Silbury Hill reveals Roman settlement

LONDON (Reuters) - Archaeologists have discovered a Roman settlement at the base of Silbury Hill, an ancient man-made mound in Wiltshire, southwest England, English Heritage said on Saturday.

The 5,000-year-old hill is the largest man-made prehistoric monument in Europe and appears to contain no burial or shrine. Its original purpose remains a mystery.

The find shows Romans were living in its shadow some 3,000 years after the 34-metre (112-ft) high mound was built.

The village-sized settlement straddled the Roman road from London to Bath and lies where the road crossed the Winterbourne River, an obvious stop-over point for travellers.

It was laid out in a typical Roman ladder grid, with buildings and small streets running off a central North-South thoroughfare.

“We had no idea that a Roman village of such a size lay this close to Silbury Hill,” said English Heritage Geophysicist Neil Linford. The settlement was discovered by archaeologists using specially developed caesium magnetometers.

These sensitive instruments pick up disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by human activity, particularly the use of fire on iron oxides in soil.

“It could be that what we have here is something like a roadside village, where Roman travellers would have changed horses and stayed overnight on the way to Bath, but also a place of pilgrimage focussed on the Hill,” said English Heritage Regional Director Bob Bewley.