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Some Ancient and Curious Landmarks page 2

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All "barrows" are, of course, "artificial"; but so thoroughly have hundreds-perhaps thousands-become part of the common soil, that man, with his plough, has unceremoniously levelled what was raised in pious commemoration above the smooth level of ancient acres.

There is no limit to the size of the barrow, or "sepulchral mound." At Avebury, Wiltshire, is Silbury Hill, one of the largest artificial mounds in the world" and the largest in Europe, unless the "Moat of Ballyloughloe," nine miles from Uisneach, Ireland (said to be a sepulchral mound), can claim superiority. The height of Silbury Hill is 130 feet, although estimates vary in most remarkable fashion. There is general agreement that it covers five acres of ground and is 550 yards in circumference. The known data are soon summarised. It has been proved to have been in existence before the construction of the Roman road which passes along its base. "Like some of the Long Barrows, it originally had a peristalth (ring of stones)" - often a sign of interment, the ring sometimes existing where there is no mound enclosed. "If Silbury be indeed artificial, then it has few or no rivals. The great tumulus upon which stands the Church of St. Michel at Carnac is but 65 feet high."

Silbury Hill is larger than the Second Pyramid, though not so large as the Mound of Alyattes, described by Herodotus, in Asia Minor. Nearly two hundred years ago Stukeley, the old antiquarian, said of it: "I have no scruple to affirm it the most magnificent mausoleum in the world, without excepting the Egyptian Pyramids." This has been criticised as "too ardent" an expression of admiration. In all likelihood, says another authority, Silbury Hill was a gigantic effort of "hero worship," a component part of the grand temple of Avebury, "not" (said Sir R. Hoare) "a sepulchral mound raised over the bones and ashes of a king or an arch-Druid. Its situation opposite to the temple, and nearly in the centre between the two avenues of stones, seems in some degree to warrant this supposition." Whether it formed part of a temple or not, it must have been the work of great masses of people labouring for a deeply heart-felt purpose. What that purpose may have been may for ever remain a secret.

Two attempts, at least, have been made to discover its secret, but without success. First in 1777, when a shaft was sunk from top to bottom, and again in 1849, when a tunnel was carried up to the present centre, as nearly as it could be ascertained. Though it was satisfactorily proved to be artificial, no remains which indicated a burial were discovered. The authors state, however, that these examinations cannot be considered as conclusive; the area covered is very large, and the burial, even if it were at the original centre, could easily be missed, and by many yards. The Saxons appear to have used the hill for ceremonial purposes long after the mound was thrown up, a bridle-bit and some armour having been found there. The most recent authority says, speaking of the custom of burning the dead - "Patroclus and the son of the king of Troy were more regally honoured. But as to that, we have not yet discovered what is inside Silbury Hill, that largest barrow in Europe. There may be a golden urn there, for all we know."

The only mound to compare with Silbury-indeed, if really artificial, it would excel it-is the "Moat of Ballyloughloe," nine miles from Uisneach, Ireland. Reference to it is very scanty In his "Beauties and Antiquities of Ireland" T. O. Russell says: "The most beautiful and perfect artificial hill in Ireland is the Moat of Ballyloughloe. It was evidently erected for a sepulchral mound, but seems to have been used for a place of defence. A ridge of sand hills has been cut, and a most perfect and symmetrical moat formed. It cannot be less than 150 feet high. Neither history nor legend throws much light on the origin of this gigantic mound."

Of the strange, enormous stones perched on pinnacles or supports, the "dolmens," the "Cat Stone" of Uisneach, the huge "Burghs of Boyne" (prehistoric caverns "as old as the pyramids of Egypt") or of "Cuchulainu's Dun" (Cuchulainu was the Hercules of Ireland), or "Wayland Smith's Forge" - to speak of all these would be inviting the very wraiths that flit on the borderland of mythology, folk-lore and fairy-lore to speak again. We should be tracking down the grave of Vortigern amid the storms of Snowdonia and gazing on the paw-mark of King Arthur's faithful dog.

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