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A guest feature by Littlestone

Silbury (Silbury Hill) stands at the side of the old Roman road to Bath, about a mile from the Avebury stone circle on the A4 heading towards Marlborough. There’s a small car park close to the structure and information panels in the viewing area there detail the general history of the monument. It’s not possible (nor desirable) to climb Silbury and the information panels in the viewing area explain why.

Recent estimates place the final phase of Silbury’s construction at some 2,400bce. In other words, Silbury is nearly four and a half thousand years old. Until the modern age it was the largest manmade structure in Europe. When the final stage of Silbury was completed it would have appeared as a huge white ‘pyramid’ set in a green and gentle Downland valley. At certain times of the year Silbury would, as it still sometimes does today, appear to float at the centre of its own artificial ‘lake’ and been visible from not only the nearby Ridgeway (possibly the oldest track-way in Europe) but also from many other vantage points on the surrounding Downs – some of these vantage points are as far away as Winterbourne Bassett (see below ).

For some four and a half thousand years things stayed more or less as they were, but that was about to change with Colonel Drax and the Duke of Northumberland’s vertical shaft dug to the centre of Silbury in 1776.


Silbury at the centre of its own artificial lake. Image credit Moss

The list of applications for the UK’s new Tentative List of sites for World Heritage status has been published. A fascinating list of 38, many of which are entirely worthy we’d have thought. What a treasure house Britain is!

A couple of things struck us though. First, apart from Creswell Crags (hooray!) prehistoric monuments and landscapes have been given short shrift, as usual. When will the fact Britain is uniquely blessed and world famous on account of it’s unique and amazingly complete prehistoric heritage be properly recognised by government?

Second, in introducing the list John Penrose the Tourism and Heritage Minister said:

“…what all 38 sites have in common is a wow factor and a cultural resonance that makes them real contenders to sit alongside The Pyramids and Red Square in this most distinguished of gatherings.”

Very true John. In which case, where is Thornborough, which few would deny has a wow factor far in excess of most of the others on that or any other list as anyone that has seen it will confirm. What’s more, it’s the most important prehistoric monument (according to English Heritage) between Stonehenge and the Orkneys – which pretty much means “in Europe” or even “the world” ???

Could it possibly be guilt on behalf of both Yorkshire County Council (who have used every trick in the book to allow Tarmac plc to progressively wreck it’s landscape over a period of years) and those protection agencies that helped the process along? Could the government be simply too wretchedly ashamed to have UNESCO inspectors visit the Henges and see what it has allowed it’s gravel greedy pals to do? Especially as it is just about to say that there’ll be no road building for the next zillion years and the demand for more gravel will be approximately zero ??

We think so…



July 2010

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