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jazzrequest

Silbury Hill - what is it?

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This has been bugging me for years. In Wiltshire there's an enormous man made mound called Silbury Hill - much bigger than any burial mound. I think it's more than 2000 years old. There's nothing else like it in England (at least, not on that scale) and its purpose seems to be a mystery.

Years ago, I read a report from the Chronicle TV program (fantastic TV prog, why was it ever axed?!) which asked much the same questions. The mound has never been satisfactoraly excavated (it's just too big - the summit doubles as a cricket field!) but from what they could discover, it's an enigma. It seems to be solid, i.e no hollow chamber, and built like a step pyramid, i.e in 'tiers' of chalk or stone, before being covered with earth to give it its smooth profile. It stands alone on a great plain and tho' I've never seen it the photos are awesome!

The step pyramid similarity seems to be significant to me, but there are no other structures like it anywhere - as far as I know - in the UK. Also, it seems to be solid. Of course, geophysics has made enormous advances since that Chronicle doc of the early 70's. But aside from that one report I've never heard anything more. Can anyone enlighten me on this? Has it ever been explored using modern geophys methods and, if so, what was found? Have there been any theories put forward as to its purpose? I know one theory was it marked the burial place of a great king (altho he'd have to be a giant!) and I wonder if the mound does cover a burial chamber, located underground. But WHY though? Then again, it's not too far from Stonehenge which again is unique in the UK, so is it possible both had the same architect?

Whatever, I think this definitely comes under the heading of 'Mysteries of the ancient world' so please, someone, put me out of my mystery misery! :sk

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This has been bugging me for years. In Wiltshire there's an enormous man made mound called Silbury Hill - much bigger than any burial mound. I think it's more than 2000 years old. There's nothing else like it in England (at least, not on that scale) and its purpose seems to be a mystery.

Years ago, I read a report from the Chronicle TV program (fantastic TV prog, why was it ever axed?!) which asked much the same questions. The mound has never been satisfactoraly excavated (it's just too big - the summit doubles as a cricket field!) but from what they could discover, it's an enigma. It seems to be solid, i.e no hollow chamber, and built like a step pyramid, i.e in 'tiers' of chalk or stone, before being covered with earth to give it its smooth profile. It stands alone on a great plain and tho' I've never seen it the photos are awesome!

The step pyramid similarity seems to be significant to me, but there are no other structures like it anywhere - as far as I know - in the UK. Also, it seems to be solid. Of course, geophysics has made enormous advances since that Chronicle doc of the early 70's. But aside from that one report I've never heard anything more. Can anyone enlighten me on this? Has it ever been explored using modern geophys methods and, if so, what was found? Have there been any theories put forward as to its purpose? I know one theory was it marked the burial place of a great king (altho he'd have to be a giant!) and I wonder if the mound does cover a burial chamber, located underground. But WHY though? Then again, it's not too far from Stonehenge which again is unique in the UK, so is it possible both had the same architect?

Whatever, I think this definitely comes under the heading of 'Mysteries of the ancient world' so please, someone, put me out of my mystery misery! :sk

"There have been several excavations of the mound and William Stukeley wrote that a skeleton and bridle had been discovered during tree planting on the summit in 1723. It is probable that this was a later, secondary burial however. The first purposeful excavation came when a team of Cornish miners led by the Duke of Northumberland sunk a shaft from top to bottom in 1776. This was followed in 1849 when a tunnel was dug from the edge into the centre. Others were held in 1867, 1886 and William Flinders Petrie investigated the hill after the First World war. In 1968-70 professor Richard Atkinson undertook work at Silbury in front of BBC television cameras. This last work revealed most of the environmental evidence known about the site including the remains of winged ants which indicate Silbury was begun in August.

Atkinson dug numerous trenches at the site and reopened the 1849 tunnel, finding material suggesting a Neolithic date although none of his radiocarbon dates are considered reliable by modern standards. He argued that the hill was constructed in steps, each tier being filled in with packed chalk, and then smoothed off or weathered into a slope. Others have identified a spiralling path climbing to the top and prefer to see the construction as being more incremental with the benefit of also providing a processional route to the summit.

Few prehistoric artefacts have ever been found on Silbury Hill: at its core there is only clay, flints, turf, moss, topsoil, gravel, freshwater shells, mistletoe, oak, hazel, sarsen stones, ox bones, and antler tines. Roman and medieval items have been found on and around the site since the nineteenth century and it seems that the hill was reoccupied by later peoples.

