A stone ball 30 feet in diameter may provide archaeologists with a vital clue as to the real reason for the construction of Silbury Hill and the Avebury Stone Circles in Wiltshire, UK.
The ball was found two months ago in a farmer’s field at the base of Silbury Hill and was believed to have been placed in a ceremonial pit. The ball is a boulder, probably an erratic from glacial times, that has been roughly hewn by masons to ensure that it moved in a straight line. The rock is similar to that found in the Prescelly Mountains in Wales. It’s thought that the ball could have been rolled by a dozen men and its journey to Wiltshire would have helped the smoothing process.
Three years ago, two skeletons were found at the base of Silbury Hill. What astonished their discoverers was that nearly every bone in each of the skeletons had been crushed. They were facing towards the hill and appeared to have had their arms stretched out in front of them, in what was believed at the time to be a kind of submissive gesture of prostration towards the sun god.
However, the discovery of the ball has changed scientists’ opinions. They now think the skeletons were crushed by the ball in some kind of ritual that has been lost to the ages.
Silbury Hill is Europe’s largest artificial mound and no-one knows why it was built. But the ball has given some people ideas. They think that the hill was built to give the ball as much impetus as possible so that it could knock down human bowling pins standing on the hill’s lower slopes. These targets would likely have been members of conquered tribes, early tourists, or poor farmers who didn’t grow enough crops for the local king’s liking.
Other less fanciful ideas suggest that the ball may have been used as a kind of divination, or boulderomancy as it has been termed. The ball would have determined who should farm an acreage of land, in times when there was a shortage of suitable fields due to population growth. This divination would have reduced the population too.
The gaming idea could well have been extended from human bowling to a stone age mixture of roulette and pinball. Scientists examining Silbury Hill believe there were plans to double its height so that the ball could have rolled all the way to the stone circles at Avebury. They also think that the ceremonial way of standing stones was actually built so that the ball wouldn’t deviate from its path towards the stone circles. The idea was that gamblers would place bets on which rock in the circle the ball would nestle against.
It’s thought that the rulers of the times had tired of continually battling each other for small pieces of land and had collectively decided that gambling was a far better way of deciding territorial disputes. Indeed, these stone age hippies could well have been the first peace activists in history though the human bowling pins may have had a different view of this.
What would have caused the games to stop? Well it’s entirely possible that the ruler who came up with the gambling idea may have died or indeed become a victim of the ball, which would explain why the graves at the nearby West Kennet Long Barrow are so narrow. The ruler may have known that he was dying and so he decided to be killed by the ball in an early form of euthanasia, which might explain why the ball has been given a ceremonial burial.