alien visitor gene theory

 By John Cowie


Skanska's Mark Kirkbride overseeing the huge engineering task.
      Skanska’s Mark Kirkbride overseeing
  the huge engineering task
Serious concerns over the future stability of Silbury Hill, due to old overstressed arches and unsupported voids resulting from earlier tunnelling attempts, prompted English Heritage to embark on a major Silbury Hill Conservation Project – 2007 in partnership with the civil engineering company Skanska. Mark Kirkbride, Skanska’s Project Manager, confirmed: “The engineering challenges have been much more demanding than originally anticipated and we have overcome these safely and the work achieved is a testimony to the unique partnership of engineering and archaeological disciplines. It also clearly demonstrates that the conditions we have found in the centre of the Hill prove that these works were essential to ensure the long-term conservation of this important monument”.
The project also provided a last chance for English Heritage experts to unlock the mysteries of Silbury Hill and a wonderful opportunity to explore my 'alien visitor gene' theory.

To try to find answers to my ‘alien intelligence’ theory, I was privileged to receive an invitation from English Heritage to join the formal Silbury Hill press tour arranged on Wednesday 24th October.  It was a unique opportunity to go into the tunnel and find out from the experts their theories to the key mysteries of Silbury Hill?

Entering the tunnel was an unbelievable experience.  It was like stepping way back in time through a 1968 Silbury Hill portal.  If I had inherited a trans-generational memory from one of my early ancestors who had witnessed the construction of the Hill, would something stir buried deep in my subconscious memory as I entered the Hill?   Sadly not but it was early days. 

We entered the tunnel from below ground level to discover the first big surprise.  Mark Kirkbride explained that close to the entrance a large chamber had been discovered and its purpose unknown.  Other cavities have been discovered beneath the base of the Hill.  Does this suggest evidence of a storage place but any artefacts placed within had long since been removed and any records lost? 

As we moved further into the tunnel we could see a mysterious thin line of well trampled butter-textured dark grey clay which marked the dividing line between the ground above and below the Hill.  Our tour guide Jim Leary, English Heritage Pre-historian and Archaeologist provided a step by step account of the archaeology as we moved slowly through the tunnel towards the centre of the Hill. 

It was clear, that my long held doubts that Silbury Hill was not a pile of chalk (a ‘spoil’ heap) dug from the ditches surrounding the stone circle at Avebury were about to be confirmed.   It was obvious as we moved through the well lit tunnel that the design and construction was a ‘clinical’ process.  The tunnel had cut through each of the Hill’s main construction phases, Silbury I, II & III, which experts believe were built quite separately.  The interface between each phase was clearly visible in the tunnel walls.  This was undoubtedly a remarkable construction process and quite different to that of Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid in Egypt.  I looked for further clarification and latest views on the design and construction of Silbury Hill from Jim Leary and Mark Kirkbride as we walked deeper into the tunnel.

Inside the Hill some of these construction techniques are self evident.  From the geoarchaeologist findings, a complex stratigraphy of layers of chalk, turf and clay can be plainly seen in Silbury I reaching a height of 5m which had been grassed over.  Above this is Silbury II, a large 25m high bank built from the chalk which Mark suggested had been dug out of a huge ditch that eventually encircled the base of the Hill and based on present evidence must have been up to 40m wide.  This ditch was also the source of the material for Silbury III.  A dark line at the top of Silbury II indicates it had also been grassed over with possibly a longer delay before commencing the Silbury III phase.  In this final and most complex stage of construction is a series of ‘chalk walls’ retaining deposits of rubble for the finer material ‘dumps’ which lie between them.  The sequence of these deposits seems to be very intricate; each ‘wall’ appears not to have been raised in one event or phase, but as a series of rubble deposits intersecting both each other and the infill dumps between.  This technique appears to be an integral part of the construction of Silbury Hill!  Jim confirmed that this building sequence occurred in ‘steps’  “Could Silbury Hill have been built a geometric shape, a stepped pyramid perhaps” I enquired.  “This is a reasonable assertion to make” was Jim’s reply.

