Books, Prehistory, Avebury A Temple of British Druids, Avebury Chapter IX

Avebury Chapter IX is in Avebury A Temple of British Druids, With Some Others, Described by William Stukeley.

1723. Of the barrows or sepulchral tumuli about Abury, very numerous here, as having for ages been a metropolitical temple. The several kinds of them, conjecturally distinguished. Royal barrows of old and later fashions. Druids' barrows. Archdruids' or long barrows. Silbury [Map] much the largest barrow about Abury, and perhaps in the world. The temple built, seemingly, on account of this barrow. The sacred character as a prophylactic to the ashes of the dead. The Druids taught the resurrection of the body as well as soul. The great king dug up, who was interred at top. His most ancient bridle found with the corps, in possession of the author. The british chariots an oriental usage. A conjecture of the name of this king, Cunedha, who lived at Marlborough. Of the fountain of the Kennet hard by, taking its name from him. The dimension of Silbury-hill, its solid content. A demonstration of the Roman road made since Silbury-hill. A conjecture concerning the time of year when this prince died. The anniversaries of the ancients at the tombs of the dead. What has been found in other barrows here. Beads of amber, and other matter, as glass, earth, &c. A flat gold ring, spear-heads, a bit of gold. Another demonstration of the Roman road being later than these works. An entire urn which the author dug up. A double circle of stones at Winterburn-basset. Pyriform barrows. Of long barrows or archdruids'. Very large ones here, above 300 foot long. Some set round with stones. Some with great stoneworks at the end.

So many ages as Abury was the great cathedral, the chief metropolitical or patriarchal temple of the island, no wonder there are an infinite number of these barrows about it. Great princes, and men within a considerable tract of country round here, would naturally choose to leave their mortal remains in this sacred ground, more peculiarly under the divine regard. Every hill-top within view of the place is sure to be crowned with them. As at Stonehenge, so here, there are great varieties of them, which no doubt, originally, had their distinctions of the quality and profession of the person interred. In the additions to Mr. Camden's Wiltshire, several sorts of them are mentioned.

Note 1. Small circular trenches, with very little elevation in the middle. These are what I call (for distinction-sake) Druid barrows. An eminent one I have given plate XXII, on the Hakpen hill, overlooking Kennet avenue.

Table XXI. The Hakpen [Map], or head of the Snake, in ruins.

2. Ordinary barrows, meaning plain round ones, common all over England. Some may be roman, or saxon, or danish, as well as british.

Note 3. Barrows with ditches round them. These are commonly such as I esteem royal, of the newest fashion among the old Britons; generally of an elegantly turned bell-form. These two last sort I call king-barrows.

Note 4. Large oblong barrows, some with trenches round them, others without. These I call, for method sake, archdruids' barrows. Several of 'em near Abury and Stonehenge. And sometimes we find 'em in other places about the kingdom. A druid celt was found in that north of Stonehenge, which induced me to give them the title. I shall speak a little concerning them in the method mentioned, as they are observable about Abury, but we ought to begin with Silbury, which, says our right reverend and learned author, is the largest barrow in the county, and perhaps in all England.

Silbury indeed is a most astonishing collection of earth, artificially raised, worthy of Abury, worthy of the king who was the royal founder of Abury, as we may very plausibly affirm. By considering the picture of Abury temple, we may discern, that as this immense body of earth was raised for the sake of the interment of this great prince, whoever he was: so the temple of Abury was made for the sake of this tumulus; and then I have no scruple to affirm, 'tis the most magnificent mausoleum in the world, without excepting the Egyptian pyramids.

1723. Silbury [Map] stands exactly south of Abury [Note. Not strictly true. Close but not 'exactly'], and exactly [Note. Again, not 'strictly'. Silbury is 1365 metres from the Longstones [Map] and 1883 metres from the Sanctuary [Map]] between the two extremities of the two avenues, the head and tail of the snake. The work of Abury, which is the circle, and the two avenues which represent the snake transmitted thro' it, are the great hierogrammaton, or sacred prophylactic character of the divine mind, which is to protect the depositum of the prince here interred. The Egyptians, for the very same reason, frequently pictured the same hieroglyphic upon the breast of their mummies, as particularly on that in my lord Sandwich's collection; and very frequently on the top and summit of Egyptian obeliscs, this picture of the serpent and circle is seen; and upon an infinity of their monuments. In the very same manner this huge snake and circle, made of stones, hangs, as it were, brooding over Silbury-hill, in order to bring again to a new life the person there buried. For our Druids taught the expectation of a future life, both soul and body, with greatest care, and made it no less than a certainty.

