Sunday, July 26, 2020

Unused postcard: Silbury Hill

This postcard — which will finally fulfill its destiny and get mailed somewhere this week — is Crown copyright 1968 and was published by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. It was printed in England by George Putnam & Sons Ltd. It shows Silbury Hill, which dates to about 2400 BC and is located near Avebury in county Wiltshire, southcentral England.

There is much speculation, both scientific and daft, about what this chalk mound was originally used for 4,400 years ago. Even the scientific speculation is just a smart guess (while the daft ideas are purely daft). The thoughtful ideas imagine the mound as a symbol of that time's power elite (possibly involving a priesthood) and/or as a central location for seasonal rituals.

While Silbury Hill's original purpose will never be known, we know it was refitted for other purposes by the Romans and later in medieval times, over the millennia. (It served, for example, as a superb defensive position.) Archaelogical tunnels dug into the mound from the 1770s to as recently as the 1970s were poorly managed, causing permanent damage to the mound and its stability.

There's much folklore, surrounding this ancient mound. The wonderful 1973 book Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain notes that the mound "is said to be the burial place of an otherwise forgotten King Sil; of a knight in golden armour; and even of a solid gold horse and rider. Alternatively, the Devil was going to empty a huge sack of earth of Marlborough, but was forced to drop it here by the magic of the priests from nearby Avebury."

Some of the mystery and inspiration circling Silbury Hill is examined in the 2014 book On Silbury Hill, by Adam Thorpe.

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What Silbury Hills we will leave behind for future civilizations to ponder in 4,000 years, 40,000 years, or longer? After we're long gone, what will remain?1

Mount Rushmore's granite is only eroding at a rate of one inch per 10,000 years, though the National Park Service notes that "frost wedging" is the more significant concern for the monument's conservation. In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman estimates Mount Rushmore will still be somewhat discernible seven million years from now. Beyond that, Weisman notes sadly that some of our civilization's longest-lasting legacies for future Earthlings to ponder over and deal with will include radioactive waste and plastics.

1. Related to that sentiment, here are some of today's cheery headlines:
  • Dilemma of Covid's Second Wave...
  • USA: More than 1,000 deaths for 5th day in row...
  • CNN: Experts urge country shut down...
  • Miami, Houston face care worker shortages...
  • 2020's first hurricane roars ashore in virus-hit Texas...
  • Putin says Russian Navy to get hypersonic nuke strike weapons...

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