In 2000, a collapse of the 1776 excavation shaft caused a hole to form in the top of the hill. English Heritage undertook a seismic survey of the hill to identify the damage caused by earlier excavations and determine the hill's stability. Repairs were undertaken though the site remains closed to the public. English Heritage's archaeologists also excavated two further small trenches as part of the remedial work and made the important discovery of an antler fragment, the first from a secure context at the site. This produced a reliable radiocarbon date of c. 2490-2340 BC, dating the second mound convincingly to the Late Neolithic. Other recent work has focused on the role of the surrounding ditch which may not have been a simple source of chalk for the hill but a purposeful water-filled barrier placed between the hill and the rest of the world."

From the Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silbury_Hill

It would seem that the purpose of the hill is not yet known. There have been precious few artifacts found, giving us little to go on. What there is, is a great deal of is rumor and conjecture. However, long story short: no one knows.

As to the Stonehenge connection, it seems unlikely, but it is possible, to the extent that some of the stonehenge work has been dated to roughly the same period as the second mound (the mound is believed to have been built in two phases). However, parts of stonehenge are actually much older. It too is believed to have been constructed in phases. However, this could be coincidence, as sites of ritual importance would likely be used, reused, and improved over the centuries. There is no direct evidence linking Silbury to stonehenge.

-Pilgrim

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A couple of small misconceptions: The summit of Silbury hill is not the size of a cricket pitch, though an ersatz game might be played there. However, the hill is not just unique to the UK, it is the largest prehistoric man-made mound in the world. In terms of location the hill is much more connected to the Avebury complex than to Stonehenge.

Since 2000 archaeology has been ongoing intermittently and it can reasonably hoped that our knowledge of the hill will be increased over the coming years - it's unlikely we'll get much in the way of definite answers, but we should have a better understanding. One of the most incredible facts about the hill is that although it cannot be dated precisely to any particular year or years, we can tell at what time of year certain phases of the building took place by the stages which insects trapped in the mound had reached in their life-cycle.

The purpose of the hill remains a complete enigma, despite several fanciful theories.

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The purpose of the hill remains a complete enigma, despite several fanciful theories.

I would be most interested to know of the theories (but possible and well.... other).

Maybe we could create a few of our own also?

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Anybody know is it aligned to the winter or summer solaciste or a star constlation....

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do any of you have links to some pictures?

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Posted (edited)

here are some pictures. I googled it for some images. Quite interesting that they seem to be finding crop circles near it too for some reason...

Pic1

Pic2

Hill with crop circles

More crop circles near Silbury Hill

I myself have never heard of this place before. But it does seem very very interesting

Edited by Tengu

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its huge

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Posted (edited)

user posted image

This is Silbury Hill taken from nearby West Kennet Long Barrow last December.

I've seen a few crop circles in the general Avebury area over the years.

There are as many theories about Silbury Hill as you can imagine. The oldest theory is that it was a giant burial mound (the are is littered with tumuli and barrows), for a great king named Sil. Even if the Sil theory is discounted many people believe that it was a burial mound of sorts. One of the more recent theories was based on the superficial resemblance of the hill and its surrounding moat to prehistoric statues thought to be of the Earth mother, with the hill representing the womb and the moat the rest of the body. However, the resemblance was superficial at best, and could only be seen from the air anyway (prehistoric peoples were notorious for not having developed air travel), so the theory is not a good one, despite its obvious attraction. Other theories abound... aliens, shipwrecked Egyptians, it was done for a bet...

One thing we can tell; it's not aligned to anything, it's a big circular mound in the middle of Salisbury Plain.

Edited by Foxe

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CLICK THIS LINK IT'S ABOUT SALISBURY HILL BUT IF YOU GO ABOUT A QUARTER OF THE WAY DOWN THE PAGE- IT HAS A WEBCAM ON THE SCREEN OF THE HILL AND YOU CAN MOVE THE CAMERA AROUND, ZOOM IN AND OUT ETC... PRETTY COOL!!

WEBCAM OF SALISBURY HILL - (1/4 way down page) Click picture with your mouse and move it aroun..... ;)

http://www.users.myisp.co.uk/~gtour/main.htm

:tu:

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its huge

Although I've never actually done the calculation, and it may be a myth... If the Great Pyramid at Giza were a hollow shell, it would precisely fit over Silbury Hill - those of you who watch Stargate will get the idea ;)

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Although I've never actually done the calculation, and it may be a myth... If the Great Pyramid at Giza were a hollow shell, it would precisely fit over Silbury Hill - those of you who watch Stargate will get the idea ;)

Sounds like a myth. I have not run the numbers myself, but a) the hill's base is round, and B) the top of the hill is truncated. Thus, the best that we could say is that the hill might fit inside the pyramid, again if it were hollow (which it isn't). There are many, many hills, both natural and manmade, that would be small enough to fit inside the great pyramid, so this is not truly very compelling.

