Badbury Barrow Carving, Shapwick, Dorset

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – ST 9583 0294

Also Known as

  1. Badbury Rings Carving
  2. Shapwick 6a carving

Archaeology & History

Badbury Barrow carving (after J.F.S. Stone 1958)

Amidst what was once a veritable gathering of prehistoric tombs on the ground immediately west of the Badbury Rings hillfort — a small necropolis no less! — one particular tumulus which Leslie Grinsell named as ‘Shapwick 6a‘ was in the process of being destroyed at the end of October, 1845, but was fortunate in receiving the quick attention of a local historian called John Austen, who gave us the first known account of the place. (a fuller profile of the Badbury Barrow can be found here)  Inside the churned-up remains of Badbury Barrow, which measured 62 feet across and 9 feet high, Mr Austin found a fascinating number of urns and other remains and, shortly after, this rare example of a petroglyph was identified.  The stone now lives in the British Museum where, the last I knew, you could certainly check it out.  But it’s not its original size, as sections of the stone were broken off.  As Aubrey Burl (1987) told us, the stone was originally about half-a-ton in weight, on which,

“were carvings of five cupmarks, two bronze daggers and two flat, triangular axes of early Breton type.”

Grinsell’s more detailed description of the carving from his work on Dorset Barrows (1959) tells a little more of the design found on this seeming ‘tomb-stone’:

“Sandstone slab, probably from stone cist, decorated with pecked carvings of two daggers with hilts, resembling those on stone 53 at Stonehenge; two triangular objects probably intended to be flat bronze axe-heads expanding at their cutting-edge; and five cup-shaped hollows.  The existing decorated fragment (in British Museum) is 1ft 10in long, and was detached from the original slab which weighed probably more than half a ton.  The size suggests, perhaps, a cover-slab.”

It may well have been.  Certainly it had some relationship to death!  The design was suggested in the 19th century to perhaps have been influenced by Greek imagery, when such notions were in vogue.  As Grinsell tells,

“In the centre according to Durden…was the well-known large slab of sandstone which was decorated with carvings of daggers and axes, the former of type similar to those from Stonehenge, conjectured to be of Mycenean type.”

But the Mycenean nature of the carvings is highly unlikely.  What is intriguing with this carving is the appearance of cup-markings (commonly associated in or adjacent to prehistoric tombs) alongside defined symbols of daggers.  We could infer a magickal relationship between the two symbols here: one of which, the cups, comes from a much earlier period than the dagger-design.  A more in-depth analysis of the human remains within the tumulus and a plan of the site would perhaps be more revealing…

…to be continued…


  1. Austen, John H., “Archaeological Intelligence,” in Archaeological Journal, volume 3, 1846.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, The Stonehenge People, Guild: London 1987.
  3. Grinsell, Leslie V., Dorset Barrows, Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society 1959.
  4. Knight, Peter, Ancient Stones of Dorset, Power: Ferndown 1996.
  5. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset – Volume 5: East Dorset, HMSO: London 1975.
  6. Stone, J.F.S., Wessex Before the Celts, Thames & Hudson: London 1958.
  7. Warne, Charles, The Celtic Tumuli of Dorset, John Russell Smith: London 1866.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

(Visited 63 times, 1 visits today)

Written by 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *