Why I Believe The Final Neolithic Design For Silbury Hill Was Flat Topped

 

It has been suggested that Silbury's "iconic flat-topped profile is probably a consequence of more recent landscaping. The original neolithic summit appears to have been truncated in the Saxon period, when an 11th-century fortification was erected on the hill" (Link Here). Clearly, if the neolithic Silbury had a rounded, or pointy top then my Lost Ceremony theory becomes less likely. For me then the question arises "how can we be sure there was a plateau at the top of neolithic Silbury?"

 

I. Silbury's Interior Design Implies That It Was Intended To Support A Flat Top. The structure of Silbury is based on a stack of carefully engineered 5 metre high chalk cylinders. Each new cylinder had a smaller diameter than the one below, the stacking process ultimately producing the cone shape of the hill. The modern grassy plateau of the hill corresponds closely with the top of the highest cylinder which is what one would expect if it had been designed to do so by the neolithic architects.

 


 

(Schematic sketch showing internal chalk cylinders inside Silbury and their approximate relationship to the plateau)
 
 

If the plateau had been hacked out in much later times it would be reasonable to expect the cylinder to be roughly cut through, not daintily preserved. What we have today is too perfect to be accidental, not to be original.

Furthermore, Meaden points out (in "The Goddess Of The Stones", p166) that the hill " ... was raised with such precision that the centre of the flat summit lies vertically above the centre of the deeply-buried primary mound with its clay core. What is more, by virtue of the high-level terrace, otherwise difficult to understand, the shape of the summit echoes the size and circular shape of the primary mound hidden far below".
 

 

II. Silbury's Causeways Suggest People Were Climbing Up To Assemble On The Top. Silbury Hill is famously equipped with two causeways. These are clearly designed to bring pedestrians onto the hill, as Meaden puts it (in "Goddess" page 166) "Silbury was built to be climbed". It is clear these causeways were part of the neolithic scheme, not Anglo Saxon as they are made of solid chalk (per English Heritage "The Investigation and analytical survey of SILBURY HILL 2002" page 24, citing Flinders Petrie). Building causeways at Silbury without also building flat assembly areas on it for the people to actually stand on is about as logical as building a staircase in a bungalow. The causeways were clearly a route to and from some point on the steep hill, and a flat assembly area at the top (such as the modern plateau we see today) would be logical.

 

III. Roman Coins Found On The Summit Provide A Date Far Earlier Than The 11th Century. I notice that the English Heritage 2002 report (referred to above) tells us that "Stukeley mentions a Roman coin found on the summit" (page 28). Hard to explain why the floor of an Anglo Saxon fort, newly carved from a posited higher hilltop, would yield an artifact several hundred years older! Much more likely it was dropped by a Roman visitor on the pre-existing and flat neolithic platform!

Another English Heritage report furnishes an additional example of a Roman find on the summit, see page 9 of "Silbury Hill, Wiltshire Roman Coins from the Silbury Region" (English Heritage Research Department Report Series, no. 102-2011). That report records a coin of Constantine I found at the summit of Silbury Hill in 2001.

 

IV. The Original Design Of Silbury's Final Shape May Still Be Available To Us!

Amazingly, we may actually have access to the original neolithic template that inspired the final shape of Silbury Hill. In his book "The Silbury Revelation", John Drews describes the Waden/Silbury complex, when seen from the Wansdyke, as representing a gigantic divine figure reclining in the landscape. Here is my rough sketch of this figure, based on the photo on page 70 of his book, the Silbury "face" looking up on the left, the long "body" of Waden on the right:

 



 

Further, if I understand him correctly, he believes that these two hills were in fact deliberately arranged (Silbury being artificial and therefore clearly designed for the purpose) to specifically reproduce two other sacred hills situated in the next valley south of Avebury. These latter hills, Pecked (aka Picked) Hill and Woodborough Hill, would also have been interpreted by neolithic worshippers as representing a gigantic sacred figure when viewed from Knap Hill [Knap Hill, significantly to my mind, has already been identified by J D Wakefield as itself being part of an additional , and in my count a third, sacred Avebury landscape figure, the Alton Barnes Goddess, click here for details].

In Drew's scenario, Silbury was deliberately designed to represent Pecked Hill. If Drews is right this is of huge significance to our understanding of Silbury. It would mean that we could interpret Silbury is a stylized reproduction of an existing hill, one that we can see today, an existing hill whose summit is FLAT, or nearly so. This would be most convincing proof that the final neolithic stage of Silbury Hill was also intended to be FLAT, or nearly so!! Uniquely in Avebury research we can directly compare a monument as it appears to us today with the its original design/template.

