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A Guest Article by Brian Edwards
In the spirit of the BBC’s ‘The Unbelievable Truth’, a game show that attempts to convey truths undetected amidst a fantastic story:
This week an Olympic torch convoy filed past Silbury Hill without stopping, another in a long line of snubs that can be traced back to 1649.
Silbury Hill was the area’s premier landmark in the late Sixteenth century, prior that is to the focus being shifted onto sarsen standing stones in the vicinity – following John Aubrey’s famous encounter with Avebury in 1649.
Charles II suddenly spotting Silbury Hill from horseback when exiting Avebury after a guided tour in 1663, highlights that Aubrey and the other antiquaries present that day had no intention of bringing the mound to the king’s attention. The antiquaries evidently didn’t want the mound to retain star billing over the newly discovered sarsen stone ‘cathedral’!
They needn’t have worried, when a burial wasn’t found at the very centre of the Silbury Hill in 1776, the mound was deemed to be only a satellite monument to the henge and stone circle.
Another snub followed in the twentieth century: when buying up much of Avebury in the inter-war period, the marmalade financed archaeologist Alexander Keiller didn’t purchase Silbury Hill – a snub in itself, but more significantly the mound was further marginalised by the henge-centric interpretation of Keiller’s rebuilt Avebury at his new museum in a stable block.
Silbury Hill remains the most unique jewel of many jewels in the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site crown, but heads continue to be turned by those precious stones. How else do we explain why the world’s largest chalk built prehistoric monument is less prestigiously known as Europe’s largest prehistoric man-made mound?
On the other hand, the Olympic torch didn’t visit Avebury either!
Did you spot the truths?