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So far for its geology. Next with regard to the Etymology of Silbury. Here, as in everything else connected with this mysterious tumulus, there is a great variety of opinion, some inclining to the tradition that a King Sel was buried here, and thence its name;" others, that it is “Solis-bury,” the mound of the Sun:* but the most obvious derivation seems to be from the AngloSaxon words sel “great, excellent,” and bury “mound,” just as Silchester undoubtedly derives its name from sel “chief” and ceaster, “city:” and Selwood is described by the Saxon Chronicler Asram as “Magna Silva.” And in good truth an enormous mound it is, and correctly stated by Mr. Matcham in his paper on the results of Archaeological investigation in Wiltshire, “the largest tumulus which this quarter of the world presents.” It is extraordinary that though its dimensions have been often published, no two measurements have ever yet proved alike: under these circumstances I hardly dare assert my own accuracy, though from repeated measurements with the spirit level, the quadrant and the tape, I have satisfied myself that I have mastered its dimensions: and I cannot but conjecture that the fact of its circular form giving it the appearance of far greater steepness than in reality it possesses, has caused some to doubt the accuracy of their own measurements, and led them to trust to their eye rather than the tape; though by standing at some distance and holding up a stick obliquely between the eye and the slope of the hill, any one may easily satisfy himself that the angle of elevation is far lower than he would at first sight have imagined. I proceed now to compare the measurements of Stukeley who surveyed it circa A.D. 1720; Sir Richard Hoare about A.D. 1812;” Mr. Blandford in 1849, and my own of the present year, as regards Perpendicular Height; Circumference of the base; Diameter of the base; Diameter of the top; Slope of the side; and Angle of elevation:* first remarking that with the single exception of the comparatively immaterial measurement of the Diameter of the top, Mr. Blandford's figures coincide very nearly with my own, though we both differ widely from those of the above-named eminent Antiquarians.”
* The tradition was that King Sel or Zel was buried there, and that the vast mound was raised while a posset of milk was seething. [Hoare's Ancient Wilts, ii., 80. Abury illustrated, in Wiltshire Magazine, vol. iv., p. 337. Stukeley's Abury, p. 42.]
* Rickman (who disdains the idea of sepulture as connected with Silbury) enters into a long and ingenious argument, to prove that the latter part of the name, though apparently denoting a memorial of interment there, was applied indiscriminately to every tumulus and hillock, natural or artifical, and is in truth the same as berg, a fact which I do not wish to dispute. [Archæologia, xxviii., p. 415.]
*In the county of Westmoreland there is a Raise or large heap of stones, called “Selsit-raise,” near Shap : and a How, or heap of earth and stones, near Odindale, called “Sillhow,” [Archaeological Journal, No. 69, 1861]. [See Bosworth's Anglo-Saxon Dictionary in loco.] In like manner Stukeley supposes that the old British or Belgic name of Stone-henge “Choir-gaur,” latinized by the monks into “chorea giganteum” signifies “the great Church,” or, as we should say, the “Cathedral.” [Stonehenge, p. 47.]
“[Salisbury Volume of the proceedings of the Archaeological Institute in 1849, p. 5.] The author of the “Lost Solar System of the Ancients discovered,” calls it, “the largest tumulus in Europe, and one worthy of comparison with those mentioned by Homer, Herodotus, and other ancient writers,” [i. 417]. [Sir R. Hoare's Ancient Wilts, ii., 81.]
* * * cions: slope of ide. "... “loos. Stukeley. 173 519 1557 270 105 400 Sir R. Hoare. 170 675 2027 316 120 320 Blandford. 125 555 1665 250 120 300 A. C. Smith, N. 130 552 1657 249 104 300 E.S.E. 122 — - 242 102 W.S.W. – - - 238 -
With regard to the slope of the side, and the diameter of the
* Stukeley's Abury, p. 43.
* Rickman, (in the 28th vol. of Archaeologia,) gives 2300 feet as the circumference of the base; 105 as the diameter of the top; and 130 as the perpendicular height, the two latter figures agreeing with my own: but the former (if correct), would produce an area of 10 acres and 538 yards, whereas Rickman says, it covers only 4} acres, wherefore there is a manifest discrepancy in his figures.
“In taking the present measurements, I have not only been very much assisted by my friend the Rev. W. C. Lukis; but his name is a further guarantee that no mistake has been made: and in working out the figures, and calculating the contents of the hill, I desire to record my obligations to Mr. Richard Falkner of Devizes, who has kindly come to my aid, and has also given me much valuable information on many points connected with my subject.
