You are currently browsing the daily archive for 29/07/2010.

Silbury at the start of English Heritage’s project at the Monument. Image credit Heritage Action


English Heritage has released four films (the first three produced in 2007) on Silbury under its Conservation Projects banner. Some footage, but not all, has previously been shown.*
The first film, entitled Silbury Hill: The Conservation Project Begins, is narrated by Julian Richards and shows the temporary capping, with polystyrene blocks, of the shaft dug by the Duke of Northumberland in 1776. Fachtna McAvoy, who managed the archaeological element of the English Heritage Silbury Conservation Project between 2000 and  September 2007, shows core samples from the ground level of the Monument when it was first built some 4,400 years ago. Also shown is the Atkinson/BBC tunnel door being opened for the first time since it was sealed in 1969. Strangely, the spoil that was seen spilling out of the tunnel in an earlier version of the film, is not visible in this version.**
The second film, A Walk through the Tunnel, shows Jim Leary, Fieldwork Director of the project for English Heritage, talking about, “…a few of the discoveries made inside the tunnel.” The film concludes with a, “…walk along the main tunnel from its start at the surface of Silbury three to its end at the central core of Silbury one”. Note how the number of small boulders on the tunnel floor increase towards the central core.
The third film, Collapse and Discoveries, shows engineers led by Mark Kirkbride (Project Manager from Skanska) discussing problems, and some of the archaeology revealed by a collapse inside Silbury, with Amanda Chadburn from English Heritage. Chadburn’s statement with regard to a collapse that, “If we just leave this it will eventually migrate up to the surface we’ll end up with Silbury with a kind of little valley or something [gestures]… which is not good…” is a little understated to say the least.
The fourth film, Filling the Silbury Hill Tunnel, begins with the somewhat premature claim that, “…the Hill has been stabilised and the future of this important monument assured.” Note there is no mention of the sensors still monitoring the interior, nor the possible deleterious effect foreign bodies in the form of iron arches and plastic sacking within the Monument might have on it. In the film English Heritage also glosses over their idea for a time capsule by saying, “During the project English Heritage involved local schools in a number of projects…” One such project was, in fact, for a time capsule containing, among other things, items made by local schoolchildren which would have then been placed within the Monument. The idea was opposed by Lord Avebury (owner of Silbury), by Heritage Action and by others and was eventually abandoned. The film opens with a pagan ceremony followed by Mark Kirkbride and Jim Leary describing the final days of engineering and archeological work at Silbury. The film concludes with an advertisement for Jim Leary and David Field’s forthcoming book (foreword by David Attenborough***) The Story of Silbury Hill.
Putting aside the slow release of the films, together and in this format, the lack of detail contained within them, and what looks like a sleight of hand re: the editing out of the opening of the Atkinson/BBC tunnel door; not to mention the somewhat premature claim that, “…the Hill has been stabilised and the future of this important monument assured.” there is much food for thought contained within all four films and especially the last one where it is revealed that various stages of the construction of Silbury are far more complex than hitherto thought.
After watching the films I am yet again struck by the beauty and sheer complexity of Silbury, both as a structure and as a monument (I wish English Heritage would stop calling it a hill) and deeply saddened by all it has suffered in recent times. Let’s hope that English Heritage’s claim that, “…the Hill has been stabilised…” holds true.
Littlestone. Heritage Action Site Inspector.


* Films here –

** Seen here – (04:40 minutes in). It’s difficult to reconcile that footage with what seems to be a ‘cleaned up’ version of the opening here – (Holes in The Hill: The Conservation Project Begins. 03:00 minutes in). Perhaps English Heritage would like to explain the difference?

*** David Attenborough was Controller of BBC2 when the Silbury Dig programme was filmed for the channel in 1968 and 1969. Silbury Dig was one of several programmes in BBC2′s Chronicle series. It seems the young, and perhaps overly enthusiastic, controller invited Richard Atkinson to tunnel into Silbury and ‘reveal its mysteries’ to the nation on television. Let’s hope that David Attenborough uses the forward to this book to state clearly that the Silbury Dig programme should never have been made, that it was a shambles from beginning to end (the tunnel was not even backfilled after Atkinson and the television crews left) and that it went against the accepted conservation (and probably archaeological) standards of the time.

Mary Lloyd Jones

Interesting art exhibition opening on the 31st July till 18th September at the Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery in Bangor. It features the work of Mary Lloyd Jones….. “renowned for her use of colour, line and ancient writing, Mary expresses her interest in ancient archaeological landscapes.  Her paintings respond to many visits to these sites such as Bryn Celli Ddu, Moel Fenlli and Caer Drewyn.”  Rock art and Viking runes seem to be a feature of her work.

Also running concurrently with the above exhibition is another….

Interpreting the Landscape – Heather and Hillforts Project

“A special project which explores the hillforts of the Clwydian Range, with excavations by Bangor University.  Archaeological drawings, aerial photographs and paintings by Bill Kneale interpret this remarkable landscape”.

Facebook invitation

Straitened times for the archaeologists?

Wessex Archaeology and Cotswold Archaeology announced today that they are in discussion about merging. The two companies who are market leaders in the sector will come together to offer clients what Sue Davies the Chief Executive Officer of Wessex Archaeology described as ‘the most complete and widest range of heritage services in Britain.’

The two organisations, both of which are charities, will be undertaking a process of due diligence over the coming months and anticipate announcing the result of that in the autumn.

Neil Holbrook, the CEO of Cotswold Archaeology said ‘the merger will create an organisation with 300 staff based in 5 offices across the UK. We will be able to meet the increasing demand for a nationwide service that is both comprehensive and competitive.’


July 2010

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