The World Recreated: Redating Silbury Hill in Its Monumental Landscape

By Bayliss, Alex; McAvoy, Fachta et al. | Antiquity, March 2007 | Go to article overview

The World Recreated: Redating Silbury Hill in Its Monumental Landscape


Bayliss, Alex, McAvoy, Fachta, Whittle, Alasdair, Antiquity


Introduction

There came a time in many past societies when prodigious amounts of labour were directed into great tasks of construction, and few parts of the world are without mounds, pyramids, ziggurats or other substantial earthworks of some kind. Some of these are historically late, such as the mounds of the Mississippian culture, which was at its peak in the period AD 1200-1400. Others go back much earlier, such as the temple platforms of Mesopotamia from the fifth to the fourth millennia BC, followed by the ziggurats of the third millennium, or the first pyramids in Egypt, the earliest of which is the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara (after 2686 BC, the start of the Third Dynasty) (summarised in Whittle 1997a: 143-4; with references). No one sequence is quite the same, and these massive undertakings were often preceded by smaller enterprises. This sense of change and the scale which developed monuments can reach have prompted many questions. Who thought up these investments? What imperatives drove them? Whose social and political interests did they serve? Did they recurrently appear at significant points in sequences?

The Late Neolithic in southern Britain, broadly speaking in the third millennium BC, is one example of a society which engaged in enterprises of this kind, though not quite on the scale of some of the most extravagant examples worldwide. Impressive constructions in timber, earth, chalk and stone were numerous, but mostly grouped into local complexes, the best known spread across central-southern England (or Wessex) (Renfrew 1973; Wainwright 1989). The earthwork enclosures ('henges') of Avebury and Durrington Walls, containing substantial internal settings of stone and timber, and Stonehenge itself, are prime examples. Clearly these were collective undertakings, in that vast amounts of labour were needed, but how was this mobilised and who, if anyone, directed it? Compared with earlier constructions in the fourth millennium such as long barrows, causewayed enclosures and cursus monuments, what does the change of scale signify?

Many answers have been given to these sorts of questions, which we will return to below. Much is at stake, in terms of the kind of society and the pace and trajectory of change which we envisage at this time. Perhaps all answers so far--and perhaps all the questions too--have been offered within a rather loose or imprecise chronological framework. Material culture studies and individual site sequences offer some sense of order, but radiocarbon dating in this period has usually relied on small numbers of samples, often poorly selected, the results of which have normally been examined informally (cf. Bayliss et al 2007a). Only the chronology of Stonehenge itself has been explicitly modelled (Cleal et al. 1995:511-35; Bayliss et al. 1997; Bronk Ramsey & Bayliss 2000), and as we shall see below, other readings are possible. This lack of chronological precision means that, whatever interpretive camp we may belong to, monuments tend to be lumped together (for an honourable exception, see Garwood 1991). What potentially may have been varied sequences structured by dramatic events, gaps, resumptions, accelerations and decelerations, have not so far been seen, both because we have not been willing to engage with chronology and because the now available methodology which can serve to redress the situation has not yet been consistently applied.

Silbury Hill is a case in point. Despite a long history of investigation and a general ascription to the Late Neolithic, the monumental mound has never been reliably dated. Recent disturbance to the mound, however, has allowed the collection of new samples, and other samples have been obtained from the archive. Thirty radiocarbon measurements are now available, which we interpret within a Bayesian statistical framework. From this, we present two chronological models. These agree in suggesting a date in the third quarter of the third millennium cal BC for the construction of the primary turf mound.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The World Recreated: Redating Silbury Hill in Its Monumental Landscape
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.