[As I have said Drew's Pecked/Woodborough Hill Goddess is visible from Knap Hill, itself the site of a famous neolithic causewayed enclosure or camp built around 3530-3375 BC. This strongly suggests that Drew's Goddess was worshipped from Knap at this very early date by a people contemporaneous with the Windmill Hill People at Avebury to the north. It is striking that the Silbury/Waden version of the Pecked/Woodborough Goddess was built at Avebury more than a thousand years later, probably by the (relatively) newly arrived Beaker people. This is another very good example of the Beakers happily picking up and amplifying the older themes of the lost Knap/Windmill Hill peoples, another example would be the incorporation of designs from old West Kennet Long Barrow into the much later West Kennet Avenue stones, for example zenith-seekers at both locations).

 

V. Silbury's Destinctive Shape With Its Flat Top May Have Been Modelled On A Neolithic Religious Meme Or Building Or Object.

a) In his "Goddess" book Meaden tells us that "Silbury's external appearance is that of a flat-topped cone, not unlike a decapitated limpet" (page 163). He goes on to describe the discovery of such neolithic limpet shells with their tops removed. He states "... some further symbolism may have been involved: perhaps the feminine, Goddess imagery of the solid conical triangle was enhanced to include 'earth symbolism', in which the ritual indicated an appeal for life-after-death..." (page 157). It is therefore being suggested that the truncated limpets represent a neolithic religious meme or symbol that has been enormously amplified and projected to create Silbury's final and religiously motivated shape. If true, then the cut-off flat shell tops would correspond with the flat top of the prehistoric Silbury, the flat top we still see today.

b) Michael Dames, on page 77 of his "The Avebury Cycle", appears to link the final design of Silbury with that of neolithic circular huts. If I understand him correctly he sees the initial construction phases of Silbury as creating an earthen model of a sacred house, complete with wattle walls, now buried within the modern hill. The wattle wall of this house was approximately 20 metres across.

This prototype house was later buried in the push to build the massive but similarly shaped building we see today. The key point is that this style of architecture would have included a horizontal chimney truncation to allow hearth smoke to rise out from the thatched cone shaped top of the house. This chimney is represented, on the Silbury we see today, by the flat area we call the plateau. This plateau must therefore have been built flat as part of the intended architectural idiom, it was not cut at any later time, it was neolithic!

The real question of course is whether the final Silbury actually was designed as the spring/summer home of the Great Goddess, the Creatrix of the entire neolithic world. If that had truly been the neolithic intention it would certainly explain why so many builders worked so incredibly hard to raise such a complex, massive and splendid monument. This would have been a uniquely vast and highly technically demanding project, nothing less than a nationally important religious mission demanding widespread and willing particupation. This sacred home explanation would also answer the perennial question why tall Silbury was built on low ground, and not on a high place (a question referred to, for example, by Burl on his page 181). My explanation, of course, being that homes need to be protected from the elements, and so are better sited on the floor of valleys or in the shelter of nearby hills (which is the case at Silbury, considerately built in the lee of Waden Hill). Another reason to believe that the monument was intended to be a practical home for the Goddess might be the easy availability of domestic water supplied by local springs. The Goddess would have lived in comfort with ready water to drink, wash and cook with, and a chimney to let out the smoke from her cooking fire. No doubt offerings of food would have been readily offered to her at this Silbury shrine, much as such gifts are deposited today in neighbouring West Kennet Long Barrow. This all goes to furnish a touching vision of an approachable and kindly Goddess living among the people during the spring/summer months, an incarnation quite distinct from the cold and starry death Goddess she will become next winter!

The provision of a divine house for the Goddess would have given the ancient worshippers a sense of her immediate presence, encouraging, I suspect, many to consult her via a human oracle or priestess installed there. I wonder how many travellers arriving from the north on the Ridgeway would immediately have turned their steps west to pray to, and consult with, the living Goddess?

The resulting narrative of Silbury might have run like this:


1.  Annually the Great Goddess eschews the earth for a season and lives in the stars, this causes the earth to become barren and cold - winter reigns
2.  Each spring, at the vernal equinox, Avebury worshippers gather to encourage the Goddess' return by watching her Belt join Silbury Hill
3.  The Great Goddess, rejuvenated by her return home, inhabits Silbury as her earthly house for the greener, warmer months
4.  On the 8th May each year the Goddess is inseminated by the Sky God in Meaden's Marriage Of The Gods (click here for explanation)
5.  The Goddess gives birth to the summer and all its gifts
6.  As a result of its enormous fame as the earthly home of the Goddess, Avebury attracts prilgrims from the entire Island of Britain
7.  After many years religious belief shifts from Goddess to Sun worship, causing Avebury/Silbury to be abandoned in favour of nearby Stonehenge

 

VI. Was The 11th Century Building Work Small Scale And Merely Opportunistic? As we have seen it has been suggested that the flat top was in fact constructed in Anglo Saxon times to enable the building of a defensive fort. If this were the case a circular cross section 30 metres across would have to have been carved out of the original and higher neolithic summit. In all probability this amount of labour would only have been reasonable if a correspondingly large fort were to be erected here, but it is far from clear that a large medieval building project actually took place. Perhaps this suggests rather that the remains actually found represented a small scale and opportunistic use of a far, far older neolithic plateau.