Memorabilia. Silbury Golden

Silbury Golden. An organic beer once brewed by Ushers of Trowbridge

Perhaps not quite a piece of memorabilia but certainly a very memorable drink. Silbury Golden was an organic bitter brewed at the end of the 20th century by Ushers Brewery of Trowbridge, Wiltshire (the brewery closed in 2000). Sold in bottles of 500ml with an alc of 4.5% and a UKS Organic Certificate, the bitter was brewed from an Ushers' recipe which used, "...organically grown malt and hops to create a golden beer with a delicate hop aroma, refreshing light bitterness and clean crisp finish." The label on the back of the bottle goes on to read, "A mystery amidst the fertile plains of Wiltshire, Silbury Hill is the largest man-made mound in Europe. Started in 2660BC, it rises to 130 feet and covers 5 acres. It's purpose has been lost over the ages; one theory suggests it was a solar observatory, and another links it with "Lammas" (Harvest Festival) as the mound becomes most visible when nearby grain crops have been gathered."

The Romans at Silbury

One of two trenches in the water meadows below Silbury

Fragment of a Roman brooch?

Unconnected with the ungoing English Heritage excavations at Silbury, this fragment (possibly of a Roman brooch) is from the West Kennet Long Barrow area. Compare this fragment with the two Roman brooches from Beckhampton Down (Merewether 1851) illustrated on pp153 of Pollard and Reynolds' Avebury: The biography of a landscape.

More here - and here -

Field trip to the archaeological excavation near the Monument

Trenches in the arable field opposite Silbury

Field trip to the English Heritage archaeological excavation near Silbury Hill, Wiltshire and the Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury.

Wednesday 1 September 2010.
10.30am – 4pm.

"The Icon Archaeological Group field trip will be visiting a research excavation being undertaken by the Archaeological Projects team at English Heritage. The excavation is evaluation the recently revealed Romano-British settlement located in the fields surrounding Silbury Hill. The day will include a guided tour of the excavation by the project manager as well as the opportunity to hear about the recent Silbury Hill conservation project.

"In the afternoon the field trip will move on to the site of Avebury and a guided tour of the Alexander Keiller Museum.

"A buffet lunch will be provided at the Red Lion Pub, Avebury. "

More here –

Resolving the Enigma. The reviewer is reviewed

In the latest edition the CBA British Archaeology magazine, Jim Leary begins his ’review’ of Michael Dames’ book, Silbury: Resolving the Enigma (see below) with the rather dismissive statement that, “Let us first be very clear: despite the words “English Heritage” in the opening line on the back cover, this book has nothing whatsoever to do with the recent English Heritage project at Silbury Hill.”

I’m sure it doesn’t, and I’m sure Michael Dames would be the last to claim that it does. Leary however goes on to complain that, throughout the book, “…Dames portrays archaeologists as feckless academics, over-reliant on science and closed to the outside world.” Ehm… yes… that does sound about right with regard to much of the ’archaeological’ activity at Silbury over recent decades. Leary however rants on and then concludes (without actually having reviewed the book at all) with the somewhat condescending statement that, “This well-written but ultimately frustrating book would have benefited greatly from a little communication with archaeologists. Perhaps then it would not have been so full of factual errors.” Hmm… we look forward to reviewing your book, Jim, when it’s published later this year; no doubt it will be free of any factual errors and will shown that you (and English Heritage) have fully communicated with conservators (and others) on the optimum methods and materials needed to ensure the future stability of Silbury, and have also taken on board the advice offered to you by such professionals (as well as the concerns of those in the pagan community).

It is not our role to promote current archaeological theories, nor the alternative theories of those outside the archaeological establishment. Perhaps, however, a little more communication from English Heritage archaeologists with other concerned bodies and individuals, and a little less self-aggrandisement of some individual archaeologists, would not go amiss. If a luminary like Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University can write of Dames’ latest book that, “This is a colourful, readable and fascinating personal reinterpretation of a unique monument. As a set of hypotheses it is credible, and as a piece of literature it is a joy. Michael Dames knows and loves our land itself at least as well as anybody else alive.” we can surely expect the same degree of magnanimity (and diversity of perspective) from those public servants whose wages we pay.

Silbury: Resolving the Enigma by Michael Dames is published by The History Press Ltd. Paperback: 192 pages.
ISBN-10: 0752454501. ISBN-13: 978-0752454504.

English Heritage on their consolidation project at Silbury

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.

* Films 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.