Not a Great Place to Pass at Night: Haunted Mounds from Prehistoric Times
It was a worldwide phenomenon during Prehistoric times for people to bury their dead under mounds (which are also known as tumuli). The dead were buried along with their worldly possessions and their spirits were revered as sacred ancestors who granted protection. However, it was believed that they could also take revenge on those who dared disturb their eternal rest - such as grave robbers or even modern archaeologists.
Stone Age Burial Mounds to Honor the Dead
During the Stone Age, people had a multitude of rituals. For example, weather was considered highly important for the crops - a bad crop could have meant starvation. Therefore, people believed they could use different rituals to influence the weather in order to bring rain, or to make it stop, if necessary.
The people from the Stone Age also venerated their ancestors, so they had to make sure that their dead were at peace. If they looked after the spirits of the dead, then they believed that the dead would look after the living. The spirit had to be released so that it would not remain trapped inside of the body and it was believed that the spirit could leave the body only once all flesh had disappeared from the bones. At times, when the dead were not pleased with their funeral rites, it was believed that they could return to haunt the living.
Thus Prehistoric people built burial mounds made of earth or stones. They were designed as homes for the deceased and somewhat resembled the prehistoric dwellings of the living. Until the Medieval period, Vikings continued to use such burial mounds.
- The Royal Mounds of Gamla Uppsala, Ancient Pagan Site of Sweden
- Wickliffe Mounds: A Pre-Columbian Native American Site
- Moat ruins found in Japan may be part of a burial mound for an ancient emperor
Long mounds are the most common, such as Fussell’s Lodge in England. This mound was probably built in over ten years as it is over 100 meters (328.1 feet) long. Prehistoric people could also enter the mounds of their ancestors in order to perform the necessary rituals from time to time.
Two entrances to the Dissignac tumulus, Saint-Nazaire, France. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
Legends of the Burial Mound at Silbury Hill
During the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, burial mounds lost their long shapes and became rounder. Silbury Hill is probably the best example of this style. Located near Avebury, Wiltshire, England, the mound was built around 2700 BC.
Silbury Hill is 40 meters (131.2 feet) high with a diameter of 160 meters (524.9 feet). The construction took about ten years, and it is regarded as the largest prehistoric monument in England.
Silbury Hill as seen from Swallowhead Springs. ( CC BY SA 2.0 )
Some miners gathered near the mound in 1776. They intended to unravel the secret of the mound by digging there to see what lied underneath. Nothing was found. Other digs from 1849 and 1969 also revealed nothing. Because the hill has remained surrounded in mystery, a large number of legends have also emerged about it.
Diagram of excavations at Silbury Hill in 1776, 1849, and 1968. ( Archaeology in Marlow )
One of the legends speaks about how the Devil intended to cover the city of Devizes in Wiltshire with earth. A shoemaker took a bag full of used shoes and went to meet the Devil. The man encountered the Devil while he was resting after having carried an earth mound. The Devil asked the man how long the road was until the town could be reached. In response, the young man showed him all of the used shoes. He added that he had used all those shoes since he had left the city three years ago. Upset, the Devil said that he did not intend to travel that far carrying the mound, so he just left it there. This is one of the many legends explaining the existence of the mound at Silbury Hill.
Aerial view of Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, England. ( CC BY SA 2.0 )
The mound is also said to be haunted by the ghost of King Sil. According to legend, the king was buried there - along with his horse and his armor that was made entirely out of gold. Despite the many digs at the site, nobody has uncovered any hint of the king’s remains to date.
- The Great Serpent Mound of Ohio, the Largest Earthen Effigy in the World
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- Mystery enshrouds ancient Native Americans who built burial mounds
Stone Age Treasures Weren’t All About Silver and Gold
Many European legends speak about mounds that have great and fabulous treasures hidden underneath. However, gold was not commonplace in Europe until much later. Therefore, the quest for the riches of prehistory often takes on a different meaning.
A tomb from the Varna necropolis in Bulgaria (circa 4600 BC) contains the world's oldest gold jewelry discovered to date. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
Also, all the legends about giant statues made entirely out of gold dating back to those times should be taken with a grain of salt as well. For example, the Cornwall king was said to have been buried in a giant boat made out of gold and with silver paddles. Yet, no more than a little wooden box full of ash was found when his burial was discovered.
As for the stories about the ghosts of the prehistoric people haunting the mounds, nobody has stayed overnight to find out…
Featured Image: Sutton Hoo burial mound, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England. Source: CC BY SA 3.0
By: Valda Roric
Terry Deary – “Savage Stone Age”
DK Publishing - “ Prehistoric Life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth”
William Lindsay – “Prehistoric Life”
Richard Rudgley – “The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age”