Other interesting discoveries relating to the materials used in the construction of the Hill were the appearance of two large sarsen stones at the summit of the Hill which must have taken a Herculean effort to drag these stones to the summit at least 40m from ground level.  Smaller sarsen stones were also found placed in an intriguing matrix elsewhere in the Hill while others have been found at the base of the mound and may have marked out the perimeter of the base, particularly if it was a geometric shape.  Slowly over time these stones were covered with soil and chalk washed down from the summit of the Hill.  Huge chalk boulders have also been found as well as flint flakes which could be some 12,000 years old.  When I later spoke to flint specialist Barry Bishop he expressed his surprise at how few flint flakes had been found which from his experience was very unusual.              

How long did it take to build Silbury Hill?  Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage explained: “Until now, the best guess was that Silbury Hill could have been constructed over a period of anything between 100 and 500 years.  When our archaeologists and dating team have done more precise dating work we will be able to narrow this estimate and understand better how and why this monument was built.  A shorter construction period over a couple of generations might indicate it was a heroic piece of work led by one ort two charismatic individuals.  If it stretches over hundreds of years and many generations we can conclude it was integral to a much more longstanding set of spiritual beliefs.”

As I left the tunnel I felt that my views regarding the construction of Silbury Hill had been vindicated.  The construction of the Hill was indeed much more complex than previously imagined. 

We had underestimated the intelligence and skills of our ancient ancestors.

The emerging picture of Silbury Hill is of a huge white pyramid structure with what could have been an octagonal base.   This was surrounded by a ditch which could have been up to 40m wide, filled with water from nearby springs.  The ditch/moat seems to have been as impressive as that dug around the nearby stone circle at Avebury.  The moat implies the safekeeping of something of great value or significance stored inside the Hill.  Over the centuries what must have been a substantial amount of chalk has been weathered and washed from the Hill to slowly refill the huge moat below.  So the Hill must have been substantially higher than we see today.   

Silbury Hill should certainly not be treated as a poor relation to Avebury Stone Circle and Stonehenge based on this new evidence!

Archaeologists found this to be a very ‘clean’ site, suggesting that once Silbury Hill had been built it seems unusual that only a selected few had access to the Hill.  So, what happened to this autocratic regime, those able to organise and bring together what must have been thousands of people to build what must have been a huge complex encompassing monuments such as the Avebury Stone Circle, Stonehenge and Silbury Hill which archaeologists suggest were build around the same time? 

Radiocarbon dating techniques had come a long way since dating the antler ‘pick’ found on the previous dig and Jim Leary felt he could confidently date the recent antler fragment find to being 4,400 years old and hence the age of the Hill.  The big assumption made that the antler was used as a tool to build the Hill.  So the date for the construction of Silbury Hill also at 4,400 years is based on this ‘imported’ item.  But what if around 4,400 years ago some of our curious ancestors decided to dig into Silbury Hill using antlers as picks, but gave up after they found the effort too strenuous or dangerous and threw the antler picks back into the hole they had dug before refilling it? 

Similar problem with the ‘imported’ flake flints which could have been unknowingly dug up somewhere locally and transported to the Hill along with other material used in the building process.  But what was interesting about the flint flakes is it indicates people with a significant level of knowledge living in this area some 12,000 years ago.

Incidentally, ancient arrowheads were also found which for the same ‘imported’ reasons should also be disqualified from dating the Hill.  But what is very interesting about these arrowheads is the amazing metallurgy technology used and the quality of the casting which is difficult to emulate today.  So where did these skills and knowledge come from?

It was now time to meet some of the English Heritage experts, encamped in their portable ‘village’ nearby, who may be able to shed some light on the other key mystery – the age of the Hill.  From the ‘imported’ items found in the Hill, the antler 2,400BC and the flint flakes some 10,000BC we could be looking at the age of Silbury Hill anywhere between 4,400 to 12,000 years old – so not very reliable!

