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We’ve raved in the past about the DVD/Book combination that is ‘Standing With Stones’, and the book made our recent Winter Gift Giving list of recommendations.

Back in 2009 at the conclusion of the project, Rupert Soskin gave us an interesting insight into his personal journey whilst making the film.

Stocks of the original DVD have now run low, but in an attempt to satisfy demand whilst replenishment takes place, the entire DVD is now downloadable from their web site, either as a single file, or in geographic sections at a reasonable cost per section.

If you’ve not yet seen the film, it’s not to be missed.


You’ve got it the wrong way round again!
It’s a good thing archaeology has moved on in the last 50 years!

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.


December 2021

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