Silbury TV

July 7th, 2008
post #109   general »

Some time ago, the chaps over at Eternal Idol asked me to compare English Heritage’s extensive write-up1 about Silbury Hill with the BBC’s Silbury - The heart of the hill.

On second viewing its clear the show has less to do with the Hill than I’d previously thought. Rather it uses the Hill -aptly- as a jumping off point for a whistlestop tour of the complex, making a couple of stops for reconstruction footage before closing with a possible date for the mysterious mound’s construction. With that in mind it’s difficult to compare infotainment telly with comprehensive analytical survey.

“We can’t say that the Beaker People built Silbury Hill”

the show stresses the importance of Beaker folk to Silbury and their influence on changing times in Britain. Mike Parker-Pearson explains common Beaker burial techniques, with accompanying 3-D clip while Mary-Ann Ochota is shown some typical examples of Beakers found in the British Isles.

It must’ve been the Beakers then? Yet they conclude that: “We can’t say that Beaker people built Silbury Hill”.

We can say “In view of the amount of evidence for Beaker activity within the Wider landscape it is surprising that no beaker evidence comes from the mound itself.” (Analytical survey, page 69)

The striking thing is that the survey is more entertaining. Full of the detail archaeos, students and amateur megalith botherers like myself would love, but laced with references to anecdote and folklore, the old petrol station at the foot the Hill, countless stylised depictions and descriptions through history, and even attempts to make Silbury into a garden feature!

I’m currently reading Mike Pitts’ Hengeworld, and came across this interesting little statement which puts some perspective into the BBC show’s obsession with foreigners “who swept across Europe with their fine pots, loosing arrows into the air”[2]:

“it would be true to say that though Beaker People can still be found in books or heard about in guided tours, for the past twenty years or so few practising archaeologists have believed in them. Instead the fine pots and other artefacts are thought to be a still visible manifestation of some lost fashion, ritual practice or social phenomenon that spread from one community to another, subtly changing as it passed.” (Pitts, page 88).


  1. The investigation and analytical survey of Silbury Hill. Archaeological Investigation Report Series AI/22/2002.
  2. Pitts, M. Hengeworld. Arrow Books. 2000. Archaeological Investigation Report Series AI/22/2002.

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