-Pilgrim

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Posted (edited)

Yeah, I meant the angle, slope and height etc, not a 'jelly mould' fit ;)

Don't forget Silbury's semi-twin mound at Marlborough (possibly a derivation from Merlin's barrow), about 7km from Silbury; this is known as Merlin's Mound, and stands in the grounds of Marlborough college. Unlike Silbury the spiral form is very prominent, although unlike Silbury is it tree-covered, so its form isn't so easy to discern. See here for more details, or try "merlins mound marlborough" in Google images.

Edited by Shadow_Wolf

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It is a sad fact that as yet the Marlborough mound has not received the same archaeological attention as Silbury, perhaps because it is privately, rather than publicly owned. However, two important points (and killjoy ones I'm afraid) can be made. The spiral winding round the outside is, I believe, 18thC in origin - cut into the side of the mound to make a pleasant walk up to the top. Secondly, it is unlikely that the name Marlborough derives from "Merlin's Barrow". Marlborough is an Anglo-Saxon name, and the legends of merlin are not prominent in Anglo-Saxon lore. In fact, Marlborough was so named before Geoffrey of Monmouth coined the name "Merlin" anyway.

The sum total of what we know about the Marlborough mound (as opposed to what has been theorised about it) does not even include its age. It has long been thought to be a Norman motte, but Roman coins found nearby and possible antler picks suggest an older date. Infuriatingly, the coins and picks were recorded by Stukely (IIRC), and it is impossible to tell the context in which they were found, so although they are indicative pieces of evidence they are far from conclusive.

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Yeah, I meant the angle, slope and height etc, not a 'jelly mould' fit ;)

Don't forget Silbury's semi-twin mound at Marlborough (possibly a derivation from Merlin's barrow), about 7km from Silbury; this is known as Merlin's Mound, and stands in the grounds of Marlborough college. Unlike Silbury the spiral form is very prominent, although unlike Silbury is it tree-covered, so its form isn't so easy to discern. See here for more details, or try "merlins mound marlborough" in Google images.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was originally 481 feet tall, though it currently stands only 455 feet, due to erosion and the theft of the topmost stone block (no doubt someone needed a paperweight). It was originally 762 feet to a side, though it is now only 760 feet. The original angle would have been approximately a ratio of 1.58:1 (that is, 1.58 feet horizontally to every foot of vertical height). The current angle is harder to calculate since the capstone has been removed and I can find no refrences as to what its width was (and my geometry is too rusty to figure it out longhand); however, we can assume that the ratio is very similar to the original.

Silbury Hill, meanwhile, stands a mere 130 feet tall, with a 100-foot flat top. The base is 550 feet in diameter. If we subtract the width of the top from the base, we can calculate the ratio of width to height. For Silbury Hill, the ratio is 3.46:1 (that is, over three feet horizontally to every vertical foot).

Clearly, the ratios of base to height are nowhere near being similar; the Great Pyramid is more than twice as steep. It is nearly four times as tall, yet not even twice as wide.

There we have it - it is indeed a myth.

-Pilgrim

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Just an opinion, but from a military standpoint in those days (just like today) having the "High Ground" was a tremendous advantage. Although, to build something the size of the hill would have been far beyond the means of any tribal rulers in the UK at that time. Romans were the first "advanced" group to enter and conquer anything in England and the hill is supposedly much older.

The pyrimid theory is there- but keep in mind that the pyrimid shape is the most structurally sound form of construction- to this day. Still who built it? A more advanced and previously unknown army? ET? I am sure that with geoscience what it now is, that it could be studied in detail. Sound imaging and core drilling would bring up samples. But maybe there is something buried there that was intended to stay down! Maybe it was just a geologic rarity and some former King Decided to lop off the top and shape it a little to scare the neighbors...

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Just an opinion, but from a military standpoint in those days (just like today) having the "High Ground" was a tremendous advantage. Although, to build something the size of the hill would have been far beyond the means of any tribal rulers in the UK at that time. Romans were the first "advanced" group to enter and conquer anything in England and the hill is supposedly much older.

I don't know that we really know enough about the prehistoric tribal rulers of Britain to make that statement. We do know that Silbury Hill is pre-Roman by a couple of thousand years, so given that it WAS built, why shouldn't it have been built for military purposes? Against that theory is the fact that no other comparable site exists. When the (again, pre-Roman) Iron Age tribes hit on the idea of building massive hill-forts they started cropping up everywhere. Also against any military theory is the fact that Silbury hill sits right next to a larger and higher natural hill, so if defending the high ground was the purpose of the hill it wouldn't have taken a military genius to figure out that building on top of the adjacent hill would make much more sense that its actual position. I agree with you that Silbury Hill is probably not a military structure, but not for the same reasons.

