Woodhenge Circle (4), Durrington, Wiltshire

Round Barrow (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference — SU 1510 4330

Also Known as:

  1. Durrington 70

Archaeology & History

Cunnington’s sketch of the barrow remains

This was one of four ploughed-out round barrows (or ‘ring ditches’ in modern archaeo-jargon) that once existed immediately southeast of the well-known Woodhenge and was the closest of the four to the monument, being just 60 yards away. It was first noticed as a faint crop mark in an aerial survey photograph taken in 1926 of the fields hereby.  When it was investigated at ground level by Mr & Mrs Cunnington in August 1928, “no trace could be detected on the surface” of any extant monument—which they described as ‘Circle  IV’ in their superb survey.

The Cunnington’s (1929) account of the excavation they did here was pretty brief, telling:

“The soil was removed and the chalk brushed over that part of the area enclosed within firm lines.  Beyond a few shards of pottery in the soil, nothing whatever was found.  As the ditch was comparatively shallow and the filling-in was in patches dark in colour, with much ash and some burnt flints in it, a considerable length was dug out, as shown (in the sketch, above).  A few fragments of pottery similar to some of that from Woodhenge were found in and below the old turf line.

“The only find of interest was that of a piece of glass slag on the actual bottom of the ditch.  It is true it was at the shallowest point, but there was no evidence of disturbance.

“Conclusion — Like those of the other rings (Woodhenge Circles 1, and 3, PB) this ditch may have originally surrounded a Bronze Age burial, placed on the surface and covered with a mound, both of which were destroyed when the ground was levelled.”

References:

  1. Cunnington, M.E., Woodhenge, George Simpson: Devizes 1929.
  2. Royal Commission Historical Monuments, England, Stonehenge and its Environs, Edinburgh University Press 1979.
  3. Wainwright, G.J. & Longworth, Ian, Durrington Walls: Excavations 1966-1968, Society of Antiquaries: London 1971.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.188728, -1.785316 Woodhenge C4

Woodhenge Circle (3), Durrington, Wiltshire

Round Barrow (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference — SU 1511 4327

Also Known as:

  1. Durrington 69

Archaeology & History

Cunningham’s sketch of Woodhenge-3 barrow

This was one of four ploughed-out round barrows (or ‘ring ditches’ in modern archaeo-jargon) that once existed immediately southeast of the well-known Woodhenge complex, constructed approximately 95 yards away.  As with others in this field, the site was first noticed as a faint crop mark in an aerial survey photograph taken in 1926.  When it was subsequently investigated at ground-level by Mr & Mrs Cunnington in August 1928, “no trace could be detected on the surface” of the monument in question—which they described as ‘Circle  III’ in their superb survey.

Very little was found in the Cunnington’s (1929) excavation, as their following brief account indicates:

“The soil was removed and the surface of the chalk brushed, over the whole of the area enclosed within this ditch.

“Only one small oval-shaped hole was found, near the edge of the ditch at “a” (above), 33in x 22in, and only 5in deep in the chalk; in it were a number of fragments of bones of a small ox and pig, a piece of burnt clay and a flint scraper weathered white.

“As there was nothing dateable in the circle it was not thought worth while to excavate more than a short section of the ditch.  Pottery comparable with that found at Woodhenge came from the old turf line and from the bottom of the ditch.

“Conclusion — Like those of the other circles (Woodhenge circles 1, 2 and 4, PB) it is probable that this ditch was originally made round a Bronze Age burial that had been placed on the surface, and that it was destroyed together with the covering mound when the ground was levelled.”

References:

  1. Cunnington, M.E., Woodhenge, George Simpson: Devizes 1929.
  2. Royal Commission Historical Monuments, England, Stonehenge and its Environs, Edinburgh University Press 1979.
  3. Wainwright, G.J. & Longworth, Ian, Durrington Walls: Excavations 1966-1968, Society of Antiquaries: London 1971.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.188458, -1.785175 Woodhenge C3

Shealwalls Enclosure, Alyth, Perthshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid reference – NO 23922 51484  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Aerial view of the oval, at centre

Aerial view of the oval, at centre

Take the B954 north out of the Alyth, up through the hills.  After just over 2 miles (3km), take the left turn up to Bamff.  Go along here and past the copse of trees on your right for literally three-quarters of a mile (1.2km), where a gate takes you into the overgrown meadows on your right.  Walk back on yourself for about 100 yards or more, across the boggy stream and up the slope.  The embankments of this enclosure are right under nose!

Archaeology & History

Some 70 yards west of the little four-poster ‘stone circle’ of Shealwalls, is this previously unrecorded enclosure.  Oval in shape and well-defined at ground level, the great majority of the inside of this enclosure is relatively even and flat.  Around its perimeter there are, at intervals, a number of small stones defining its edges along its internal embankment, but these are intermittent and seem to have no deliberate architectural regularity: they may simply be elements of an internal raised platform that have become visible due to erosion processes.

Northwest section of ditch

Northwest section of ditch

At its greatest width from the edges of the outer ditch to outer ditch, the enclosure measures more than 22 yards (20.3m) east-west, and at its longest it is 30 yards (27.3m) north-south.  The circumference of the enclosure is between 88-89 yards (80m).  The average width of the surrounding or enclosing ‘ditch’ is between 2 and 2½ yards (2m) and it has a depth of no more than 2 feet all round.  All along the southern side, very little remains of the ditch and in sections it has been eaten into by foraging rabbits and cattle.  The most conspicuous section of the surrounding ditch and embankment is along the eastern length (where it gives the impression of being hengi-form in nature); the more rounded northern section of the ditch is very distinct, but is overgrown in Juncus reeds; whilst the western section of the ditch is clear until reaching its southernmost part, where its outer edges become less visible.

SW edge of enclosure

SW edge of enclosure

NE arc of ditch, looking west

NE arc of ditch, looking west

There seemed to be no visible structures within the enclosure itself, which added to my thoughts that the site was hengi-form in nature, as defined in the surveys by A.F. Harding (1987) and Jan Harding (2006).  However, it is best to maintain a simple description regarding the nature of the site until archaeological evaluation can give us a more accurate assessment.  Without excavation it is obviously impossible to give an accurate idea of its age, but its architectural form and similarity with other enclosures would seem to place its construction in the late Bronze Age to early Iron Age period.

The monument proved very difficult to photograph with any success as it is much overgrown and the bright sun was in the wrong place! (serious) So, another visit is needed in the hope that we can get better images.  A fascinating little site!

References:

  1. Harding, A.F., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  2. Harding, Jan, The Henge Monuments of the British Isles, Tempus: Stroud 2006.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Shealwalls enclosure

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Shealwalls enclosure 56.648920, -3.242303 Shealwalls enclosure

Hickford Hill, Belchamp St Paul, Essex

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – TL 7872 4537

Archaeology & History

Ground-plan of enclosure & surrounding barrows

Plan of enclosure & surrounding barrows

Several hundred yards northeast from Hickford Hill, a cluster of prehistoric sites could once be seen close to each other just south of the River Stour below line of the Essex-Suffolk county boundary.  Several of these were tombs and are accounted for in Priddy’s (1981) essay on the prehistoric Barrows of Essex; but adjacent to them were also found faint traces of a large circular enclosure of some sort, which Harding & Lee (1987) included in their definitive survey of British henge monuments. Their account of it was brief and simple, saying:

“Enclosure defined by the cropmark of a sub-circular rather narrow ditch broken by two entrances.  No trace of a bank.  Internal traces of a concentric innner ditch in part of the circuit… Internal diameter range 56-57m…; width of outer ditch c.1.5-2.5m; width of entrances, c.7m (E) and 16m (NW); width of inner ditch c.2.5-5m.”

Although this large ringed enclosure was thought by the Haverhill & District Archaeology Group to “be a henge-type monument,” Harding & Lee (1987) thought it unlikely that these remains “belong to the henge class” of monuments.  A brief archaeological dig into one of the trenches here in 1997 showed the site to be Bronze Age; but finds by the local archaeology team have also come across finds in the fields hereby dating from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

References:

  1. Harding, A.F. & Lee, G.E., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  2. Priddy, D., “The Barrows of Essex,” in A.J. Lawson’s The Barrows of East Anglia, Norfolk Museums Service 1981.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Hickford Hill

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Hickford Hill 52.078129, 0.606539 Hickford Hill

Boxted Cross Henge, Colchester, Essex

Henge Monument:  OS Grid Reference – TM 0093 3277

Archaeology & History

Boxted Henge plan (Colchester Archaeology Group)

Boxted Henge plan (Colchester Archaeology Group)

As with many sites in Southern England, intensive agriculture has taken its toll on the archaic monuments.  The Boxted Cross henge is no exception and hardly any elements of it remains today.  But it seems that it was an impressive fella in our more ancient heathen past.

The site was only rediscovered in the 1970s and was first described in Mrs Ida McMaster’s (1975) survey of crop-marks that had been revealed by aerial surveying in Essex and Suffolk counties.  Her brief account of the monument told it to be,

“A Class II henge with a wide somewhat ploughed out ditch. Various linear ditches are near, together with prolific variegated ‘field outlines’ of glacial subsoil cracking which extends into the next field southwards. The ditch terminals of the southwest entrance to the henge appear to be wider than the general run of the ditch, say 4-5 metres.”

When Harding & Lee (1987) examined the site, they were a little more cautious in their interpretation of it being a definite henge, citing that there was “insufficient information, but cannot be ruled out as henge-related,” adding that it “could also be a mill.”  This latter element seems unlikely, though a windmill may have been built onto the site at a later date.

More recently however the site has been categorized by Historic England as “a Late Neolithic henge.”  The monument itself was defined by a broad circular ditch with two large opposing entrances to the north and south.  The total diameter of the enclosure is 44 yards (40m) across; but with the surrounding ditch measuring 5½ yards (5m) across all around, the inner level of the henge was about 33 yards (30m) in diameter.  Plenty of room for partying old-style!

References:

  1. Harding, A.F. & Lee, G.E., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  2. McMaster, Ida, “Crop Marks Selected and Plotted,” in Colchester Archaeological Group Bulletin, volume 18, 1975.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Boxted Cross henge

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Boxted Cross henge 51.957163, 0.922931 Boxted Cross henge

Priddy Henges, Priddy, Somerset

Henges:  OS Grid Reference – ST 540 528

Also Known as:

  1. The Castles
  2. Priddy Circles
  3. The Rings

Archaeology & History

Allcroft’s 1908 plan of the 4 henges

Although cited in all modern archaeology texts as a series of four henge monuments, a recent article by J. Lewis & D. Mullin (2011) inform us that these “are not henges but belong to a tradition of enclosure that predates them and had a different function.”  We’ll have to wait and see what they mean by that!  In the meantime, we’ll have a quick scurry through the historical accounts of these four impressive ‘henges’ as Burl, Piggott and the others call ’em.

Surrounded at all angles by numerous barrows and tumuli, these four great henge monuments were shown on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map as a row of ‘Supposed Ring Forts’, when such ideas were in vogue, running in a line roughly SSW-NNE; the third one up having a couple of ponds within it.  A brief early account of them was given by Harry Scarth (1859)—who was describing the series of nine round barrows a few hundred yards to the south—who told them to be “circular banks” each 500 feet across.  The first more detailed account was in A.H. Allcroft’s (1908) classic text, where he wrote the following:

“…Close to the Castle of Comfort Inn, where the high road to Bristol crosses the line of the old Roman road running north-westward towards Charterhouse, there lies immediately west of the high road a series of four circles…all of one size, all of one plan, and all as mathematically exact as circles could well be when executed in such a soil and on such a scale.  Although they have suffered greatly from the mining operations which have scarred all the Mendips, as well as from the plough — one of the four is almost obliterated — they are still quite easy to make out.  The diameter of each is some 550 feet within the area, which is surrounded by a broad low vallum, and that again by a correspondingly broad and shallow ditch. The height of the vallum above the ditch, where best observable, is some 5 feet. There are no determinable entrances. The most southerly of the group is about 250 feet away from the second ; the second about 200 feet away from the third; and a line joining the centres of the first and third passes through the centre of the second also, and points 17° east of north. The fourth circle lies 1,200 feet away from the third, not in a right line with the others, but slightly to the west. Between the third and fourth circles passes the Roman road. Within the third circle is an old pond of some size.

“With every appearance of being all of one date, and that a venerable one, these circles lack every characteristic of military works. Their peculiar disposition, their painstaking regularity, and their identity of size, all suggest that they must, if really old, be of ritual, and perhaps of astronomical character”

Old drawing of the central henges
Henge 1, recently damaged (courtesy Pete Glastonbury)

Allcroft’s ideas of ritual and astronomy were pretty good for the period, as we take it for granted these days that such events occurred at henges — so the existence of four such sites right next to each other, would have made this one helluva place in neolithic and Bronze Age periods.  A few years after Allcroft, the henges were described in Mr Burrow’s (1924) excellent illustrated survey, from which the drawing of the two central henges is taken (the two ‘R’s in the background highlight the line of the Roman road which runs past them).  Burrow’s didn’t add much more of any note, simply telling:

“…in the fields north and south, are placed earth-work rings, each about 180 yards in diameter, on a line placed slightly north by east.  The most northerly of these rings is almost obliterated, but the three on the west of the road from Chew Stoke to Oakhill are quite clearly defined, as my drawing (above) will show.  I have been able to include two of these remarkable rings in my picture, the edge of the bank (which was, when I saw it, fringed with yellow gorse), being about 6 feet above the level of the ditch outside.  It is generally supposed that these ringed earthworks were connected with some prehistoric ritual, and Hadrian Allcroft thinks were used for primitive astronomical observations or the construction of a primitive calendar.”

Tratman’s plan of Priddy Henges
Another view of Henge 1 (courtesy Pete Glastonbury)

Many years later when archaeologist K.S. Painter (1964) came to describe these henges, he listed them as “stone circles” (what the hell was he on!?), but this error may derive from the finding of several stones that once existed inside the southernmost Henge 1.  These were uncovered following excavation work done here by E.K. Tratman (1967) and his colleagues, who explored and numbered the four henges—running from south to north—as follows:

“Circle 1: This is tolerably complete.  A portion of the southwest quadrant has been destroyed by mining and there are three modern gaps in the ring. Mining has involved the ditch on the west and south, and to a small extent on the east.  There is an irregular extensive hollow west of the centre and this too is a product of mining and contains a number of large stones so derived.  The circle is not quite a true one, being flattened slightly on the west.  The circle has a diameter from bank top to bank top of 520ft.  The single original entrance is NNE of the centre.  Stones 1 and 3-7 were removed by the farmer before excavation, but subsequent ploughing immediately after removal did not reveal any change in soil texture or colour.  Stone 8 was placed in its present position quite recently.  It is not known where it came from.  Other stones have recently been placed on top of the bank east of the entrance by the farmer (1964-5).  Stone 2 is in a relatively ancient position.

Circle 2: This is a true circle and its diameter and position of its entrance are similar to Circle 1. It has been considerably disturbed by mining.  A group of stones (10-14) and stone 9 represent modern collections from the field.  None of them is in its original position.  There are two modern gaps in the ring.

Circle 3: This is distinctly flattened on the east and west.  The N-S diameter is 520ft and the E-W 490ft from bank top to bank top.  The northeast quadrant reported by Allcroft as being levelled is still traceable.  The circle has been greatly disturbed by mining… The entrance is SSW of the centre, the opposite pole to circle 1 & 2, and has probably been widened, perhaps by miners.  The marsh may be an original feature or the product of mining.  The two ponds are certainly modern, and so is a small mound, which is probably spoil from the major pond.

Circle 4: This is incomplete. It has a diameter of 560ft, which is considerably larger than any of the others.  The OS map shows only the eastern semi-circle remaining. However, the bank and in part the ditch can be traced…If the visible and proved end of the ditch on the SSW was intended to be at the edge of the causeway, then the entrance would have been in the same position as that of Circle 3.”

Very recently, a local land-owner quite deliberately bulldozed a large portion of the southern henge in this complex, destroying much of it.  This act of criminal vandalism will hopefully not go unpunished and is, at the present time, going through the courts.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allcroft, A. Hadrian, Earthwork of England, MacMillan: London 1908.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Prehistoric Henges, Shire: Princes Risborough 1997.
  3. Burrow, Edward J., Ancient Earthworks and Camps of Somerset, E.J. Burrow: Cheltenham 1924.
  4. Lewis, J. & Mullin, D., “New Excavations at Priddy Circle 1, Mendip Hills, Somerset,” in Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society, volume 25, 2011.
  5. Painter, K.S., The Severn Basin, Cory, Adams & Mackay: London 1964.
  6. Scarth, Harry M., “Some Account of the Investigation of Barrows on the Line of the Roman Road Between Old Sarum and the Port at the Mouth of the River Axe,” in The Archaeological Journal, volume 16, 1859.
  7. Tratman, E.K., “The Priddy Circles, Mendip, Somerset,” in Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society, volume 11, 1967.
  8. Wainwright, Geoffrey J., “A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 35, 1969.

Acknowledgements: – To Pete Glastonbury, for use of his aerial photos of the site. Huge thanks Pete!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Priddy henges

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Priddy henges 51.273095, -2.660206 Priddy henges

Woodhenge, Dorchester, Oxfordshire

Timber Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SU 5775 9513

Also Known as:

  1. Dorchester 3
  2. NMR NUMBER: SU 59 NE 53
  3. Site no. 371.21.1

Archaeology & History

Dorchester's Woodhenge in the cursus
Dorchester’s Woodhenge in the cursus

Although ascribed as a wooden ‘henge’ by archaeologist Jean Cook, the site is more accurately a simple timber circle.  Cook (1985) described this little-known “Wood Henge” monument, as she called it, sat inside the lower southeastern end of the impressive Dorchester Cursus monument.  The site was obviously of some ritual importance, for a variety of reasons.  It was excavated in 1981 and,

“it consisted of a ring of large pits enclosing an area some 18m in diameter.  The site was situated along the central axis of the (Dorchester) cursus, presumably influenced by the alignment.  The pits, which varied in size, had each contained a wooden post, in three instances consisting of an entire trunk of an oak tree.  All the posts were burnt in situ, presumably during some form of destruction ceremony.”

Groundplan of site

When Alex Gibson came here a few years afterwards to re-examine the site, his work and that of Richard Bradley (1988) also found the place to have been an elliptical ‘ring’ of once-upright timber posts.  Although Gibson (1998) later gave a confused version of where the site actually was (wrong grid-refs), his brief description gave us an outline of what was once here:

“An oval of 12 postholes containing the carbonized remains of 13 posts which had been burnt prior to the placing of cremations in the upper fills of the postholes.  The SW posthole contained the remains of two posts in the same socket.  There is a possible entranceway, marked by a wider gap between posts, in the NW.”

But this last line appears to be pure speculation. I’ve not read the longer archaeological accounts of this ‘wood henge’ and adjacent sites (Bradley & Chambers, 1988; Gibson 1992), which should give greater details about the site as a whole.  The Pastscape site gives the following information:

“A pit circle comprising a sub-circular arrangement of 12 pits was excavated in the early 1980s in advance of work on the Dorchester by-pass. The site lay within the Dorchester Cursus (SU 59 NE 5), circa 400 metres northwest of its southeastern terminal. The long axis of the pit circle was the same as that of the cursus. Each of the pits had held a timber upright, and some if not all had been burnt in situ. An air photograph of the site had suggested the presence of a central pit but this feature proved to be a natural pocket of sand. Six deposits of cremated bone came from various post pipes. Other finds included a handful of potsherds, one possibly of Early Bronze Age date, some animal bone fragments, and a few flints. Radiocarbon dates from cremated bone and charcoal centred on the mid 3rd millennium BC, with one slightly later.”

References:

  1. Bradley, R. & Chambers, R., “A New Study of the Cursus Complex at Dorchester-on-Thames, in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, volume 7, 1988.
  2. Cook, Jean, “The Earliest Evidence,” in Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  3. Cook, Jean & Rowley, Trevor (eds.), Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  4. Gibson, Alex, “Possible Timber Circles at Dorchester-on-Thames,” in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, volume 11, 1992.
  5. Gibson, Alex, Stonehenge and Timber Circles, Tempus: Stroud 1998.
  6. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Woodhenge

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Woodhenge 51.652067, -1.166262 Woodhenge

Angel Moon Field, Ferrybridge, West Yorkshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grif Reference – SE 4734 2449

Also Known as:

  1. Mound 1 (Pacitto)
  2. Roundhill Field

Archaeology & History

Pacitto’s plan of the tomb (after YAJ, 1969)

One of a number of sites that used to exist in this part of West Yorkshire before the coming of the Industrialists and their ecocidal ways.  Found in conjunction with the Round Hill Field tumulus 53 yards to the south, this fallen monument was thankfully looked over several times before its final demise when the power station was built. The first literary account of it seems to be Forrest’s (1871) local history work, soon followed by another dig by the legendary tomb raider, William Greenwell. (1877)  Both of these digs were very good indeed and give us the most detailed account of the remains here.

One of the urns found in the mound (Forrest 1871)

The name of this tumulus and the nearby Round Hill site needs some clarification before continuing to the archaeological account.  In both Forrest and Greenwells’ accounts, they each named this site as the ‘Round hill tumulus’, but since their original fine work, archaeologist A.L. Pacitto (1969) and his team found the other previously unrecorded tumulus and surrounding ring-ditch in the original field called Roundhill field.  Old records showed that a wall or fence once ran between the two sites, and that the tumulus which Forrest and Greenwell previously called the Roundhill site was actually located in the curiously named ‘Angel Moon field’ — hence the change of name in this (and Pacitto’s) account. (if y’ get mi drift) It’s an important point.  So as you read the accounts below, where the authors describe the Roundhill tumulus, they are in fact referring to this, the Angel Moon tumulus.  Gorrit?  OK!

The site was noted for the first time as a tumulus by the local owner of the land here, a Mr Hall, in 1811, who wanted it levelled and attempted,

“to remove it altogether, but so many human bones were then met with, that after removing a considerable portion, it was abandoned, and the exhumed bones removed to the neighbouring churchyard of Ferryfryston.”

Mr Forrest then said:

“We are told by an eye-witness that on this occasion two plates of metal were found, but of what kind of metal pr what became of them we have no certain information.”

Thereafter began Forrest’s lengthy account of the initial excavation of the Angel Moon burial mound, undertaken (I think) by himself and other locals.  Readers will hopefully forgive the lengthy profile I’ve given this place, but I know it will be of interest to local historians in the Pontefract and Ferrybridge area:

“This Tumulus, which is situated in Roundhill Field, on the left of the road leading from Ferrybridge to Castleford was first opened on March 28th, 1863. For the sake of ascertaining its structure, a trench was dug on the side not previously disturbed, to within a few feet of the centre, but without result, except ascertaining that the material gradually changed from sandy gravel to large stones as the middle was approached, and that it had been raised upon a natural swell of the strata, thus offering a dry situation; a condition about which the ancients appear to have been solicitous in choosing the sites of their sepulchral mounds. They then began to dig at the top, and immediately under the sod lay two human skeletons, one upon the other, with no more than six or eight inches of soil upon them. Near them lay portions of two antlers of…red deer, the uppermost skeleton was that of a tall adult male, the teeth nearly entire and in fine preservation, the other was of shorter but stouter proportions, the feet of both were gone, probably by the diggers in 1811, who it is conjectured had previously discovered these remains, and covered them up, with the few inches of soil, under which we found them; they had evidently not been removed, all the bones present being in their natural position, the whole of the bones and horns were much crushed and broken by the superincumbent earth which must once have covered them.

“With them were found several detached pieces of what appeared to have been the tusk of some animal, probably the wild boar, and fragments of half-baked pottery which on comparison were found to be portions of two urns of the early British type, such as are usually found in grave-hills attributed to that period.  The smaller one (of which the principal portions were recovered) was of the size and much of the shape of an ordinary breakfast cup, three inches high, scored all over with vertical indentations as if by a piece of flint. The other was much larger, more elegant in shape, on which considerable taste was displayed in the ornamentation, composed of parallel lines, chevrons, zigzags and punctures, in which a dextrous use of the twisted thong was evident; this was ten inches high.

“About eighteen inches to the left of these, and a few inches deeper, lay the skeleton of another person, who had evidently lived to a great age, the teeth being worn nearly to the roots, tho’ showing no signs of decay. All the three lay east and west as in the present mode of Christian sepulture. No other human or animal remains were found, nothing metallic, or any implements, no appearances of cremation, no ashes, neither did the urns appear to have contained any, no stones to indicate that a cist had enclosed them, they had been buried in the soil, which here only differed from that surrounding it, in its somewhat darker colour.

“Digging downward, immediately under the skeletons first discovered, a large rough slab was reached at the depth of four feet from the surface. Its removal disclosed a stone cist or grave, of which it had formed the cover, composed of four rough stones set on edge, and paved with smaller pieces at the bottom; width at the head 2 feet, at the feet 1 foot 5 inches internal dimensions. It was entirely filled with small gravel, in which was interred the skeleton of an adult male, apparently of large stature, the thigh bones measuring in length 19¾ inches, the leg 16 inches. The knees were bent up in the manner in which such interments are usually found, and the face toward the south.  The skull was accidentally broken, but well developed, and indicating the age about forty. The teeth were all present, and in beautiful preservation, the enamel white and bright as in the living subject.  In front of the breast was an urn, laid on its side, of very coarse make, imperfectly baked, and so fragile, that on the most careful attempt to remove it, the urn crumbled into fragments, the whole was however collected, and sufficed to give a correct idea of its size, shape and ornamentation. It contained nothing but small gravel, like that in which it was laid. Near it was a small chipping of flint with a cutting edge, 2½ by 1¼ inches, this was the only article having any resemblance to a tool or implement hitherto met with.

“The cist being filled with gravel, I suppose to be an unusual circumstance.  It could not have penetrated through any fissures in its sides, neither was the cist likely to have been opened subsequently, as nothing appeared to have been disturbed.

“Proceeding downward, it was seen that this cist was built upon and its sides supported by large rough stones inclined towards it ; the surrounding gravel was mixed with fragments of human bones, small pieces of urns, and occasionally bits of charcoal, and in a cavity a piece of wood was found but so decayed that its original shape or purpose could not be ascertained. Among the bones was a portion of a skull, showing a fracture from which the subject had recovered.

“At about the depth of seven feet, and a little to the east was a flat stone laid horizontally, length 4½ feet, width 3 feet, under this was a layer of dark earth two or three inches thick, totally different from that surrounding it, inodorous, and in which was no perceptible trace of animal remains, but exhibiting hollow casts of something resembling stone fruit about 1 inch long by ½-inch wide. Near this was found a thin stone of a round or oval shape about 6 inches broad, apparently chipped to shape and having a rough cutting edge ; its use can only be conjectured.

“At the depth of nine feet, the native rock was reached in which was a cavity about ten inches deep, but as far as could be ascertained containing nothing but gravel mixed with bones like the surrounding part.

“From observations then made I came to this conclusion: that the mound had been used for interments anterior to the formation of the cist, on which occasion, its upper part was levelled to make a convenient platform for it ; when the bones of former interments were disturbed and scattered about with as little respect for the dead as would a modern gravedigger; in making room for a new occupant.

“The fact of the three skeletons first noticed being interred after the Christian mode, is presumptive evidence that they were Saxons. It is well ascertained that this people had their coming here, frequently buried their dead in British tumuli, even after they had embraced Christianity, which occasioned an edict to be published in the year 987, prohibiting this practice, and providing that no Saxon should be buried in the tumuli of the Pagans, but only in the cemeteries of the churches, neither do urns nor antlers (which are undoubtedly British) militate against this supposition, when it is considered that they were all fragmentary, and as the skeletons with which they were, had evidently been disturbed though not removed, it is very probable that these fragments had been taken from that part of the mound removed in 1811, and thrown among these bones in the random manner in which we found them.

“From all these circumstances, this barrow appears to have had a very early and prolonged existence as a place of sepulture. The cavity in the rock was probably the grave of the first interment. The fragments of bones under and around the cist show that interment had taken place before its formation. The absence of any evidence of cremation either in the cist or elsewhere, shows that these interments were prior to the introduction of that ceremony from the nations with whom the Britons afterwards had intercourse. The absence of any weapon or other instrument save the single chipping of flint, and the roughly fashioned stone and the rudely found urn of clay, all go to prove that this was one of the very earliest of British Barrows. And if my hypothesis as to Saxon burial be admissible it will bring its sepulchral history down to the Christian era.

“At the upper end of the field are some earthworks of considerable depth, but as the whole is under cultivation, their form and purpose can scarcely now be determined.”

A few years later the legendary tomb raider Mr Greenwell and his mates turned up and gave the site their additional attention.

“On this occasion the digging commenced on the east side, where a deposit of burnt bones was found upon a flat stone just above the surface, and ten feet from the outside.  Six feet to the north of this was another similar deposit laid upon the natural surface. Five feet south of the centre, was an unburnt body, doubled up and on its right side, with its head to the south. Immediately beneath, and in close contact with it, was a burnt body, apparently deposited at the same time. These interments in opposite customs present very interesting features in British sepulchral usage, as if the practice of cremation though at one period generally adopted, was not universal, but influenced by the wish of the deceased, or the inclination of surviving friends. With these remains were found an urn, of beautiful type, 4½in high, ornamented outside with twenty-seven thong markings, it would be impossible to decide to which of the bodies this belonged, such urns are found with both modes of burial.

“These deposits of burnt bodies were all found on the south-east side of the tumulus and consequently none were met with during the partial examination in 1863; but as the diggers in 1811 commenced at that point, they must have found and removed several such.

“As the work proceeded, the large flat stone covering the deposit of dark earth, was again met with ; and southward of this was another similar deposit also covered by a stone.  In this earth was found a small seed pod or fruit, with striated markings, about nine lines in length, and black as the soil in which it was found ; its size and shape suggest the idea, that such fruit might have been the occasion of the hollow cists observed in the first discovered deposit.  Close to these deposits was one of very dark sand, inclined to dark red or chocolate colour in some parts, this had evidently been subjected to the action of fire.

“The tumulus was so far removed, as to reveal the nature of the surface on which it had been built, which proved to be a natural outcrop of the limestone rock, and upon it these dark deposits were found. Their origin and purpose, offer an interesting subject of enquiry to the Archeologist. Their situation on the edge of the projecting rock is suggestive of their sacrificial character, or their connection with some of the druidical rites of the ancient Britons. The burnt sand may mark the site of the place where the act of cremation had been performed.

“The next object of interest was the rock grave, the edge of which had been reached in 1863, but reluctantly abandoned. This was found, and proved to be a large circular one, nearly six feet in diameter, and two feet six inches deep. At the west end was a rudely-formed cist, filled with gravel like the first one, in which was found a body, bent up in the usual manner, lying on its right side, and with its head to the south-west.  At its feet was a drinking cup laid on its side, height seven inches, profusely ornamented with thong markings, consisting of three sets of horizontal lines filled up between with vertical lines, below these, and between two more horizontal lines, was a line of zigzags, the lower triangles of which were filled up with horizontal markings. The same pattern occupied the upper and lower halves of the vase. In the hollow of the knees was found a bronzed pin much oxydized, about 1½in. long, this might have been used to fasten some portion of the dress in which the person had been buried. It was the only piece of metal found in the tumulus, with the exception of that found in 1811, which is now supposed to have belonged to an Anglo-Saxon, buried with sword, spear, shield, etc.”

Then in 1962 came the final examination here, shortly before the site’s destruction.  Pacitto (1969) and his team didn’t really find much more than his Victorian predecessors, apart from a couple of flints, some other fragments of bones and some modern bits and bats.  However,

“The mound was surrounded by two concentric ditches, respectively 55ft and 75ft in diameter.  The outer ditch was only a few inches deep, but the other had been cut into the limestone (my italics, PB) to a depth of 2ft 6in”

References:

  1. Forrest, C., The History and Antiquities of Knottingley, W.S. Hepworth: Knottingley 1871.
  2. Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.
  3. Pacitto, A.L., “The Excavation of Two Bronze Age Burial Mounds at Ferry Fryston in the West Riding of Yorkshire,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, volume 42, part 167, 1969.
  4. Roberts, I. (ed), Ferrybridge Henge: The Ritual Landscape, WYAS 2006.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Angel Moon tumulus

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Angel Moon tumulus 53.714687, -1.284188 Angel Moon tumulus

Round Hill Field, Ferrybridge, West Yorkshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 4733 2444

Also Known as:

  1. Mound 2 (Pacitto)
  2. Roundhill Field

Archaeology & History

Tumulus on the 1852 map

Close to the important ceremonial monument of Ferrybridge Henge could once be seen be this singular grave and ring-ditch, 53 yards north of the curiously-named Angel Moon tumulus. But, thanks to that regular ingredient of self-righteous industrialism, neither of the sites exists anymore.  It had initially been damaged by some agricultural ignorance (they like to the PR-term ‘agricultural improvement’), but was thankfully rediscovered following excavation work on the Angel Moon site by A.L. Pacitto in April 1962, in advance of the construction of the Ferrybridge C power station. (in truth, the exact position of this Round Hill tumulus was in an area that has not been built onto, at the southeastern edge of the modern car-park on the grassy area next to the trees; showing that it could have easily been preserved).

Roundhill tomb skeleton
Roundhill tomb plan

The site was certainly an important one amidst what Ian Roberts (2006) called “the ritual landscape” in this part of prehistoric Airedale.  When the archaeological team came to do their work here, very little of the monument could be seen on the surface—Mr Pacitto described it as “barely perceptible”—but they were both pleased and surprised at what they found.  Detailing their excavation work, Pacitto (1969) wrote:

“Natural rock was found immediately below the ploughsoil, and it had been scored by ploughing.  In view of the complete lack of stratification the first traverse of the (Drott) machine was arranged so that it cut across the mound from side to side, with one edge coinciding with a line drawn through the centre.  This first traverse exposed half an oval grave pit, measuring 3ft 9in by 5ft.  On excavation it proved to be only 5in deep, but in spite of this it contained an undisturbed crouched inhumation.  The body was on its left side, facing south, and a notched flint dagger behind the pelvis was perhaps attached to a belt at the time of burial.  The dagger…is very neatly flaked from a fine flint with a pale blue patina.  It has three notches on each side of the haft and is very similar to one found in Doncaster in 1935.  The filling of the grave also included several fragments of human bone, one of which had been calcined.

“The grave was surrounded at a distance of 11ft to 12ft by the remains of a circular ditch.  Only two segments of this had survived, representing less than half of the total circumference.  Doubtless ploughing had destroyed much of the original rock surface.

“Outside the ditch and 20ft to the southeast of the grave was a small circular pit.  With a flt bottom and vertical sides, it measured 2ft 3in in diameter and was 1ft 2in deep.  The filling was mainly of broken and crushed limestone fragments, and there was no clue to its date or purpose.  This pit was sited on the line of an east-west fault or joint in the rock.”

References:

  1. Forrest, C., The History and Antiquities of Knottingley, W.S. Hepworth: Knottingley 1871.
  2. Pacitto, A.L., “The Excavation of Two Bronze Age Burial Mounds at Ferry Fryston in the West Riding of Yorkshire,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, volume 42, part 167, 1969.
  3. Roberts, I. (ed), Ferrybridge Henge: The Ritual Landscape, WYAS 2006.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:  Huge thanks to the Yorkshire Archaeological Society for use of images in this site profile.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.714239, -1.284347 Round Hill Field

Nunwick Henge, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Henge Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SE 3229 7484

Archaeology & History

A couple of miles west of the Hutton Moor henge we find the faint remans of another large prehistoric ritual site, soon to fade from existence.  Although the local farmer was aware of the existence of this ‘earth circle’ in his fields in the 1940s, the place wasn’t officially catalogued until Prof. J.K. St. Joseph noticed it following an aerial survey of the region in 1951 (from whence the aerial photo comes).  Today sadly, much of the site has succumbed to the ravages of excessive agricultural activity and is all but destroyed.  Faint traces of it can be seen at ground level when the crops are down, but most of it’s gone.  Even when first discovered, the remains were sparse, as the photo (below) shows.

Early aerial photo of Nunwick henge
Mr Dymond’s early ground- plan (from YAJ, 1963)

Neolithic in origin, the site was excavated in 1961 by D.P. Dymond who explored a portion of the bank and ditch and stripped a small internal section.  His findings showed it to be structurally similar to the other henges in the area and of considerable size.  Measuring 690 feet across, the henge spread across two fields and was bisected by a hedge and farm track.  When Dymond first explored the henge he reported how the surrounding bank was between 1-3 feet high and had been spread to a width of 120 feet; the ditch was just a couple of feet deep; and the original ‘entrances’ north and south of the ring were still just visible as “slight depressions in the bank.”

The Nunwick henge was classed as a Class II henge (after Atkinson).  Five feet smaller than the Thornborough (south) Henge, its entrances are close to north-south.  The River Ure is less than half-a-mile from the site and the presence of other streams close by further emphasizes water as a potentially relevant ingredient. This element  seems to have had some factor in the structure of the henge as there were many water-worn stones found in the embankment, which probably came from the nearby river.  However, like many henges, very few remains were discovered upon excavation here, as Mr Dymond’s (1963) account tells:

“The 1961 Excavation was restricted to a single long section through the northwest side of the circle, to examine the structural details of the bank and ditch, and to confirm the apparent absence of an outer ditch.

“A small area, 22ft square, was stripped inside the ditch to test for pits or postholes, but nothing was found in the sandy silt which covers the gravel deposits.  Air-photographs gave no indication of a former presence of standing features within the enclosure.

“The ditch was found to be 45ft wide and 5ft 10in deep, with a wide, shallow profile.  Allowing for the destruction by ploughing of the upper edges of the ditch, the orignal dimensions of the ditch were undoubtedly greater.  The edges of the ditch were not easy to see in excavation, as the fill was similar to the natural gravel subsoil and some slumping had occurred on the loose gravel faces.  The ditch had apparently silted slowly with material washed in from both sides.  At an early stage in the silting, when the accumulation was about 1ft, there had been occupation in a limited area, revealed by a circular patch of burnt material, 10ft in diameter, which contained many split pot-boilers reddened by fire.

“Between the ditch and bank there was originally a berm of 30ft.  On the surface, this is not visible as the bank shades imperceptibly into the ditch.  The bank was originally about 60ft wide, but is now considerably spread on both sides.  In the 1961 section the bank survived only 18in high; this was sufficient, however, to show clear traces of tip-lines and the interleaving of loads.  The lowest two inches of bank material consist partly of turf… Under the bank, the original turf-line was visible as a purple-black line, 1-3in thick, with traces of a weakly developed iron-pan.  In the original composition on the bank there were many water-worn stones (3-9in across), now in the outer spread and in the bottom of the ditch; on the northern side of the circle where the bank is best preserved there are large quantities of these stones on the plough soil.  Quarried from the bottom of the ditch, where the aggregate of the gravels was much larger, these stones were probably on the top of the bank.

“Two square were dug outside the bank, on the line of the section to text for an outer ditch.  This confirmed the evidence of air-photographs that no such ditch existed.  Of the six henges in the Ripon area, Nunwick is therefore the only one without two ditches.

“No dating evidence was found in the 1961 excavation.  Three worked flints however, were picked up from the plough soil of the southwestern field near the henge. They consist of two waste flakes and a small flake scraper of opaque brown flint.”

Archaeologists and ley hunters alike have described how the Nunwick Henge aligns with the three prominent Thornborough Henges to the north.  Significant…?

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “The Henge Monument at Nunwick, near Ripon – 1961 Excavation,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 161 (volume 41), 1963.
  2. Wainwright, Geoffrey J., “A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 35, 1969.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Nunwick Henge

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Nunwick Henge 54.168348, -1.506907 Nunwick Henge