—vobis auctoribus umbræ [shade to you authors]

Non tacitas Erebi sedes, Ditisque profundi [The seat of Erebus is not silent, and the riches of the deep]

Pallida regna petunt; regit idem spiritus artus [They are asking for pale kingdoms, the same spirit governs the frame]

Orbe alio [In another world] — Sings Lucan. Phars. I.

Here might be said, with the same poet,

Et regis cineres extructo monte quiescunt [And the king's ashes rest in a built mountain]. Lucan.

'Till in the month of March, 1723, Mr. Halford ordered some trees to be planted on this hill, in the middle of the noble plain or area at the top, which is 60 cubits diameter. The workmen dug up the body of the great king there buried in the center, very little below the surface. The bones extremely rotten, so that they crumbled them in pieces with their fingers. The soil was altogether chalk, dug from the side of the hill below, of which the whole barrow is made. Six weeks after, I came luckily to rescue a great curiosity which they took up there; an iron chain, as they called it, which I bought of John Fowler, one of the workmen: it was the bridle buried along with this monarch, being only a solid body of rust. I immerged it in limner's drying oil, and dried it carefully, keeping it ever since very dry. It is now as fair and entire as when the workmen took it up. I have given a sketch of it in plate XXXVI. There were deers' horns, an iron knife with a bone handle too, all excessively rotten, taken up along with it.

Table XXXVI. A Brittish bridle. A Brittish Urn. Chyndonax' Urn. DM Roberti Halford Mit. Caroli Tucker Ar. De Antiquitatibus Alburiensibus optime meritis ex voto posuit l. m. q. W. Stukeley.

Pausanias, in Eliacis, writes, how in his time, a roman senator conquered at the olympic games. He had a mind to leave a monument of his victory, being a brazen statue with an inscription. Digging for the foundation, just by the pillar of Oenomaus, they took up fragments of a shield, a bridle and armilla, which he saw.

Our bridle belonged to the harness of a british chariot, and brings into our thoughts the horses and chariots of Egypt, mentioned in earliest days. The Tyrian Hercules, who, I suppose, might bring the first oriental colony hither, was a king in Egypt. In scripture, when Joseph was prime minister there, we find chariots frequently mentioned, both for civil and military use. In Joshua's time, xvii. 16, 18. the Canaanites, Rephaim or giants, (Titans) and Perizzites had them. So the Philistines. Our ancestors the Britons coming both from Egypt and Canaan, brought hither the use of chariots; and they remained, in a manner, singular and proper to our island, to the time that the romans peopled it. And it was fashionable for the romans at Rome, in the height of their luxury, to have british chariots, as we now berlins, landaus, and the like.

Esseda cælatis siste Britanna jugis.

Philostratus, vit. sophist. xxv. Polemon, remarks the enameling and ornament of phrygian and celtic bridles, as being very curiously wrought. Ours is perfectly plain and rude; an argument of its great antiquity.

1723. Silbury [Map] is the name of the hill given by our saxon ancestors, meaning the great or marvellous hill. So Silchester, the Vindoma of the Romans, means the great Chester. It cannot help us to the name of the monarch there buried. When I consider this hill standing at the fountain of the Kennet Cunetio, still called Cunnet by the country people, and that among the most ancient Britons the name of Cunedha is very famous, that they talk much of a great king of this name, it would tempt one to conjecture, this is the very man. This conjecture receives some strength from what my old friend Mr. Baxter writes about Cunetio or Marlborough, which the river first visits. He thinks it had its name from a famous king, Cunedha, who lived at Marlborough, called Kynyd Kynüidion, which we may english, Cunedha of Marlborough, which name is mentioned in the ancient british genealogies before the grandfather of king Arthur; tho' we scarce imagine their genealogies can truly reach the founder we are thinking of. But Cyngetorix, a king in Britain, who fought Julius Cæsar, and Cunobelin, king of the island in Augustus's time, may be descendants of this man, at least their names have some relation. And in Cæsar's Comment. B. G. VII. Conetodunus a gaulish prince, is the same name.