top, which are so easily measured, and especially in the latter case, which requires no calculation, and where the line extends from one side to another, one would imagine that with ordinary care no discrepancies could exist, and yet it will be seen by the table that the measurements here vary quite as much as elsewhere. And with regard to the angle of elevation which Stukeley boldly affirms to be 40°,' I would again observe, that in this the eye greatly deceives us, leaving us under the impression that the sloping side is far steeper than it really is, and while I confess that on paper our hill does look very depressed, and very easy of ascent, I would deprecate the criticism of the casual observer, and beg him before he condemns my figures, to give them the only fair trial of their accuracy, viz: a personal examination. So much then for its dimensions, though I may add that the ground covered by this gigantic tumulus has been variously estimated at from five to six acres.” According to my measurements, the area of the base would be 5 acres and 1192 yards, and its cubical contents 468, 170 cubic yards. And now I think I may assert without fear of contradiction that Silbury was a work of enormous labour, and at the early period of its formation must have taxed the sinews as well as the patience of a vast multitude; and though in this advanced age, and in our superior wisdom, we are (I think) somewhat inclined to underrate the powers of our rude forefathers in a remote period, and decry their skill, (though surely in Wiltshire at least Stonehenge and Avebury and Silbury stand before us to rebuke our self conceit, and arrest our supercilious contempt for bygone ages) yet without arrogating to barbarous times the skill of modern engineers, and the appliances of modern science, we may rest assured that those who directed the throwing up of Silbury were not wanting in courage and ability to accomplish so mighty a work; for without question a mighty work it was, and especially if we consider that in all probability every particle of it was carried in baskets on the shoulders of the workmen, as was and is the custom of barbarous nations : * though I confess it dwindles down to the comparative insignificance of a mole-hill when placed side by side with the gigantic results of railway embankments within the last thirty years, so graphically described in a recent article in the Quarterly.” There we are told that it is almost impossible “to form an adequate idea of the immense quantity of earth, rock and clay, that has been picked, blasted, shovelled and wheeled into embankments by English navvies during the last 30 years: on the South Western Railway alone the earth removed amounted to sixteen millions of cubic yards, a mass of material sufficient to form a pyramid 1,000 feet high, with a base of 150,000 square yards. Mr. Robert Stephenson has estimated the total amount on all the railways in England as at least 550 millions of cubic yards, and what does this represent P “We are accustomed,” he says, “to regard St. Paul's as a test for height and space; but by the side of the pyramid of earth these works would rear, St. Paul's would be but as a pigmy to a giant: imagine a mountain half a mile in diameter at its base, and soaring into the clouds one mile and a half in height, that would be the size of the mountain of earth which these earthworks would form: while St. James's Park, from the Horse Guards to Buckingham Palace would scarcely afford space for its base.” But to return to Silbury, which we will not attempt to compare to these modern labours. I apprehend it will be allowed on all sides, that it could not have been thrown up without a vast expense of time and severe toil, but at what cost, and whence the workmen derived their supplies of food during their labours,” it were idle now to speculate: we may also assume that its promoters must have had some great motive, when they set about and accomplished so Herculean a task: and now comes the question, what can we assign as the probable object, likely to have given rise to such a stupendous work P I believe that if we search into the existing remains of the most ancient times, and if we continue our enquiries through more modern ages, in heathen countries, we shall find that, almost without an exception, the greatest works of man have been devoted either to objects of religious worship or of sepulture. To accomplish either of these ends, no labour seems to have been too great. As regarded worship, however misguided might be the worshipper, however false the god, the object of providing a suitable temple was enough to smooth away all difficulties, and overcome every obstacle: while on the other hand, to leave behind him a sepulchral monument which should continue as long as time should last, and remain an imperishable memorial of him to distant ages, this was enough to rouse all the energies of the ambitious barbarian, and spur him on to perseverance in the most arduous tasks”.
* I must add that Dr. Stukeley, though an accomplished scholar, was by no means accurate in his figures and plans.
2 Sir Richard Hoare says 54 acres: (Anc.; Wilts, ii., 82). Rickman only 4} acres: (Archaeologia, vol. xxviii., 402). Stukeley adds “the solid contents of it amount to 13, 558, 809 cubic feet: some people have thought it would cost 420,000 to make such a hill.” [Abury described p. 43,1 and Aubrey says, “I remember that Sir Jonas Moor, Surveyor of the Ordnance, told me it would cost threescore, or rather (I think), fourscore thousand pounds to make such a
* The grand dimensions of Silbury attracted the particular notice of King Charles II. during a Royal progress to Bath; and under the guidance of Aubrey
the “merry monarch' ascended to the top. [Hoare's Ancient Wilts, ii., 59. Stukeley’s Abury, 43.]
*It is a ridiculous but significant fact that when a railway plant was sent to India from this country, the natives who were employed as labourers in the work, mistaking the use of the wheelbarrows, filled them with earth and then placed them on their heads, and so proceeded to carry them to the embankment they were forming. The same thing is told of the negroes in South America: “they seem to prefer carrying burdens on their heads, transporting the very heaviest articles in this way: it is said that when the railway to Petropolis was being built, the negroes insisted on carrying the handbarrows (which were furnished to them) on their heads, turning the wheel in front with the hand, in time to their song.” [From New York to Delhi by way of Rio de Janeiro, Australia, and China, by Robert Minturn: Longman, 1858.] And Sir James Emerson Tennant in his admirable work on Ceylon, says, “the earth which formed the prodigious embankments and Dagobahs in Ceylon was carried by the labourers in baskets in the same primitive fashion which prevails to the present day,” [vol. i., p. 464].
* Quarterly Review for January, 1858.
1 The author of the “Lost Solar System of the Ancients discovered ” calculates that in the last fifteen years, 250,000,000 cubic yards, or 400,000,000 tons of earth and rock have in tunnel embankment and cutting been moved to greater or less distances in the construction of railways, [vol. ii., p. 296].
2 Compare Herodotus, book ii., chap. 125, where the good old historian delighted to compute the garlic and onions consumed by the workmen at the Pyramids as amounting to 1600 talents of silver, a sum equal to £345,600. [See too Rollin's Anc. Hist., book i., part i., chap. 2, sect, 2.]
* The Lost Solar System of the Ancients discovered, vol. ii., 209.