The pyrimid theory is there- but keep in mind that the pyrimid shape is the most structurally sound form of construction- to this day. Still who built it? A more advanced and previously unknown army? ET? I am sure that with geoscience what it now is, that it could be studied in detail. Sound imaging and core drilling would bring up samples. But maybe there is something buried there that was intended to stay down! Maybe it was just a geologic rarity and some former King Decided to lop off the top and shape it a little to scare the neighbors...

Nah, it's definitely man-made.

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I have a friend studying Archaeology at Uni and he said in discussion that Silbury Hill was nothing more than an observation tower and defensive position, hence the finding of very few artifacts. He reckons that the peoples living nearby were constantly attacked and built the hill to observe the flat terrain around and give the people enough time to flee to the top and us it as a defensive position by throwing rocks down onto the attacking hostiles. I am not convinced as it seems a hell of a lot of trouble to go to for a lookout post!

I live very near to the Wilmington Long Man, which is also an ancient mystery, and he told me that Quote Look at the hill above the Long Man. The mounds were an ancient settlement, and the locals carved the Long Man into the chalk to frighten off hostiles. MMMmmmm well I guess i have to bow to the knowledge and intelligence of my friend, but he still hasnt convinced me. Anyone out there know anything more?

www.hows.org.uk/personal/hillfigs/lmw/lmw.htm

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Anyone out there know anything more?

I know that your friend is wrong about the purpose of Silbury Hill. Silbury hill is built, as I have said, at the bottom of a larger natural hill. From the summit of Silbury one cannot see over the neighbouring West Kennet hill, so if it was built as an observation tower it was a useless one. Given that most of the known settlements in that area are actually up hills (the Windmill Hill settlement, the small settlement on West Kennet Hill itself etc) why the hell would any of them build a defensive watch tower at the bottom of a hill. It makes no sense, tell your friend to stop being so dogmatic - it makes for a very bad archaeologist. The truth is that we don't know what Silbury Hill was built for, nobody does.

MMMmmmm well I guess i have to bow to the knowledge and intelligence of my friend

No you don't, his dogmatic assertions do him no credit whatsoever. I would further point out that since nobody knows for sure the age of the Long Man of Wilmington it is ridiculous to speculate so assertively on the relationship between the figure and the other local marks.

Maybe once he's finished studying he will have learnt not to be so ridiculously assertive about points which have yet to be proven (and which, in fact, do not make much sense either!). If he carries on like this he will make a really crappy archaeologist.

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I know that your friend is wrong about the purpose of Silbury Hill. Silbury hill is built, as I have said, at the bottom of a larger natural hill. From the summit of Silbury one cannot see over the neighbouring West Kennet hill, so if it was built as an observation tower it was a useless one. Given that most of the known settlements in that area are actually up hills (the Windmill Hill settlement, the small settlement on West Kennet Hill itself etc) why the hell would any of them build a defensive watch tower at the bottom of a hill. It makes no sense, tell your friend to stop being so dogmatic - it makes for a very bad archaeologist. The truth is that we don't know what Silbury Hill was built for, nobody does.

No you don't, his dogmatic assertions do him no credit whatsoever. I would further point out that since nobody knows for sure the age of the Long Man of Wilmington it is ridiculous to speculate so assertively on the relationship between the figure and the other local marks.

Maybe once he's finished studying he will have learnt not to be so ridiculously assertive about points which have yet to be proven (and which, in fact, do not make much sense either!). If he carries on like this he will make a really crappy archaeologist.

I just got off the phone to him and told him what you had explained, and he told me that i should ask you if the terrain was definately the same a couple of thousand years ago, and if so could you give him the proof as he may need it for his honors degree.

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I have a friend studying Archaeology at Uni and he said in discussion that Silbury Hill was nothing more than an observation tower and defensive position, hence the finding of very few artifacts. He reckons that the peoples living nearby were constantly attacked and built the hill to observe the flat terrain around and give the people enough time to flee to the top and us it as a defensive position by throwing rocks down onto the attacking hostiles. I am not convinced as it seems a hell of a lot of trouble to go to for a lookout post!

www.hows.org.uk/personal/hillfigs/lmw/lmw.htm

Sorry, that idea doesn't make sense. The position of the mound in the surrounding landscape only offers a clear view over flat terrain to the N and NW. The natural hill of Windmill Hill (3km NW of Silbury) had already been enhanced as a settlement and fort for several hundred years before the first phase of the construction of Silbury - known as Silbury I. Silbury I was a relatively small mound less than 10m high. Two further phases - Silbury II and Silbury III - eventually resulted in the form of the mound that we see today.

