Sunday, July 15, 2007

Alternative Theories For Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill like Stonehenge has many theories to explain its construction and what went on in the mind of the people who built it. Each theory has a point of reference that seems to validate its particular idea but of course speculation as to something that took place in the past is one of the driving forces that our human imagination is very good at – it is after all the reason why we succeed in the ‘survival game’.
The first idea is to see Silbury as a Sun Temple and Shadow Hill. If you study aerial photos of the mound, one thing that is particularly striking is how it casts its cone shape on the surrounding meadows. Now at the beginning of the 20th century, Silbury was seen as an imitation of the pyramids of Egypt by some folk, and their explanation was that the sun would have taken precedent over the moon because it was by the journey of the sun that the planting of crops would be measured. The division of the year into days and months. Now it is put forward in R.Hippisley Cox’s book The Green Roads of England, that if you placed a pole on top of the hill the shadow would fall north on the level meadows, the daily gauge being about four feet “or almost, exactly that of the Great Pyramid” to quote the author.
The second theory that springs to mind is by a Scandinavian author who lives locally, Loethar Respondek is his name, and he concentrates on the water that abounds round the hill, his foolish idea sadly is rather more down to earth, for he sees Silbury as a great spoil heap that is the result of a need for water and the creation of a reservoir.

­ a spoil heap created by a generation of humans facing a water crisis.

Instead the Corsham author thinks the numerous springs and streams meant the area would have provided a vital water supply to nearby settlements. In 3,000 BC a period of climatic change could have had an impact on the amount of water coming from the springs, leading Mr Respondek to believe water supplies were under threat. He came up with the theory that as the earth began to heat up, water sources evaporated during the Sub-Boreal period. "Neolithic man on the parched Downs was confronted by a looming climatic catastrophe,"
Mr Respondek said. Topsoil dried up, grassland replaced the boggy environment and the water table gradually dropped lower and lower.

This, he said, is backed up by remnants of nibbled grass in the mound, which he thinks shows livestock were brought to graze on land that was once boggy marshland. "Somehow Neolithic man had to adapt in order to ensure his survival. A way had to be found to collect and store water," he said. He believes Neolithic man started to dig a trench to reach the sunken water table, dumping the soil removed in a central pile and using fencing to keep it in place. Over hundreds of years men used more and more skilful techniques to build a series of trenches and to contain the soil, so it grew into the mound that exists today. "They didn’t intend trying to build a huge hill but the drier periods got longer and they had to dig deeper and deeper," he said. "It was built on the hoof. Silbury Hill is a spoil heap."

Of course his theory is a lot of nonsense and shows a one-sided scientific approach by a person who has not read all the relevant facts, he has of course just joined in the speculative game with his particular discipline which is geology. If he had studied some of the reports, he would have seen that many of the seeds of the plants found inside Silbury represent a wide range of habitat beside water loving plants, and damp meadow plants. Notwithstanding the most obvious clue - why did they bother with constructing a well made mound if all they were doing was throwing aside spoil to dig for water.

Putting aside weird theories it is interesting to read Jaccquetta Hawkes on the subject of Sun Gods and gnomons at Machu Picchu. Married to an archaeologist, and of course an archaeologist herself, she was fortunate to travel the world and see many of the ancient sites, and it is best to quote her description of the site of this wonderful mountain top city she must have seen 60 or 70 years ago.
"The town is built on a rock spur about a thousand feet above the valley, which itself is nine thousand feet above sea level. On the approach side it is delimited be a massive wall. The other sides are terraced with astonishing skill before they drop into sheer precipices that fall straight to where the River Vilcanota sweeps round in a bold horseshoe. This whole spur, with its green valley skirt and city crown, is enclosed by a vast cirque of rock peaks decked with slender waterfalls. The rock seems pecularily smooth and many faceted, so that these fangs glitter like cut jet. Behind them rise the white, sharp summits of the Andean giants, pointing nineteen and twenty thousand feet towards the sun, and bathed in the stillness of eternal
When she visited Machu Picchu she sat by the side of the Intihuatana, the great foursided gnomon at the highest part of the city and watching a large butterfly that circled her on this lofty eminence decided to write a book about man and the sun. Like all of us she imagined how the priests of the Sun had read the shadows of this monument and how they interpreted it for the people below.

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