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Planet Earth

Giant Mound Is Like an Underground Stonehenge

Radar and sonar reveal sarsen stones buried under Silbury Hill.

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Silbury Hill, a 4,400-year-old, 130-foot-high mound of chalk and dirt about 80 miles west of London, has finally yielded its ancient secrets. It is not the tomb of the long-forgotten King Sil nor the resting place of a golden knight. And it is not, despite the folklore, a dumping ground for the devil’s dirt, forced to drop there by the magic of priests. The story behind the mysterious hill is much less colorful. Silbury Hill is a shrine filled with rocks that, for Stone Age Britons, probably represented the spirits of ancient ancestors.

The physical excavation (video) of Silbury Hill, along with studies using ground-penetrating radar and seismic sonar equipment, has shown that there is not a single human bone in the mound. Instead, dozens of sarsen stones, a type of sandstone that is also used for Neolithic stone circles like Stonehenge, are buried there.

Local geologists think that during the Stone Age, the landscape around Silbury Hill contained hundreds of thousands of sarsen stones. Because the area is made mainly of chalk, prehistoric people would have seen no apparent natural origin for the stones. Archaeologists think the locals endowed these rocks with a spiritual importance that Silbury Hill still embodies. The area itself is considered sacred by modern pagans, who still make offerings at a nearby spring. Due to conservation laws, the prehistoric holy hill is out-of-bounds to pagans and tourists alike.

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