Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Hill of Secrets

Hill of Secrets Blaz Kure
22 Sep
2017
For this month’s Discovering Britain, Laura Cole visits a viewpoint in Wiltshire for a look at the largest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe

For more great walks, trails and viewpoints, be sure to check out the new Discovering Britain Facebook page by clicking here.

db logo jpeg large

Rising to almost 40 metres high and measuring 160 metres around, Silbury Hill dominates an otherwise flat landscape. At roughly 4,600 years old, it’s the same age as the pyramids of Giza – though arguably even more mysterious. While there are burials near the Egyptian structures, excavations have found no such items around Silbury, nor any other explanation for its use.

Despite this sense of the unknown, the form still has a surreal effect on the green Wiltshire field it sits on. With no other high landforms to compete with, it stands alone against a backdrop of empty sky, while its even and rounded sides create few shadows, and appear to absorb all the light in the area. It absorbs attention too. On the nearby A4, drivers drop to a noticeably slower speed as this domineering feature looms into view.

One thing is for sure – the hill represents a feat of extraordinary human labour. ‘All of it would have been dug by hand, shovels, and pickaxes made from deer antlers,’ says archaeology writer, Mary-Ann Ochota, who penned this Discovering Britain viewpoint. ‘It was built in the late Stone Age, at a time just before metal tools were introduced.’

Estimations have the hill taking four million man-hours to complete. ‘It wasn’t done all in one go,’ explains Ochota. ‘It was heightened gradually over a period of around 80 years.’ In fact, the hill began as a small one-metre pile of gravel, using material probably collected from a nearby stream. Then followed a mound of soil, then another half million tonnes of chalk to finish it off.

Less mysterious is where the chalk came from. A ditch surrounds the mound on all sides, significantly lower than the natural ground level. The workers would have quarried into the earth and piled the material on top. In fact, it may be that the quarry is the main event, and the hill just a distraction. ‘Perhaps the act of digging was more important than the mound itself,’ agrees Ochota. During wet spells, the ditch fills with water which reflects the hill shape. ‘When it floods, the hill looks like it’s floating on its own sea,’ she says. ‘We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible that the quarry was extended just for this.’ Whatever its original intention, it’s an effect that continues to captivate.

VIEWPOINT
• Location: SW England
• Type: Rural
• Duration: 15 minutes
Click here for more details

Unearth more of our nation’s history and find more great walks, trails and viewpoints around the UK at discoveringbritain.org or via the new Discovering Britain Facebook page.

This was published in the September 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

LATEST DISCOVERING BRITAIN

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in UK...

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits Kennington…

UK

New research demonstrates the harsh reality of UK immigration policy…

Discovering Britain

On this month's Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole heads to…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits a…

UK

‘Iconic mammals of the hill’ see populations dwindling in the…

Discovering Britain

In this month’s Discovering Britain, Laura Cole visits Winchester’s chalk…

UK

A new interest in Cornish mines has been sparked amid…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole checks out…

UK

An ambitious, long-term project is hoping to bring trees back…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole follows the…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits Hay-on-Wye,…

UK

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is likely to lead…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole walks up…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits the…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain Trail, Laura Cole visits Norwich,…

UK

With Blue Planet II’s recent rally cry for environmental protection…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits St…

UK

A community of 28 bottlenose dolphins has made the southwest…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole explores Pontypool…

UK

From casual forays beneath to leading scientific breakthroughs, UK’s caving…