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We may take Stonehenge and Avebury as instances of what the first of these motives could effect, while the Pyramids of Egypt, the renowned Mausoleum in Caria," and the famous Taj Mahal and other tombs of astonishing size, beauty, and the most elaborate workmanship in India, demonstrate no less clearly the power of the second. Now to affirm positively that Silbury was not erected for religious worship, would be to beg the question at issue: moreover we know that the Persians and other Sun-worshippers did frequent the tops of conical mountains, whence they could catch the first beams and watch the last rays of their rising and setting Deity : * as indeed at this day do the Parsees or Ghebers in the East, and the Peruvians and inhabitants of La Plata in the West,”
“To loftiest heights ascending, from their tops
With myrtle wreathed tiara on their brows." Therefore I say it is not impossible that this may have been the origin of the great mound in question: though I confess such a conjecture carries little conviction to my mind: for in the first place, its immediate contiguity to the famous temple at Avebury seems to forbid its intention for such a purpose: and again, standing as it does, on comparatively low ground, and surrounded with undulating downs which tower above it, very limited indeed is the view from the summit, and this fact alone seems to deny that it had
any such object.
But against the probability of its being the tomb of some Sovereign or famous Chieftain amongst the early Britons * I confess I have seen no arguments of any force, while there are many primâ facie reasons to induce us to assign this as its origin. For though it is perfectly true that nothing indicating it to be a place of sepulture was discovered, either by the Duke of Northumberland and Colonel Drax, when they sunk their shaft from the top towards the close of the last century," or by the Archaeological Institute, when they drove their tunnel into the centre from the side in 1849,” yet I contend that these failures proved nothing more than the unpropitious fortune of the excavators: for if the vast area of the whole mound be considered, and the comparatively narrow passages which pierced it to its centre, like puny bodkins probing a whale,” surely, (to use a homely proverb,) it was like searching for a needle in a hay-rick, and a marvel it would have been, if without a clue to guide them, they had hit upon the cromlech, always supposing one, or more (for there may be several), to exist. Again, however geometrically exact the engineer may have been in driving his tunnel into the exact centre, and however accurately the perpendicular shaft may have attained the same spot, (though by the way they did not uneet, for it was in cutting a diagonal passage from, the tunnel that the workmen came upon the shaft,) * yet how improbable is it, that the cromlech would retain its position in the exact centre, assuming for a moment (which I shall presently show to have been unlikely) that it was intended to be near the middle of the mound: for even in this case, those rude workmen, (the “navvies” of a remote age,) as they heaped up their vast tumulus, soon losing sight of the tomb to guide them, would necessarily fail to preserve it as their centre, and the more the mound increased under their exertions, so in inverse ratio the chances diminished of the cromlech retaining its original position in reference to its gigantic covering. Moreover it is not probable that the workmen would have been at any pains to preserve it as a centre, even if it had been so at the first heaping up of the earth. Thus I deny that anything like a satisfactory examination of the interior of Silbury has yet taken place, or that the fruitless researches hitherto made are any proof that it contains no cromlech. And now having answered the only objection put forth against the sepulchral theory, I come to state the arguments I am able to adduce in its favour; and here I would submit, that where absolute proof is wanting, and, (until at least some further research is made) opinions formed can at the last be but conjectures, rendered more or less probable by the arguments adduced, it is quite fair to reason from analogy: and here certainly the countless barrows which stud the downs in every direction around Silbury being themselves places of sepulture, proclaim the great hill to be the same. I need not stop to prove that to heap a mound of earth over their dead, as a sort of protection to their remains, has been the most ancient and uniform practice of all nations," a fact referred to by the oldest extant authors of all countries,” and of which we have in Wiltshire, and especially on the Marlborough downs more ocular proof than perhaps any where else; and now I would ask, what appearance does Silbury present, but that of a gigantic barrow P though to to adapt the words of the Roman poet,
* Herod., vii., 99. Strabo, xiv. Diod., xvi. Pliny, N. H., xxxvi., 4–9. Aul: Gell.., xc., 18.
*Herodotus Clio, chap. 131. Rollin's Anc. Hist., ii., 136. Job xxxi., 26, 27.
* “Lost Solar System of the Ancients discovered,” vol. i., pp. 260, 265, 395.
* Wordsworth's Excursion, book iv. Gladstone's Studies on Homer, vol. iii. p. 169.
“Stukeley goes so far as to assume (though I must own he comes to conclusions on very slight premises) not only that Silbury is the tomb of the Royal founder of Avebury, but that the temple of Avebury was made for the sake of this tumulus: and then he adds, “I have no scruple to affirm 'tis the most magnificent Mausoleum in the world, without excepting the Egyptian Pyramids: ” and then giving the reins to his fanciful imagination, he continues, “this huge snake and circle (meaning the avenues and temple of Avebury) made of stones,
WOL. VII.-NO. XX. P
hangs, as it were, brooding over Silbury-Hill, in order to bring again to a new life the person there buried.” [Abury, p. 41.] * Douglas's Nenia Britannica, p. 161. * Without at all impugning the decision of the late Dean of Hereford, who heard their statements, it would have been satisfactory to have learned on what grounds he rejected the testimony of the two old men in the neighbourhood whom he examined, and who both asserted that the miners from Cornwall who dug into Silbury by direction of the Duke of Northumberland in 1777 found “a man,” meaning a skeleton. [Salisbury Journal, p. 74.] * This is an allusion to a large whale stranded on the coast of Norfolk (of whose death throes I was an eye-witness from a yacht) despatched at last by a ship's spit, after an hour's fruitless attempts on the part of some fishermen to reach some vital part with their short knives. [See Zoologist for 1851, . 3134. P J *Salisbury Journal, p. 300.
