Monday, 1 February 2010

Silbury Hill - new find in the archive!

New information has emerged from letters written in 1776 about excavations at Silbury Hill and published for the first time in the new volume of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine.

A local hisorian tracked down two letters, written in 1776 by Edward Drax to his friend, Lord Rivers, about excavations at Silbury Hill. Edward Drax from Bath , had hired a team of miners from the Mendips to dig a shaft from the top of Silbury Hill, to the centre of the hill, 125 feet below.

The letters record that at first, the miners found little but large chalk blocks and deer antler. However, at 95 feet, some 30 feet above they expected the base of the mound to be, the miners discovered what Drax records as a 'perpendicular cavity' that was 6 inches across, and that 'we have already followed it already about 20 feet, we can plumb it about Eleven feet more'. He says that ‘something now perished must have remained in this hole to keep it open’.

These letters, preserved in the British Library, suggest that a great timber post once stood in the centre of Silbury Hill, and matches a later account that fragments of oak timber were found at the centre of the mound. The timber may have stood over 40 feet above the earliest low mound which was one of the earliest phases in the construction of Silbury Hill.

Edward Drax went on to write 'I wait with impatience ... and then I hope shall make a further Discovery'. Unfortunately, no later letter survives at the British Library.

This article is one of 11 articles published in the Magazine, which is available only to Members of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. Membership can be purchased online at Other articles include an analysis of fragments of bluestone found near Stonehenge, and new research about a Neolithic Jadeite stone axe in the collections of the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes.