Stratford St. Mary Cursus, Suffolk

Cursus Monument:  OS Grid Reference – TM 0486 3433

Archaeology & History

Faint flat outline of SE end + ancient circular enclosure

This short and dead straight cursus monument was first described in John Hedges’ (1981) survey, and later mentioned in Harding & Lee’s (1987) corpus on British henges as being in conjunction with a series of circular prehistoric monuments (three circular enclosures existed beyond its southeast and one to its northeast edges, one of which is visible in the aerial image, right).

Cursus ground-plan (courtesy Suffolk Institute Archaeology)

Most of the monument has been completely destroyed by roads and housing, but when complete was said to be 317 yards (290m) long, running from the southeast to the northwest.  The flattened southeastern edge measures nearly 63 yards (57.3m) across, and its northernmost width was close to 65 yards (60m) wide.

In Patrick Taylor’s (2015) assessment of this (and other monuments) he thought that the cursus may have served an astronomical function.  He may be right.  It’s alignment, he told,

“has a very clear orientation 38.5º north of grid west.  This represents an amplitude from true west of 40.9º.  Allowing for a latitude of 51.97º and altitude of 0.95º, adjusted downwards for refraction to 0.50º, we get from (Alexander) Thom’s table a declination for a body setting to the northwest of 24.15.º  This is only 0.23º, just less than half the width of the sun’s disc, more than the sun’s maximum declination in Neolithic times of 23.92º.  The alignment thus points rather accurately towards the upper limb or last setting point of the sun.”

Faint remnants of a second cursus monument have been discovered 400 yards to the east.

References:

  1. Harding, A.F. & Lee, G.E.,, Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  2. Hedges, John D. & Buckley, David, Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, ECC 1981.
  3. Last, Jonathan, “Out of Line: Cursuses and Monument Typology in Eastern England,” in Barclay & Harding’s Pathways & Ceremonies, Oxbow: Oxford 1999.
  4. Martin, Edward A., “When is a Henge not a Henge?” in Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute for Archaeology & History, volume 35, 1981.
  5. Taylor, Patrick, Timber Circles in the East, Polystar: Ipswich 2015.

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, for use of their ground-plan diagram from Edward Armstrong’s article, ‘When is a Henge Not a Henge?’ 

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Stratford St Mary cursus

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Stratford St Mary cursus 51.969742, 0.981015 Stratford St Mary cursus

Rudston ‘D’ Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus: OS Grid Reference – TA 099 717 to TA 096 679

Archaeology & History

Plan of Rudston D Cursus & associated monuments (after I.M. Stead 1976)
Plan of Rudston D Cursus & associated monuments (after I.M. Stead 1976)

To the north of Rudston village and its giant standing stone, running roughly parallel with the divinatory waters of the Gypsey Race river and passing a mass of prehistoric remains en route, we find one the biggest prehistoric cursus monuments in the British Isles: the Rudston D cursus.  More than twice as long as any of the three other cursus monuments nearby, its northern end or ‘terminal’ is flattened in nature (others are rounded) and is due east of the village of Burton Fleming starting at the intriguingly-named Maidens Grave field, just as the land begins to rise at TA 099 717.  From here it begins its almost southern trajectory and runs almost dead straight for several hundred yards until edging, ever so slightly in direction, to a slightly more secure southern alignment.  Past the site of the Rudston henge, the cursus broadens out slightly and, as it reaches the farmlands of Littlethorpe, edges slightly further to a more decisive direct southern route.  The cursus then maintains a dead straight course for another mile, heading straight for, and stopping just short of the Rudston monolith in its modern churchyard.  A short distance before we reach its southern end, archaeologists found that a section of the Cursus C monument cut right across it.  Altogether, the Rudston D Cursus is more than 4km (2.3 miles) long!  At its narrowest width, this monument is a mere 160 feet (50m) across, and at its widest is 280 feet (90m).  A giant by anyone’s standard!

Along the entire length of this continuous ditch and inner bank there were just 3 small cuttings on the western side and three on the east, but two of the eastern openings were quite large.  Some of these openings were affected by natural elements and others by modern agriculture. Today, much of this gigantic ritual monument (as the archaeologists call them) is not visible at ground level.

In visiting this area, make yourself aware of the other monuments in this class: the Rudston A cursus and Rudston B cursus, southeast and southwest of here respectively. A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue.  To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a phenomenon long known to comparative religious students and anthropologists exploring the animistic natural relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Rites of the Gods, J.M. Dent: London 1981.
  2. Harding, Jan, ‘Pathways to New Realms: Cursus Monuments and Symbolic Territories,’ in Barclay & Harding, Pathways and Ceremonies: The Cursus Monuments of Britain and Ireland, Oxbow: Oxford 1999.
  3. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape: The Cursus Enigma, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  4. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.
  5. Stead, I.M., ‘La Tene Burials between Burton Fleming and Rudston,’ in Antiquaries Journal, volume LVI Part II, 1976.

Links:

  1. ADS: Archaeology of Rudston D – Brief archaeological notes on the longest of the four known cursuses in the region.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rudston 'D' Cursus

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Rudston \'D\' Cursus 54.114347, -0.321356 Rudston \'D\' Cursus

Rudston ‘C’ Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference – TA 0914 6809 – TA 1014 6803

Archaeology & History

D.P. Dymond's 1966 sketch of Rudston 'C' cursus
D.P. Dymond’s 1966 sketch of Rudston ‘C’ cursus

Of the four giant linear cursus monuments that were laid out around the landscape that holds Britain’s largest standing stone—the Rudston monolith—this one, the Rudston ‘C’ cursus, is the one we know the least about. This is mainly due to it receiving the minimum of archaeological attention, which can be forgiven round here as there is so much material to explore!  Traces of the cursus at ground level are also quite negligible.  Thankfully however, like the other cursus monuments nearby, some of the site can be made out on GoogleEarth.  

The alignment of this cursus runs east-to-west, cutting across the Cursus D monument and then running above the northern course of Nature’s curious river known as the Gypsey Race, which local folklore ascribes as being used in animistic divinatory practices.  Cursus C was first noticed in aerial photographs taken by Prof. J.K. St. Joseph in 1961 and first described by D.P. Dymond (1966) a few years later, who told us:

“Immediately north of the village (Rudston), two parallel ditches, about 60 yards apart, are visible as crop-marks running east-west for 1000 yards… As they are too far apart to be considered as road-ditches and are similar to the linear ditches (of Rudston A and B), they are best interpreted as a fragment of a third cursus, C. The western end fades out near the York road as it climbs onto high ground, while at the east the ditches disappear into Bridlington Gate Plantation.  Like Cursus A, this also crossed the Gypsey Race. Approximately 1½ miles northwest of the last westward point of these ditches is the presumed site of two lost long barrows, joined together at one end. There may, therefore, have been an original connection between Cursus C and these long barrows.”

First faint photo of Cursus C
First faint photo of Cursus C

His final remark is quite a good one! And since Dymond’s initial description (according to the PastScape lads anyhow), Cursus C has been found to be much longer than the initial 1000 yards, growing another 500 yards at least!  The final point or ‘terminal’ on the eastern end still remains hidden, as it was intruded upon by the later Argham Dyke and the trees.  The start or western terminal also remains unfound, so we don’t know for sure the exact length of this giant neolithic ‘line on the landscape’, as Pennick and Devereux (1989) call them.

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
  2. Harding, Jan, ‘Pathways to New Realms: Cursus Monuments and Symbolic Territories,’ in Barclay & Harding, Pathways and Ceremonies: The Cursus Monuments of Britain and Ireland, Oxbow: Oxford 1999.
  3. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape: The Cursus Enigma, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  4. Manby, T.G., “The Neolithic in Eastern Yorkshire,” in Archaeology in Eastern Yorkshire, University of Sheffield 1988.
  5. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.
  6. Stead, I.M., ‘La Tene Burials between Burton Fleming and Rudston,’ in Antiquaries Journal, volume LVI Part II, 1976.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rudston 'C' Cursus

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Rudston \'C\' Cursus 54.096982, -0.324293 Rudston \'C\' Cursus

Benson Cursus, Benson, Oxfordshire

Cursus Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SU 624 910 to SU 629 919

Also Known as:

  1. Crowmarsh Cursus

Archaeology & History

Major Allen’s 1933 photo

Any remains of this once sacred site are now beneath the airport between Benson and Ewelme, a couple of miles northeast of Wallingford, on the eastern side of the River Thames.  A great pity.  It was one of the early cursus monuments discovered as a result of Major G.W. Allen’s many aerial surveys in southern England — as shown in his photo here  — and subsequently described in Mr Leeds’ (1934) Antiquaries Journal article.  A cluster of cursus monuments were built in this part of England in neolithic times, and Roy Loveday (2006) includes the Benson Cursus as an ingredient within the ‘sacred landscape’ region of what he calls “the Dorchester-on-Thames complex.”  The Benson Cursus and surrounding regional monuments,

“in fact possesses features that would declare it as an inter-regional sanctuary if encountered in an historical setting; namely, intensity of monument construction, longevity of respect, addition of later exotic monuments with far-flung parallels, large numbers of burials, and placement in a landscape structured, partly at least, by other monuments.  These elements recur from Delphi to Uppsala, and from Pachacarmaca to Mecca, at sites that Mircea Eliade (sic) has termed hierophanies — locations where the otherworld of gods and ancestors communicate with the living.”

Loveday’s 2006 plan
Benson Cursus plan (after Barclay & Lambrick)

It’s good to know that the correct paradigms are at last emerging from those archaeocentric minds!

In Mr Loveday’s (2006) plan of the cursus, no entrances could be found into the monument apart from a small section along the northeastern length of the structure (left).  From its southernmost point, this giant monument runs along a SSW-NNE alignment — one echoed in other nearby cursuses — for 1192 yards (1090m) and is 71 yards (65m) across, covering 7.3 hectares in all.  No internal structures were noted anywhere within the monument.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Barclay, A., Lambrick, G., Moore, J. & Robinson, M., Lines in the Landscape, OAU: Oxford 2003.
  2. Benson, D. & Miles, D., The Upper Thames Valley: An Archaeological Survey of the River Gravels, Oxford Archaeology Unit 1974.
  3. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harcourt, Brace & World: New York 1959.
  4. Leeds, E.T., “Rectangular Enclosures of the Bronze Age in the Upper Thames Valley, in Antiquaries Journal, 14:4, 1934.
  5. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Benson cursus

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Benson cursus 51.618573, -1.095573 Benson cursus

Rudston ‘A’ Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference — TA 0998 6577 to TA 1016 6802

Also known as:

  1. Beacon Cursus
  2. Rudston Cursus 1
  3. Woldgate Cursus

Archaeology & History

The site has been known about for nearly 150 years, albeit mistakenly as a series of prehistoric barrows that William Greenwell (1877) told were “near the division between the parishes of Rudston and Burton Agnes” near the crest of the hill.  He further told the place to be,

“Two long mounds, almost parallel, their northern end gradually losing themselves in the surface-level, but connected together at the southern end by another long mound.”

South end of Cursus A (after D.P. Dymond)
Early photo of Cursus A (after J.K.St Joseph)

Then in 1958 when C. & E. Grantham of Driffield did the first modern excavation here across a section of the western ditch, they found that the long embankment went on much further than ever previously anticipated, for more than half-a-mile downhill in the direction of Rudston village.  It wasn’t a long barrow or tombs of any sort, they found!  Then in 1961 when Dr. J.K. St. Joseph did aerial survey work over the area, he and his colleagues established that this monument consisted of extensive parallel ditches stretching for at least 1½ miles towards and past the eastern side of Rudston village.  It’s nature as a cursus monument was rediscovered after several thousand years in the wilderness… (on St. Joseph’s survey, two other cursus monuments were also found in the vicinity, being Rudston Cursus B and Cursus C)  Readers will hopefully forgive me for quoting at some length Mr Dymond’s (1966) article on the site (with minimal editing!):

“The southern end of the cursus lies in the western angle of two roads, Woldgate and Burton Agnes Balk.  In plan it is square with rounded corners and consists of a bank with outer ditch.  Although the bank has been ploughed for many years, it still remains substantial; it stands up to 4 feet high from the outside and 1-2 feet wide from the inside.  The east and west banks decline in height northwards and are now at their greatest height where they join the southern end.  The profile of each bank is smooth and rounded and merges on the outside with the broad shallow depression of the silted-up ditch.  The south bank is now 170 feet long overall, and spread to a width of 60-80 feet.  It stands higher at both ends than in the middle.  This fact was noted by Greenwell, who also recorded that at the southwest angle “there was the appearance of a round barrow raised upon the surface of the long mound.”  There is no surface evidence today to suggest a secondary round barrow, and to some extent at least the greater height at the angles is probably due to the concentration of upcast inside a fairly sharp corner.

“The south arm of the ditch has been largely destroyed by a chalk-pit, but the southeast turn is quite clear on air-photographs.  There is no suggestion on the ground or from the air that the cursus had ever extended further to the south.

“The cursus begins its descent in a due northerly direction, and loses its eastern side for approximately 600 feet under the enclosure road, Burton Agnes Balk.  The ditch can be traced intermittently on the western and eastern verges.  It then swings gently NNW around the head of a small slack draining northwest.  Thus far the cursus is traceable on the ground.  The ditches are the most consistent feature, showing as broad shallow depressions 20-40 feet wide and 70-80 yards apart, which when in fallow attract a dark coarse vegetation (particularly thistles and nettles.  The banks inside the ditches are sometimes visible in relief though considerably spread.  Where the banks have been almost entirely ploughed out, a chalk spread usually marks their position.

“There is a suggestion on the ground that the banks and ditches may have been separated by berms, particularly on the east side near the square end.  This appears to be confirmed by the silting of the ditch in the excavated section…

“Proceeding further downhill in the direction of Rudston village, the cursus quite suddenly swings north-NNE, finally crosses Burton Agnes Balk, and passes to the west of Pits Plantation.  On the west of the road both banks and ditches are still visible in relief, and the ditches produce a firm crop-mark.  East of the road no surface traces are discernible, and only the eastern ditch shows intermittently as a crop-mark.

“For ½-mile across the floor of the Great Wold Valley, there is no trace of the cursus.  The area has been ploughed since medieval times, and there is in addition a considerable Romano-British settlement.  It is worth noting that in this length, the cursus must have crossed the stream of the Gypsey Race, surely a fact of some importance in any discussion of the function of cursuses.

“Two parallel ditches c.60 yards apart, visible on air photographs in a field immediately north of the modern Rudston-Bridlington road, seem to represent the continuation of the cursus.  The ditches travel for approximately 300 yards and end at the Bridlington Gate Plantation.  There are no surface traces in the field, but a depression in the plantation may represent the eastern ditch.  This depression is crossed obliquely by the remains of a low bank and ditch running along the length of the plantation WSW and ENE.  This latter (part) is probably part of the supposedly Iron Age entrenchment system, and has certainly been used as a road from Rudston to Bridlington, as the name of the plantation implies.

“The northern end of the cursus cannot be traced.  Possibilities are that the end was in the plantation and has been destroyed by the later earthwork, or that the cursus proceeded NNE for an unknown distance.  If the latter hypothesis is accepted, the western ditch must be under the Argam Dykes, a double entrenchment which appears to terminate at the northern side of the plantation, and the eastern ditch is indistinguishable  from ploughing lines to which it is parallel…

“Cursus A has its southern end at a height of 254 feet OD, on the forward face of a long chalk ridge running WSW and ENE.  From this point the course of the cursus is visible, except for that part west of Pits Plantation.  The last known part in Bridlington Gate Plantation, 1½ miles off, is clearly visible.  Seen against the contours of the area, the cursus has one end resting on a high ridge, crosses a broad valley, and climbs at least in part, the far side.  It appears to pass approximately 300 yards east of the monolith in Rudston churchyard.”

Line of Rudston A

The presence of this and three other cursus monuments close by (Rudston B, C and D) indicates that the region was an exceptionally important one in the cosmology of our prehistoric ancestors.  Four of these giant linear cursus monuments occur in relative proximity, and there was an excess of ancient tombs and, of course, we have the largest standing stone in the British Isles stood in the middle of it all.  A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue.  To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a relationship well known to students of comparative religion and anthropology who understand the socio-organic animistic relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harvest: New York 1959.
  3. Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.
  4. Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  5. Nicholson, John, Beacons of East Yorkshire, A. Brown & Sons: Hull 1887.
  6. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

Links: – ADS: Archaeology of the Beacon Cursus, or Rudston A – Notes on the cursus which has been given the most attention to date.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rudston 'A' Cursus

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Rudston \'A\' Cursus 54.082679, -0.321463 Rudston \'A\' Cursus

Rudston B Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference – TA 0805 6697 to TA 0944 6755 

  1. Rudston Cursus 2

Archaeology & History

One of the four (known) cursus monuments around Rudston: this one stretches between the Ordnance Survey coordinates TA 081669 near Kilham Grange on the southwestern edge of Rudston, then heads northeast towards the village itself at TA 094675.  Described briefly in D.P.Dymond’s essay on (mainly) Cursus A, he said how Cursus B was part of,

Early ground-plan (after D.P. Dymond)
Early photo of Rudston B (after J.K.St Joseph)

“a large complex of crop marks.  The largest feature is the squared, tapering end of Cursus B, which can be traced for 700 yards in a north-easterly direction.  No surface remains seem to survive in an area intensively ploughed, except for a swelling under a hedge on the line of the south-eastern bank (at TA 0834 6703).  West of the square end and partly overlying it, are several small rectangular enclosures, which are probably part of a later (?Romano-British) settlement and field-system.  Also in this tangle of crop-marks there are four roughly circular shapes, which may well be barrow circles associated with the end of the cursus.  On certain barrow just south of the end of the cursus has an inner ring of pits.  Where the cursus is lat visible to the north-east, it is headed roughly for the monolith ¾-mile away.  The width of Cursus B is approximately 90 yards between ditch centres.  It has its square end on the forward slope of a ridge (like Cursus A) at a height of 180 feet OD, and descends towards the village, which is visible from the end, through a shallow valley.”

Dymond’s note about the alignment feature of this cursus, towards the gigantic Rudston monolith, was one echoed in the Hedges & Buckley (1981) survey.  They noted:

“At Rudston, the B cursus extended eastwards aligns upon the Rudston monolith in Rudston churchyard. Destruction of standing stones elsewhere may have removed similar associations between the stones and cursuses.”

This alignment feature was also confirmed by cognitive archaeologist and alignment specialist, Paul Devereux (Pennick & Devereux 1989) in his survey of cursus monuments.

Typical of these fascinating antiquities, nothing of any worth has been found along the length of the cursus that can give us any clues to its nature and function.  However, the presence of this and three others close by indicates that the region was an exceptionally important one in the cosmology of our prehistoric ancestors.  Four of these giant linear cursus monuments occur in relative proximity, and there was an excess of ancient tombs and, of course, we have the largest standing stone in the British Isles stood in the middle of it all.  A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue.  To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a phenomenon long known to comparative religious students and anthropologists exploring the animistic natural relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harvest: New York 1959.
  3. Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  4. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

Links:

  1. ADS: Archaeology of Rudston B – Brief archaeological notes on the cursus to the southwest of Rudston.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Rudston 'B' Cursus

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Rudston \'B\' Cursus 54.090181, -0.337988 Rudston \'B\' Cursus

Potlock Cursus, Willington, Derbyshire

Cursus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SK 314 287 to SK 321 289

Also known as:

  1. Findern Cursus
  2. Findern-Willington Cursus
  3. Potlocks Cursus
  4. Twyford Cursus

Archaeology & History

Destroyed by the usual mixture of intensive farming practices and the self-righteous advance of industrialism, this cursus of many names was discovered thanks to aerial survey photographs taken in the early 1960s.  Found only 6½ miles west of the Aston Cursus and constructed on level ground on the north side of the River Trent next to B5009 road between Twyford village and Willington.  I think the site was first described by J.K. St. Joseph (1966) in his notes on air reconnaissance finds, in which he described the site,

“So far the parallel ditches, some 220ft apart, defining the cursus have been identified on an east to west alignment across three fields for a length of some 1800ft.  This may well be only fraction of the total length of the monument, which probably extended westwards towards the new power station at Willington.  Three ring-ditches, one lying within the cursus, and two to the north, as well as a rectangular enclosure, have also been recorded.”

There was probably more to be discovered here, he thought.  And so the following year the first dig into one section of the site was made, and again in 1969.  A synopsis of this and subsequent excavation work have been reported on the PastScape website which tells:

“The cursus has been traced for a distance of at least 1560 metres, lying near the edge of the flood-plain of the Trent. Excavations in 1994-5 in advance of work on a bypass recovered Peterborough Ware sherds close to the bottom of the southern cursus ditch. Charred organic remains were also present, from which radiocarbon dates are to be sought. The excavations also uncovered a causeway between 10.5 and 19 metres in length through the northern ditch. Within this causeway were a cluster of short linear features and a post hole, all presumably evidence for controlling access into the monument. Another break in the northern ditch was shown to have been created to accommodate the course of a stream, which still runs through it. The 1994-5 excavations also confirmed that the 1969 excavations had in fact found a series of natural features which were mistakenly interpreted as representing the cursus ditches… At the south-western limit of the cursus cropmarks the southern ditch appears to have been recut and possibly reused at a later stage as a double ditched trackway…”

References:

  1. St. Joseph, J.K., “Air Reconnaissance: Recent Result, 6,” in Antiquity journal, volume 40, no.157, March 1966.
  2. Wheeler, Hazel, “The Findern Cursus,” in Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, volume 90, 1970.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Potlock cursus

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Potlock cursus 52.855313, -1.534491 Potlock cursus

Stanwell Cursus, Heathrow, Surrey

Cursus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 0545 7431 to TQ 0448 7782

Also Known as:

  1. Heathrow Cursus

Archaeology & History

Running roughly north-to-south, this cursus was 2¼ miles long (3600 metres) and comprised of two linear sections from a field in Stanwell up through the western side of Heathrow Airport averaging, curiously, just 24 yards (22m) across.  Of course nothing of it can be seen today as the airport and surrounding industrial crap has destroyed it.  The cursus had a lengthy internal bank along its length. During excavation work done at the Perry Oaks Sludge Works section in Hillingdon, archaeologists found evidence for a short avenue of posts, about 110 feet long, apparently constructed prior to the cutting of the cursus’ ditches, following the same direction/alignment of the subsequent monument.  In Roy Loveday’s (2006) survey of cursus monuments he said this of Heathrow’s cursus:

“This site, striking across land so flat that it has been selected  for Heathrow Airport, extends for some 4km, crosses two rivers and stops by a stream — originally perhaps a more major river.  So straight and apparently narrow is it (20m) that it was originally taken to be a Roman road.  Early excavation seemed to support the idea: vestigal remains areas of gravel between the ditches were scored by shallow gullies resembling cart ruts.  Later excavation, however, demonstrated that the ditches of a Late Bronze Age field system cut across it and several scarps of Peterborough Ware (i.e., pottery – PB) were recovered from its ditches.  Evidence also emerged of a short (50m) ragged, double row of posts, removed before the ditches were dug on the same alignment.  That this was a bank barrow was hinted at by the Charlecote test and by reduction in the depth of field ditches as they crossed the central area.”

Confirmation that an earthen bank of some kind running near the middle of the cursus was confirmed by analysis of early Ministry of Defence aerial photographs.  For those who would like a more detailed description on this site, I refer you to the excellent paper by o’ Connell. (1990)

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Barclay, Alistair, et al, Lines in the Landscape, Oxford Archaeological Unit 2003.
  2. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  3. o’ Connell, M., “The Heathrow-Stanwell Cursus,” in Current Archaeology, 9, 1986.
  4. o’ Connell, M., “Excavations during 1979-1985 of a Multi-Period Site at Stanwell,” in Surrey Archaeological Collections, 80, 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.473138, -0.489648 Stanwell cursus

Scorton Cursus, North Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 234 010 to SE 249 996

Archaeology & History

Aerial views of cursus

A huge linear monument that could once be found on the flats just north of the B6271 road running between the villages of Scorton and Brompton-on-Swale, east of the ancient A1 road, has long since been ruined.  Although found quite a few miles north of the main Thornborough henge and cursus complex, a number of students still posit that this northern monument was part of the same “ritual landscape” arena.

Plan of the cursus (after P.Topping, YAJ 1982)

First discovered in 1949 following aerial survey analysis by Prof. J.K. St. Joseph, this huge dead straight cursus monument ran for at least 1.3 miles (2.1km) and would have been considerably longer if the self-righteous advance of industry hadn’t quarried it away (such is “progress”!).  Built along a southeast to northwest axis, the southern end of the cursus was straight and flattened (as opposed to convex, as found at some cursuses), as Peter Topping’s (1982) illustration of the monument here shows, but the northwestern end of the cursus has not been found.  As Mr Topping himself wrote:

“The southwestern terminal, which shows clearly on the aerial photographs, consists of a straight transverse ditch which joins the two main ditches at right angles.  Clustering around it was a series of ring-ditch cropmarks.  The aerial photographs also show a series of bleach marks between the ditches at the southern end of the cursus, which may represent a series of contiguous mounds.  This area of the cursus also features what appears to be smaller outer ditches…”

Topping also commented on a most “noteworthy feature” in the accuracy of the ditches that constitute the length of the monument, being so “remarkably straight considering the distance over which they extend.”  Features which, in bygone days, a number of respected archaeologists denied our prehistoric ancestors the ability to execute.

Hopefully readers will forgive me citing more of Topping’s extensive notes regarding the archaeological analysis of this site, but I think they’re worthwhile.  Of the ditches that make up the outline of the cursus, he told:

“The ditches of the cursus are the two most prominent features of this site on the aerial photographs.  …The only evidence available for the existence of the cursus in the area to be excavated was a section exposed in the adjacent gravel quarry.  This section clearly illustrated quite distinct re-cut features visible in the profiles of both ditches, and evidence of this recutting was also discovered in the excavated areas.  However, one anomaly which did distinguish the excavated sections from those exposed in the quarry was the variable depth of the ditches. In the quarry-face sections the western ditch had a maximum depth of 60cms, while in the excavated area its maximum depth was 45cm; similarly, the eastern ditch had a  maximum depth of 65cm in the quarry and a maximum depth of 43 cm in the excavations.  This may have resulted from the actions of hillwash or ploughing reducing the height of the old land surface in this area where the ground naturally rises, or alternatively indicate no more than an uneven depth to the ditches.  Their width was fairly consistent, the maximum width of the eastern ditch being 3.40m, while that of the western ditch was 3.85m.

“Recutting in both ditches was indicated by a V-shaped notch beneath the main profile of the ditch…

“Closely datable artifacts were sadly lacking in the ditches, the one possible exception being (a) flint…possibly an arrowhead, from the upper fill of the eastern ditch… The upper fill of the eastern ditch also produced (a) flint…”

But in all honesty, these flint finds were probably of little importance to the cursus itself and can be discounted as of any relevance outside of being stray hunting flints. Three other flints were discovered by the western ditch aswell, again with little significance to the monument.  But the next part of the excavation work explored what Topping called the ‘Central Feature’, of which he said:

“Bleach marks on Prof. St. Joseph’s aerial photographs revealed what appeared to be a series of axially-placed contiguous mounds situated between the main ditches, and extending the whole length of the long axis of the monument as then known.  The presence of this feature was confirmed in the excavated area.  A low central mound was uncovered, within and respecting the lines of the ditches, which had a maximum height of 32cm above the old ground surface.”

Upon further excavation they found what one would have expected: little more than the upcast of earth and gravel dug out from the ditch that makes up the cursus, i.e., spoil-heaps made where they’d dug out the cursus lines with little other significance.  This feature is obviously apparent in many cursuses.  Of greater interest was the pit- or post-hole on the eastern ditch.

“This was stratigraphically related to the cursus to the extent that it was sealed by the same layer of hill-wash that had buried the cursus ditches. In addition, this feature clearly respected the limits of the eastern ditch.  The dimensions of the pit/post-hole were: maximum diameter at its base, 1.12m, the maximum width at its top, 2.10m, length, 4.19m, and a maximum depth of 60cm.

“…Distinct tip-lines were evident leading in and downwards towards the centre of the feature, this central area being relatively stone-free.  This could suggest that the feature originally held a post which was subsequently removed at a later date.”

I’d say this notion is highly likely!  In the event that a  complete excavation could have been made here, it’s probable they would have found other pit-holes into which upright wooden posts were erected around the time the cursus was constructed.  When Topping and his team excavated sections of the eastern ditch-floor, they found what appeared to be the truncated base of another post-hole.  He told:

“This feature was sectioned and found to be flat-bottomed and to have a depth of only 3cm and a diameter of 25cm.  The fill was indistinguishable from the fill of the cursus ditch and contained no traces of organic material…although the exact function of this feature is unknown.”

Topping’s conclusion about the nature and function of this monument is a simple one:

“it can be seen as part of a concentration or complex of magico-religious structures.”

And although this is a somewhat tentative notion based on the limited archaeological evidence here, it does accord with standard views in comparative religion on the animistic relation humans had with natural and man-made monuments from this and later periods of history; as well as reflecting the findings on the origin and development of human consciousness in Jungian and other applied psychology schools.  The construction of this gigantic landscape feature occurred at a period in human history when the division between the sacred and the profane had yet to emerge culturally.  In all likelihood, Mr Topping’s notion is correct.

References:

  1. Moorhouse, S., ‘The Yorkshire Archaeological Register: 1975,’ in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 51, 1979.
  2. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.
  3. Thorp, F., ‘The Yorkshire Archaeological Register: 1975,’ in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 48, 1976.
  4. Topping, Peter, ‘Excavation at the Cursus at Scorton, North Yorkshire, 1978,’ in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 54, 1982.

Acknowledgements:

To the Yorkshire Archaeological Society for use of Peter Topping’s drawing & to Cambridge University for use the aerial photograph.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Scorton cursus

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Scorton cursus 54.400312, -1.633366 Scorton cursus

Springfield Cursus, Chelmsford, Essex

Cursus Monument (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 735 084

Also Known as:

  1. Springfield Barnes Cursus

Archaeology & History

The first cursus monument discovered in Essex, archaeologists were fortunate when they came to excavate the site in 1979 as they found it almost complete.  A rarity these days!  Close to the Springfield Lyons causewayed enclosure monument, the cursus here was some 45 yards across and 750 yards long.  Like a number of other cursuses, the Springfield one was dead straight all the way down, running northeast to southwest with squared terminii at both ends. (of the Bi category, as Loveday called them)  And it appears to have had quite a long period of use.

Springfield Cursus (painting by Frank Gardiner)

The ditch that constitutes the very outline of the cursus — averaging between 3-4 feet in depth all round — was cut into the earth in the neolithic period.  It had small ‘entrances’ at certain points along its longer axis, both on the east and west sides.  The flat ends of the cursus were both ‘closed’, without entrances or breaks of any kind.  Some depositional remains were found scattered at different spots along the course of the ditch: neolithic pottery and flints in both the northern and eastern ditches, but archaeologists were unsure whether these deposits were left at the time the monument was in use, or at a later period — though it seemed consensus opinion that the deposits were from a period when the cursus was in use.  Charcoal remains were also found, but these were associated with an internal timber circle that was erected within the northeastern end of the cursus.  The timber circle was found to have consisted of 14 upright wooden posts arranged in a near-complete ring, some 26 metres in diameter.  It seems highly likely that this part of the monument had some ritual or ceremonial function relating to the dead (“mortuary practices” is the term used at the moment!).

Later excavation work here in 1984 found there to be various other linear and pit-like features within the confines of the monument, and what seemed to be the remains of a barrow beyond its eastern end.

Archaeologist David McOmish (2003), thought that “alignment is also significant,” saying that the “Springfield Cursus, 700 metres long, is aligned on a smaller enclosure some 300 metres away.”  The alignment potential here was first suggested by Pennick & Devereux (1989), albeit pointing “to the village of Wexford just over two miles to the southwest.”  McOmish also suggested there may have been some an astronomical reason for the alignment of the monument NE-SW, but I’m not aware whether this has been explored further.

The creation of these huge monuments had obvious relationships with human death rites, the spirits of trees, and celestial gods.  But much more research is needed at these sites if we’re to find out more about the nature of these prehistoric giants in the landscape.

References:

  1. Buckley, D.G., Hedges, John & Brown, N., “Excavations at a Neolithic Cursus, Springfield, Essex, 1979-85,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 67, 2001.
  2. Hedges, John D. & Buckley, D.G., Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  3. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape: The Cursus Enigma, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  4. McOmish, David, ‘Cursus: Solving a 6000-year-old Puzzle’, in British Archaeology, 69, March 2003.
  5. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

Links:

  1. Unlocking Essex’s Past: The Springfield Cursus and Associated Remains

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Springfield Cursus

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Springfield Cursus 51.747791, 0.512577 Springfield Cursus