We may remember too, that Merlin the magician, who is said to have made Stonehenge by his magic, is affirmed to have been buried at Marlborough. Mr. Camden recites it from Alexander Necham. Doubtless 43Stonehenge, much more Abury, are incomparably older than Merlin's time. But the oldest reports we can expect to have of these affairs, must be from the Britons, the oldest inhabitants left. And 'tis natural for them to affix old traditions vastly beyond their knowledge, to the last famous persons they have any account of; so that we may well judge some truths are generally latent in these old reports. It is likely our king Kunedha lived at Marlborough, was buried in Silbury, was the founder of Abury. And the archdruid, who with him was the projector and executor of the stupendous work of Abury, was buried at Marlborough. For Marlborough is in sight of that part of the temple which is the Hakpen, or snake's head, on Overton-hill.

15 May 1724. Table XXII. Prospect of Kennet Avenue from the Druids tumulus on Hakpen hill. May 15th 1724. [On the left West Kennet Long Barrow [Map], in the middle Silbury Hill [Map], Avebury very right]

Strabo writes in XII, that there is a tumulus of king Marsyas, where he was buried, at the head of the river Marsyas. This seems to be an exact parallel case with ours, and that the river preserves the name of the king to this day, from whom it had its name. Pausanias Bœot. writes, the tomb of Asphodicus is at the spring-head of the river Oedipodias. And Tiresias's sepulchre is by the fountain Telphussa. And the like of very many more.

The person that projected the forming this vast body of earth, Silbury-hill, had a head as well as hands, and well chose his ground, well contrived how to execute his purpose. He pitched upon the foot of the chalk hill, by the fountain of the Kennet, in the very meridian line of Abury. The bottom of the hill is natural earth, and beyond the verge of its circumference at bottom, they dug the earth of the hill away to the level of the adjacent meadow, in order to furnish materials for the artificial part of the hill, leaving as it were an isthmus, or neck of original land. Further, to render this artificial part more detached from the natural, they dug a deep trench on the land-side, in the middle of the isthmus, but left two bridges, as it were, or passages up to the hill. By this means the ascent for the multitude employed, was rendered more easy, for the natural hill was as a half-pause or resting-place for them.

The diameter of Silbury-hill at top is 105 feet, the same as Stonehenge. At bottom 'tis somewhat more than 500 feet, in reality 300 cubits, as at top 60 cubits. 100 cubits its exact perpendicular altitude. They that have seen the circumference of Stonehenge, will admire that such an area should be carried up 170 feet perpendicular, with a sufficient base to support it: and they that consider the geometry of this barrow, as I have drawn it in plate XXVIII, will be equally pleased with the natural and easy proportion of it. But without actually seeing it, we can scarce have a full idea of it. The solid contents of it amount to 13558809 cubic feet. Some people have thought it would cost 20000l. to make such a hill.

Some old people remember king Charles II, the duke of York, and duke of Monmouth riding up it. The Roman way, via Badonica, coming from Overton-hill to Runway-hill, should have passed directly thro' Silbury-hill; wherefore they curved a little southward to avoid it, and it runs close by the isthmus of the hill, then thro' the fields of Bekamton. This shews Silbury-hill was ancienter than the Roman road. They have lately fenced out the Roman road (which they call the french way) in the ploughed fields of Bekamton; but you see the continuation of it when it reaches the heath ground, as in plate IX.

It seems no difficult matter to point out the time of the year when this great prince died, who is here interred, viz. about the beginning of our present April. I gather it from this circumstance. The country people have an anniversary meeting on the top of Silbury-hill on every palm-sunday, when they make merry with cakes, figs, sugar, and water fetched from the swallow-head, or spring of the Kennet. This spring was much more remarkable than at present, gushing out of the earth in a continued stream. They say it was spoiled by digging for a fox who earthed above, in some cranny thereabouts; this disturbed the sacred nymphs, in a poetical way of speaking.

We observed before, concerning the temple of Rowldrich, there was a like anniversary meeting at that place, which doubtless has been continued thro' all ages, and all succession of inhabitants, from the death of the arch-druid there buried. If we read the fifth Æneid of Virgil, we shall there find the major part of it to be a description of the very matters we are writing of. The great poet who affectedly describes all ancient customs, speaks of his hero making a tumulus for his father Anchises, and a temple and sacred grove; providing priests and officers necessary for that purpose. Celebrating the anniversary remembrance of his deceased parent, with great magnificence, with sacrifices, feasting, games, sports and exercises, and distributing rewards to the victors. So Virgil in Georg. 3.

