October 22nd, 2007

More From Tideswell

We can't be sure who these ladies are but apparently they're older than the church that houses them. Aren't they elegant? One is dated c.1300 and the other c.1375. They've been placed rather awkwardly in the sanctuary of the Lady Chapel in a position where only the priest at the altar can see them properly. I had to climb over the altar rail to take these pictures. An act of trespass. But I am still a priest- yes I am: I may be listed in the archbishop's little black book, but they never defrocked me.

Silbury Hill

BBC 4 showed a film last night about this summer's dig at Silbury Hill. The dig was mainly a rescue operation. The 18th century shaft from summit to base- dug by the  treasure-hunting Duke of Northumberland (boo, hiss) had collapsed and the whole hill was in danger of falling in on itself like a souffle. The plan was to reopen the tunnel dug by archaeologists in 1968, empty out the inadequate backfill and pack all the cavities with good honest chalk- so returning the hill to a state as close to pristine as is possible.

It gave archaeologists an opportunity to recover organic samples from within the hill and submit them to radio-carbon dating.

So what have we learned that's new? Not very much. We already had a rough idea of the date when construction started; that's now been narrowed down to 2,400 BC- give or take a generation.  Atkinson's 1968 theory that the hill went up in three stages has been strengthened (or at least not disproved).  And that's about it.

What was Silbury for? Nobody knows. A ritual platform, a solar observatory, an icon of the winter Goddess, a big, fat status symbol- they've all been proposed and none of them disproved. Silbury is a very "clean" site - which suggests ritual use and restricted access.The only hypothesis that's been conclusively ruled out by centuries of fruitless digging is everybody's first guess- that it's a tomb. 

Oh, one genuinely new piece of information- They found a huge post-hole on the summit that dates to the11th century CE, also an armour piercing arrowhead. Put them together and it seems that the Saxons used the hill as the footings for a watchtower or fort.