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I just got off the phone to him and told him what you had explained, and he told me that i should ask you if the terrain was definately the same a couple of thousand years ago, and if so could you give him the proof as he may need it for his honors degree.

Well, there's a pre-Silbury barrow on top of West Kennet hill, so unless someone went and lifted up the barrow while they shovelled more earth in underneath then yes, the landscape is more or less unchanged - at least in that direction. The West Kennet Long Barrow was first built in around 3700BCE, but was in use until around 2200BCE. The first phase at Silbury was around 2500BCE (the dates are obviously approximate, but reasonably reliable). Thus, the builders of Silbury Hill were clearly aware of the much bigger hill right next door (who wouldn't be). If he's doing Silbury Hill as part of his honours surely he's already researched this?

With regard to the Wilmington Long Man, the date of construction has been debated for ages. Some people have theorised that the figure is reminiscent of figures on Roman coins, while others have drawn comparisons with a figure on an Anglo-Saxon buckle found nearby(ish) in Kent. Obviously they can't both be right and if the resemblances are that close they theories actually discount one another. Archaeological evidence suggests that a post-medieval date is in fact more likely - a team from the University of Reading recently suggested C.1545 based on the scientific analysis of the soil, a date consistent with all the known finds from the hill face. The fact that no record of the Long Man exists prior to the early 18thC goes some way to supporting this theory.

Any kind of settlement on Windover Hill was probably neolithic. All the bumps and holes on the summit are burial mounds and flint mines. There is almost no archaeological evidence of activity in the area for later periods. Nobody, so far as I am aware, has ever seriously suggested that the Long Man is anything like that old. Even the oldest known chalk figure - the Uffington White Horse - dates only to the bronze age, considerably later than the neolithic activity of Windover Hill.

Conclusion: there is no reason at all to connect the possible neolithic settlement of Windover Hill with the probably 16thC Long Man.

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Yeh thanks for that, it certainly is interesting to debate. There is a plaque at the Long Man and they give some dates, but again, it isn't anything firm or certain.

Regarding Silbury, my friend told me something that really astounded me, and i wanted to check with you if you had heard about it. It is that as the planet was forming, the southern part of the UK was actually detached from the rest of the country. Rather like the Indian continent that moved north into the china continent, and that as the two met the himalayas were formed by the crash. As the two plates move together mountains were formed. Of course, I already knew about the Indian continent from old school lessons, but never knew about the British Isles being two separate parts. I have been searching around in google to see if i can find some info on it, but havent had any luck as yet.

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CLICK THIS LINK IT'S ABOUT SALISBURY HILL BUT IF YOU GO ABOUT A QUARTER OF THE WAY DOWN THE PAGE- IT HAS A WEBCAM ON THE SCREEN OF THE HILL AND YOU CAN MOVE THE CAMERA AROUND, ZOOM IN AND OUT ETC... PRETTY COOL!!

WEBCAM OF SALISBURY HILL - (1/4 way down page) Click picture with your mouse and move it aroun..... ;)

Many thanks for this - lots of up-to-date info there to sieve through. I have added it to my list of favourites as this looks set to be quite some task! I guess the best way forward is to go there and see the place for myself.

Not sure I want to though. Just seeing the stills gave me the shivers ... :wacko:

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Yeah, I meant the angle, slope and height etc, not a 'jelly mould' fit ;)

Don't forget Silbury's semi-twin mound at Marlborough (possibly a derivation from Merlin's barrow), about 7km from Silbury; this is known as Merlin's Mound, and stands in the grounds of Marlborough college. Unlike Silbury the spiral form is very prominent, although unlike Silbury is it tree-covered, so its form isn't so easy to discern. See here for more details, or try "merlins mound marlborough" in Google images.

Yet more interesting facts for me to bookmark! What I found most interesting was the 'processional' spiral to the top. It reminded me a lot of Glastonbury Tor, which is also strikingly marked in this way, and in fact resembles both these manmade structures. Is GT also an artificial mound? I haven't found out much about that spiralling 'path' to the top of the Tor either - all the Glastonbury references seem to hark on about the Holy Grail etc instead. Some shots of Silbury suggest something similar to these 'procession ways' which would definitely link it to Marlborough - although it could be just an anomaly as it's not very pronounced. Could be it was weathered away. The fact Silbury is so exposed, yet still has its earthen covering, would suggest that (maybe) the covering of soil over the inner structure was much thicker at some time.

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