It is constructed in steps, each step being filled
in with packed chalk, and then smoothed off. There have been three
excavations of the mound: the first when a team of Cornish miners led by the Duke of Northumberland
sunk a shaft from top to bottom in 1776, another in 1849 when a tunnel was dug from the edge into the
centre, and a third in 1968-70 when professor Richard Atkinson had another tunnel cut into the base.
Nothing has ever been found on Silbury Hill: at its core there is only clay, flints, turf, moss, topsoil,
gravel, freshwater shells, mistletoe, oak, hazel, sarsen stones, ox bones, and antler tines.
Moses B.Cotworth, at the beginning of this century, stated that Silbury was a giant sundial to
determine seasons and the true length of the year. More recently, the writer Michael Dames has
identified Silbury Hill as the winter goddess but he finally acknowledges that the monument remains
a stupendous enigma.
According to legend, this is the last resting place of King Sil, sitting on a fabled golden horse.
Another legend states that the mound holds a lifesize solid gold statue of King Sil and yet a third,
that the Devil was carrying an apron of soil to drop on the citizens of Marlborough, but he was
stopped by the priests of nearby Avebury.