Could there be ‘imported’ items in the Hill which could accurately date the Hill?  I went to meet Gill Campbell, English Heritage Palaeo-environmentalist and her microscope.  The importance of Silbury Hill to the dating of ancient constructions was becoming clear.  Unlike the pyramids in Egypt where lush vegetation had turned to desert, Silbury Hill seems to have been built during a temperate climate which has not witnessed dramatic changes up to the present day.  Could the answer lie in dating ‘imported’ items that were trapped beneath the base of Silbury Hill or between the distinctive phases, which were pointed out when we were in the tunnel?

Molluscs such as snails have been found which would have quickly perished and remained untouched in the Hill.  Could these ancient shells provide the answer to the true age of Silbury Hill?

Gill explained: “These shells could not be accurately radiocarbon dated due to the absorption of the carbon from the surrounding chalk.  The calcium carbonate they would use to make their shells would be geological in age rather than derived from the present atmosphere.  So this is likely to provide a date that is too old.”  Would other life also found trapped in the same state such as insects, ants and beetles also provide uncertain results.  “No, most insects, ants in particular and also the vegetation growing on the surface of the turves that form Silbury I, will take their carbon from the surrounding atmosphere at the time they were growing.  So therefore the carbon date will be accurate.  My colleague Dr Alex Bayliss at English Heritage has been supervising the dating programme and will carry out future dating on the Hill.”

Gill also mentioned they will continue to meticulously take as many of these samples as possible which they plan to store in a cold refrigerated state in the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton University, for future research.  So possibly the technology to accurately answer these questions is still in its infancy but at least the samples had been saved for future examination in years to come.

My journey to the heart of the Hill passed all too quickly with some doubts still lingering in my mind.  Did Silbury Hill play a significant part in our early evolution?  Why are we so clever and can look down microscopes and study insects that lived and died thousands of years ago?  What gives us the ability to reason and speculate and theorise?

Treasures have been found in the heart of the Hill in the form of thousands of insects, ants and beetles which one day could give a definitive date to the construction?  Perhaps the sarsen stones which are common to these ancient monuments are encoded with data in a similar way to how we store information on pieces of silicon or aluminium alloy platters, coated with a thin, magnetic film in our computer systems.  Maybe archaeologists in the future will have the technology to enable them to ‘log on’ to these sarsen stones.

The English Heritage archaeologists I met, seemed convinced they had a date for the construction of Silbury Hill – 4,400 years ago.  Were they determined to use their “archaeological interpretations” to fit the date to their theory that Silbury Hill was built during the ‘Neolithic Revolution’, a period which marks the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age? 

In spite of the science, I am left with the nagging doubt - where did our Stone Age ancestors get their technological knowledge from, far greater than we should expect at this early part of our evolution?  What is striking about the Avebury complex incorporating Stonehenge and the contemporary Giza complex is they were built in a temperate climate which would suggest heavily wooded areas. So it would be difficult to see the full extent of the complex from the ground, but the vistas would be more clearly seen from high in the sky. 

I did discover two very dedicated teams from English Heritage and Skanska working with a common goal – a determination to save Silbury Hill and its contents for future generations to explore and enjoy.

Many thanks to English Heritage & Skanska for their openness on the finds made and problems encountered as highlighted during my visit and in their regular weekly progress reports which can be found on the English Heritage website at:-

My only sadness is that not even a small part of the tunnel will be left open for those wishing to visit the site from a spiritual/mystical point of view, to pause and wonder why, when and how the Hill was built? 

Meanwhile the area around Silbury Hill continues to attract crop circles and mysterious happenings associated with UFOs. 

© John Cowie 2007

Author “Silbury Dawning: The Alien Visitor Gene Theory”

Permission to reprint is hereby granted on condition that the 

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© John Cowie 
Reprinted with permission.