Ancient Britain: Silbury & West Kennet




Soon after passing the White Horse we could see Silbury Hill, a huge man-made chalk mound near Avebury. It 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[2] and covers about 5 acres (0.020 km2). It is a display of immense technical skill and prolonged control over labour and resources. Archaeologists calculate that Silbury Hill was built about 4750 years ago and that it took 18 million man-hours, or 500 men working 15 years…. Mackie asserts that no simple late Neolithic tribal structure as usually imagined could have sustained this and similar projects, and envisages an authoritarian theocratic power elite with broad-ranging control across southern Britain.

It still seems a mystery as to why it was built. It is off bounds now but we could see it well from the road and as we walked up a hill or ridge nearby on top of which lies the West Kennet Long Barrow, a Neolithic tomb or barrow. Older than Stonehenge, this too was a marvel of construction and many man hours of labour. Open and accessible, I thought it would be spooky to go in but some clever openings cut into the sod above it gave a little light to see the construction of stones holding up walls and ceiling and reveal a central passage and several adjoining small bays. Spooky though to know this was a tomb.

Our stop was not long enough for serious photography. There are some nice photos at wikipedia, and probably at some of the numerous sites online, and one can also view the inside of West Kennet Long Barrow via this cool interactive VR Panorama.

Avebury is next, our last tour stop before returning to London.

Posts about our Ancient Britain Tour:
Old Sarum
Wiltshire Flint
White Horses

July 14, 2009 in Culture, History, Rock Art & Archaeology, Travel by Marja-Leena