* The Soros which marks the grave of the Athenian dead is still a conspicuous object on the plain of Marathon. [Wordsworth's Pictorial Greece, p. 113. Leakes Demi of Attica, p. 99. Rawlinson's Herodotus, vol. iii. p. 505.]
* The following list I have found in an unpublished MS. of Aubrey, and which I have considerably amplified: the figures marked thus (*) being additions to Aubrey's catalogue : De Tumulis. Josh : xxiv. 33. vii. 25, 26. viii. 29. 2 Sam : xviii. 17. Homeri Iliad; ii. *793. 811–815. Wi. *419. Wii. 332–336, *435. *86. xi. *55. *166. *372. xvi. *457. 667—675. xxiii. 245–255.
“Micat inter omnes Silbury collis, velut inter ignes Luna minores.” And how comes it that the downs round Avebury abound for miles in every direction with such innumerable barrows, but that they form, as it were, a vast graveyard to the colossal temple there, a kind of Mecca where the faithful would desire to lay their bones, a Westminster Abbey in the remote age of the Druids P'
xxiv. 791—799. — Odyss: xii. Elpenor's Tomb. xxiv. 722. Herodotus i. "93. iv. *71. v. "8: wherein he respectively describes the Lydian, Scythian, and Thracian Barrows. Virgil AEneid iii. 63. "304. V. *605. vi. 232–235. *380. *505. vii. 1–6. xi. *103. *594, 850. Ovid Metam. vii. 362. xiv. 84. 101. Tacitus de Mor: Germ ; c. 27. Annales, lib. i. c. 62. Seneca de Consol: ad Polyb: § 37. Appian, pt. 2, c. 2, § 27. Cicero de legib: lib. 2. Wopiscus de Probo, wherein it is stated that Arcadius had a tumulus erected for him 200 feet broad.
* “All around Stonehenge are barrows extending to a considerable distance from the temple, but all in view of it, so that like Christians of the present age, ancient Britons thought proper to bury their dead near where they worshipped the Supreme Being.” [Spencer's Wilts, p. 79.] Stukeley in his Itiner: Curios: vol. i. p. 128, describing what he supposed to be “Carvilii tumulus,” the grave of a king of the Belgae near Wilton, within sight of Stonehenge, says, “I question not but one purpose of this interment was to be in sight of the holy work or temple of Stonehenge; ” “and here,” he concludes, “rest the ashes of Carvilius, made immortal by Caesar for bravely defending his country.” Again, he says, speaking of the vast number of barrows round Stonehenge, “We may very readily count fifty at a time in sight from the place,” and again at a short distance off he declares he could count 128 barrows in sight. [Stonehenge, pp. 43, 45. Abury, p. 40.] See also “Lost Solar System of the
But if it be objected that from their inferior size, the analogy of the barrows is of little value, and so to argue from such premises carries little weight, I reply in the first place that many of the barrows which stud our downs are not at all despicable in bulk even now, when the tendency of ages, especially where assisted by the plough, has been materially to diminish their height, and bring them down to the level of the plain: indeed those who have attempted to excavate some of the larger ones will bear me out in my statement, that they are extremely deceptive, and are really very much larger than the casual observer would suppose. But not to insist too strongly on this point, I pass on to the grand climax of my argument, viz., the analogy of other tumuli of colossal dimensions in other countries, which by recent excavations and recent discoveries have been positively proved to be sepulchral. And I would beg of the reader to observe as we pass on, in how many cases the discovery of the interment was the result of pure accident; how in others their sepulchral character had been denied, till proof positive set the question at rest for ever: and how in several instances the interments were not found in the centre of the mound, but at the side; for these are all questions nearly affecting the point now under examination, and may materially help us in forming our conclusions on the probable object of Silbury, when we shall have weighed all the evidence I can bring to bear upon it.
The first tumulus which I adduce is in the sister kingdom of Ireland, and is generally known in that country as “New Grange.” It is one of four great sepulchral mounds, situated on the banks of the Boyne, between Drogheda and Slane, in the county of Meath, and which have been not inaptly termed “the Pyramids of Ireland.” It is the only one of the four, whose interior has been exposed to human curiosity, but there is every reason to believe that if explored, the others would be found similar in nature to the one in question. I extract the particulars of it from the second vol. of Archaeologia, and the Dublin Journal of March 1833, corroborated by the evidence of my father, who visited it, and made a personal
Ancients discovered,” p. 113; and Sir R.C. Hoare's Ancient Wilts, i. 250, ii. 113,