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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > History > Archive Films > Silbury Hill: 1969

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill: 1969

In the late 60s, Professor Richard Atkinson attracted a great deal of interest as he attempted to reveal the secrets of Silbury Hill near Marlborough. Such was his enthusiasm, he even agreed to the BBC showing the dig on TV!

Silbury Hill, constructed around 4500 years ago and is the largest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe, remains an enigma to this day.

But towards the end of the sixties, archaeologist Professor Richard Atkinson, from the University of Cardiff, attempted to discover just what lay inside the enormous mound of chalky earth.

Prof Richard Atkinson

Prof Richard Atkinson

He hoped to reveal the construction of Silbury and establish why it had been built in the first place.

Such was his enthusiasm he allowed BBC TV cameras to follow the dig, and while Channel Four’s Time Team might think they invented the idea of 3-day archaeology TV, the Beeb camped out for three seasons to cover the Prof’s every discovery.

A shaft was sunk from the top of the hill, while on its western flank, a tunnel was cut through to the centre. 


BBC Outside Broadcast van

In fact, Atkinson and his team followed the line of an earlier tunnel, dug in 1849 by Dean John Merewether.

It must have seemed as if they were digging into the world’s biggest Christmas pudding, and indeed, what they discovered suggested a layer-cake construction.

The moment when Dr John Taylor, the mining engineer working with Atkinson, broke into the line of the Merewether tunnel and crawled down the unsupported 19th century tunnel to the centre, there was huge excitement as it was thought the team had unearthed a burial chamber.

Silbury archeaologist

Silbury archeaologist at work in 1969

But sadly, instead of “Silbury-Khamun”, all the archaeologists found were a few fossilised insect remains, seeds and pollen.
More recently, archaeologists from English Heritage used the BBC’s film to help with their investigation into why Silbury Hill collapsed back in May and December 2000.

Experts from English Heritage watched the black and white archive of John Taylor crawling through the tunnel and agreed that the film was helpful in establishing what might have caused the collapse."

They also investigated boxes of Professor Atkinson’s papers held at Avebury.
Missing from the archive were detailed plans of what Atkinson and Taylor found when they reached the centre of the mound, although detailed drawing of the centre of the hill had been kept safe for over 30 years.
It seems that Merewether was not the first to penetrate to the heart of the prehistoric mound.

BBC TV camera

Lights, cameras, action!

In 1776 the Duke of Northumberland sank a shaft from the top of the mound down through its centre and when the hole opened up in May 2000 the suspicion was that the Northumberland shaft had collapsed.

However, despite all of this activity, we remain in the dark when it comes to fully understanding the purpose behind this enigmatic Wiltshire monument – may be future archaeologists will have better luck.


  • Use the right hand links to other local Where I Live sites to see more archive film from Points West.

last updated: 05/12/2008 at 14:09
created: 25/11/2005

Have Your Say

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jackie hutchins
i have just been past silbury hill and am disgusted to find yet another cave in, leaving 2 very large holes. ok so they are in the process of fixing it,but all because of greed did it have to be tamperd with in the first place. that site has with stood all kinds of weather thrown at it fir thousands of years, we come along, and because there may be treasure, ruin it. well looking at the state of it today, somebody better sort somthing out to fix it very quick.

I think that this page is excellent, but it should tell you slightly more about the hill and it's original story! Thx anyway.

I think that silbury hill is really interesting and that this page should tell you slightly more about who made it etc.It is also the name of the yr5/6 classroom in our school!

Dave Biggs
Good morning just to say I have been taking photographs of Avebury and surrounding area for many years and would like to send you a few by e mail

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