Silbury had no function, apart from the act of its creation - in other words, just like the walls at Gobekli Tepe and Catalhoyuk, it was created as part of a ritual act - quite possibly shamanic.
Monday May 12, 2008
The secret of Silbury Hill, the most enigmatic prehistoric monument in Europe, isn't the monument but the monumental effort which went into building it, according to the archaeologist who has spent most of the last year slipping around on wet chalk deep in the heart of the hill.
On a sunny morning last week a local druid scattered Wiltshire grass and wild flower seed on the summit of Silbury, to mark what engineers and archaeologists devoutly hope is the completion of a project to prevent the 4,500 year old hill from collapsing - 10 months and £1m over budget.
Jim Leary, the archaeological director for English Heritage throughout the work, thinks he has solved a riddle which archaeologists have fretted over for centuries: why thousands of people piled up 35 million baskets of chalk into the largest artificial hill in Europe, now part of the Stonehenge World Heritage site. It wasn't the final structure, but the staggering contribution of work which was important, he now believes, marking a site of immense but only guessable significance to the hunters and farmers of Bronze Age Wiltshire.
After following their predecessors into the heart of the monument, and then leaving the warren of Georgian, Victorian and 20th century tunnels packed again with chalk slurry so that they hope nobody will ever follow in their footsteps, the archaeologists and engineers are convinced there is no secret chamber, prehistoric passage or treasure hoard, only the hill itself rising 40 metres above the Wiltshire watermeadows, by the shoulder of the modern A4 following the line of the Roman road which jinked to avoid it. Leary, announcing his preliminary findings to a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries in London, thinks the builders were revering the site - overlooking both sacred springs, and the source of the Kennet which he believes was then seen as the source of the mighty Thames - by joining in a spectacular communal effort, continued over generations. Even before the first hill rose, he has discovered a dense layer of compacted clay, which appears to be the result of thousands of feet trampling - or dancing - across the site.
"We assume the building to be a process towards the final form or function, but this is a very modern and western way of looking at monuments. Instead I suggest that the act of construction was the ceremony, and the final form was the by-product."