Et viridi in campo templum de marmore ponam, &c.

So Herodotus describing the manner of sepulture among the Thracians and Macedonians. The whole matter is so notorious, that I leave the reader to make the particular application and parallel. Here at Silbury, the country being all a fine and exquisite down, I cannot point out the place where the games were kept: perhaps on the meadow between Abury and the hill.

I took notice that apium grows plentifully about the spring-head of the Kennet. Pliny writes defunctorum epulis dicatum apium [beetroot dedicated to the feast of the dead]. To this day the country people have a particular regard for the herbs growing there, and a high opinion of their virtue.

The king-barrows which are round, both here and elsewhere vary in their turn and shape, as well as magnitude, as we see in a group together; whereof still very many are left, many destroyed by the plough. Some of the royal barrows are extremely old, being broad and flat, as if sunk into the ground with age. There is one near Longstone cove [Map] set round with stones. I have depicted two groups of them, one by the serpent's head, on Overton-hill; another by the serpent's tail, in the way between Bekamton and Oldbury camp: some flat, some campani-form, some ditched about, some not. One near the temple on Overton-hill was quite levelled for ploughing anno 1720; a man's bones were found within a bed of great stones, forming a kind of arch. Several beads of amber long and round, as big as one's thumb end, were taken from it, and several enameled British beads of glass: I got some of them, white in colour, some were green. They commonly reported the bones to be larger than common. So Virgil Georg. 1.

Grandiaque effossis mirabitur ossa sepulchris [The bones in the graves will be marveled at by the great digs].

I bought a couple of British beads, one large of a light blue and ribed, the other less, of a dark blue, taken up in one of the two barrows on Hakpen-hill, east of Kennet avenue. These two barrows are ditched about, and near one another. The single barrow next it toward the snake's head temple, is large and beautifully turned, with a ditch about it, at a distance, which throws it into a campanule form.

1723. Table XXIII. A Prospect from Abury Steeple. On the very left the bank and ditch of the henge, left Woden Hill that Stukeley refers to as Windmill boll, right Silbury Hill [Map]. Note the absence of stones in the foreground where the Backhampton Avenue should be?

Mr. Bray of Monkton opened a barrow, among many others, at Yatesbury. There was a great stone laid at top, just under the surface. When taken up, they found a body laid in a stone coffin, formed by several stones. He says, in another they found a body, with a flat gold ring, which was sold for 30s. and a piece of brass, about the bulk of a pint mug, with spear-heads of iron.

A man of Ambresbury, who had lived here, told me of a brass spear-head dug up in a barrow between Monkton and Abury, by a body: and that under some stones in a barrow, south of Silbury, they found a bit of gold, (I suppose the covering of a button, or the like, such as that I dug up at Stonehenge,) and many sharp bits of iron.

Mr. Aubury speaks of a barrow opened in Kennet parish, anno 1643, two stones 11 feet long, laid side by side, and a corps between, with a sword and knife. Another like stone laid over all.

There is a very delicate hill north of Abury, of a round form, with an easy ascent quite round; 'tis called Windmill-hill. The turf as soft as velvet. 'Tis encompassed with a circular trench, exceeding old. Fifteen barrows of a most ancient shape thereon. Many barrows are on the top, of several shapes. I opened a small one, very old, flat, and round, and found an entire urn turned up-side down, into a hole cut in the solid chalk. The bones very rotten. I have given a drawing of the urn, plate XXXVI. It was red without, black within, 14 inches high, 9 in diameter at the aperture, wrought a little both within and without, and at the bottom, which stood uppermost.

Table XXXVI. A Brittish bridle. A Brittish Urn. Chyndonax' Urn. DM Roberti Halford Mit. Caroli Tucker Ar. De Antiquitatibus Alburiensibus optime meritis ex voto posuit l. m. q. W. Stukeley.

South of Abury town is a hill, between it and Silbury, called Windmill-hill; it lies between our two avenues, and intercepts the view from one to the other. This too is crowned with barrows of different sorts and sizes. The Via Badonica runs on the southern skirt of it, going from Overton-hill to Silbury. I took notice there of a barrow of that kind I call Druids. This happening too near the track of the Roman road, it goes over part of it. Part is filled up, and the lump in the middle, under which the urn lay, they have dug away: A further demonstration, that it is of a date posterior to our celtic works here. This hill too is called Weedon-hill, perhaps from the Roman way.

