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A guest feature by Littlestone
In 1968, the BBC’s Chronicle series commissioned a ‘dig’ of Silbury Hill (see film link below). The dig was lead by one professor Richard Atkinson, the series was conceived by David Attenborough with Magnus Magnusson as the commentator. Atkinson’s methods and recordkeeping were appalling even for the time, and the BBC’s involvement in this debacle (a tunnel dug horizontally to the centre of Silbury) is a sorry stain on its broadcasting history. The outcome of this Atkinson/BBC dig of Silbury did not result in the discovery of the gold or silver treasures they were hoping for; in fact little was discovered at all, and the real archaeological ‘treasures’ that Atkinson and his team may have found seem to have been either lost or dismissed as unimportant.
Atkinson and the BBC did leave something behind at Silbury however – a dank and dangerous tunnel to its heart, a tunnel that was not properly backfilled and was shorn up with dozens of corroding metal supports – many of which were deemed too dangerous to remove during English Heritage’s ‘conservation’ project of 2007-2008. Many of those metal supports are still there – deep within Silbury; a reminder perhaps to future generations of the self-serving conceit of the 20th and 21st centuries. If those words sound strong consider this: even at the beginning of 2008 English Heritage were not only considering leaving in place the concrete lintel (bearing the date 1968) and the metal door with its ‘S’ logo, intact and at the entrance to the Atkinson/BBC tunnel, but had also decided that a 21st century time capsule should be placed within Silbury! The idea of a time capsule was vehemently opposed by heritage groups, conservators, members of the public and many in the pagan community. Even Lord Avebury himself (owner of Silbury) wrote a strongly worded letter to the Guardian newspaper expressing his disapproval for a time capsule.
It seems extraordinary now that English Heritage should have considered such an idea but it is, perhaps, indicative of this organization’s detachment from cultural reality; a detachment that is still sadly seen in the ongoing Stonehenge saga, where roads continue to destroy the tranquillity of the site, some 20,000 ‘partygoers’ are allowed there each and every summer solstice, and a tacky visitor centre selling fast food is allowed to continue in business just a few metres away from perhaps our most important national treasure.
Some of the iron struts removed in 2008 from the Atkinson/BBC tunnel of 1968

English Heritage at Silbury Hill. March 2008. Image credit Heritage Action


Silbury Dig: The Heart of the Mound
BBC 2 Chronicle Series.
First Broadcast 27 July 1968.
Duration 39 minutes 12 seconds.
“Silbury is one of the largest prehistoric earthworks in Europe, possibly dating to 2400BC. In this programme, originally broadcast live, Magnus Magnusson meets the archaeologists who have uncovered a tunnel that leads into the heart of the mound.”
Silbury Hill falling down
Channel 4 News. 24 Oct 2007.
Duration 4 minutes 31 seconds.
The Hill with a Hole (or The Silbury Hill Conservation Project)
English Heritage. 10 June 2010.
Duration 9 minutes 5 seconds.

“A film produced by Chris Corden Productions for English Heritage that includes work taking place within the re-opened 1849/1968/69 tunnels at Silbury Hill.”

See also –


July 2010

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