At Winterburn-basset, a little north of Abury, in a field north-west of the church, upon elevated ground, is a double circle of stones concentric, 60 cubits diameter. The two circles are near one another, so that one may walk between. Many of the stones have of late been carryed away. West of it is a single, broad, flat, and high stone, standing by itself. And about as far northward from the circle, in a ploughed field, is a barrow set round with, or rather composed of large stones. I take this double circle to have been a family-chapel, as we may call it, to an archdruid dwelling near thereabouts, whilst Abury was his cathedral.

There are likewise about Abury some pyriform barrows, longish, but broad at one end: some composed of earth, thrown into a tumulus. Of this sort a very long one in the valley from Bekamton to Runway-hill. Another among the furze bushes south of Silbury, set with stones, which farmer Green carryed away. Others made of stones set upright in that form. Of the latter, a very large one in Monkton-fields, about 20 stones left on one side. 46 [Map] 'Tis directly north of Abury town. Another such south of Silbury-hill. Another pyriform, made only of earth, under Runway-hill. Another on the hill south-west from Bekamton, cut through with some later division dike.

The long barrows are what I call archdruids'. There are but few about Abury left, and but two at Stonehenge. The paucity seems to confirm the notion. One very large at East-Kennet [Map], points to Abury, but with its lesser end: no less than 200 cubits in length, which is 350 feet, a huge body of earth. Another [Map] not far off points to the snake's head temple, being at a right angle with the former.

By Horslip-gap is another considerable long barrow [Map] of a large bulk, length and height: it regards the snake's head temple, tho' here not in sight.

1724. By Bekamton cove [Map] another, a vast body of earth, as thick as the vallum of Abury, and points to the cove hard by; which shews that cove to be as a chapel. Another large round barrow near it.

In Monkton, west of the town, is a large and flat long barrow [Map] [Millbarrow Long Barrow [Map]], set round with stones, which I have depicted in plate XXX, 'tis just 120 cubits long, 30 cubits broad in the broadest end. It stands due east and west, the broadest end eastward. Its breadth the fourth part of its length: a most magnificent sepulchre, and called Milbarrow [Map].

1723. But even this is much exceeded in south long barrow [West Kennet Long Barrow [Map]], near Silbury-hill [Map], south of it, and upon the bank of the Kennet. It stands east and west, pointing to the dragon's head on Overton-hill. A very operose congeries of huge stones upon the east end, and upon part of its back or ridge; piled one upon another, with no little labour: doubtless in order to form a sufficient chamber, for the remains of the person there buried; not easily to be disturbed. The whole tumulus is an excessively large mound of earth 180 cubits long, ridged up like a house. And we must needs conclude, the people that made these durable mausolea, had a very strong hope of the resurrection of their bodies, as well as souls who thus provided against their being disturbed.

Upon the heath south of Silbury-hill [Map], was a very large oblong work, like a long barrow, made only of stones pitched in the ground, no tumulus. Mr. Smith beforementioned told me, his cousin took the stones away (then) 14 years ago, to make mere stones withal. I take it to have been an archdruid's, tho' humble, yet magnificent; being 350 feet or 200 cubits long.

Pausanias in Eliac. II. writes, upon the bank of the river Cladeus is the barrow of Ænomaus; of earth, incompassed with stones. Again in Arcadic. he says, at Pergamus is the monument of Auge, being a barrow of earth, incompassed with a circle of stones. In the same Arcadic. Book VIII. he says, he studiously contemplated the tumulus of Æpitus, because Homer makes mention of it, admiring it, for he had seen no finer. 'Twas made of earth not very large, incompassed with a circle of stones. Thus naturally does a genius admire works of antiquity! he seems thereby to antedate his own being, and to have lived in those times long before. He writes again in Bœot. at the barrow of Amphion are many rude stones, which they report, were the stones he drew together with his harp. Likewise there are three rude stones near the tomb of Melanippus; and the antiquarians say, Tydeus was buried there.

To go much higher in time, and equal to those we have been describing: Genes. xxxv. 20. Jacob set a pillar upon Rachel's grave.

1724. Table XXIV. Prospect of Bekampton Avenue from Longston long Barrow [Map] 1724. Two Stones of the Avenue at the Crossing of the two Roads demolished by Rd. Fowler. b. the Termination of the avenue.