Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1872 V13 Pages 339-342

Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1872 V13 Pages 339-342 is in Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1872 V13.

On Long Barrows and Round Barrows by John Thurnam (age 61), Esq, M.D., F.S.A. Report of an Address delivered on Bratton Down, during an Execursion of the Society, August 8th, 1872.

Dr. Thurnam began by observing that the Barrow on and around which those present were now standing, though placed in the centre of the British encampment, popularly known as Bratton Castle [Map] is probably of much earlier date, and has none but an accidental connection with that earthwork. It is a Long Barrow of large size, measuring 230 feet in length, lies east and west; and was opened by Dr. Thurnam in 1866. It belongs to the class of Long Barrows, a form of tumulus which differs essentially from the much more numerous Round Barrows, by which, on the Wiltshire Downs, they are everywhere surrounded. These latter, the Round Barrows, much more commonly than otherwise — at least three times as often — contain interments of burnt bodies, often accompanied by bronze weapons or implements,and especially bronze knives or daggers, and by ornaments of glass, amber, jet or shale, and gold. Sometimes there are flint and other stone implements, but these are all of a kind known to have been in use at the same time as those of bronze. The Round Barrows belong, essentially, and as a rule, to the Bronze Age of this country, and to an age of burning the dead. When the interment is that of the unburnt body — which, in Wiltshire, is less than one in four — the body has been buried with the knees bent and drawn up towards the chest. That the burnt and unburnt inter- ments are of one and the same period is proved by the similarity, or rather identity, of the accompanying implements and ornaments.

The Long Barrows differ in toto from those of the circular form, and belong to a different and earlier epoch. From their usually great size, with one end only devoted to interment, they may be quite as much or even more properly regarded as monuments than as mere tombs. They very commonly measure from 200 to 250 feet in length, and in rare cases even 300 or 400 feet. They seldom exceed ten feet in height, and are wider and higher at one end than at the other — usually that pointing to the east; though at times, they range north and south, in which case the south end is of larger size. It is at this larger end, under what we may term the apex of the tumulus, that the interments are found, on or but little below the natural level of the ground. At each side of the barrow is a trench, whence great part of the material of which the barrow consists has been derived; which trenches, it is remarkable, are not continued round the ends of the barrow. From the great size of the Long Barrows, and the often uncertain position of the apex, their exploration is attended with great labour and difficulty, and hence only a comparatively small number have been explored. About fifteen of those in South Wiltshire were excavated by the elder Cunnington and Sir Richard Hoare, and more recently rather more than that number by Dr. Thurnam. From these data a tolerably complete view of the character of these barrows has been obtained.1 Usually — in at least six cases out of seven — the interments consist of unburnt bodies. Sometimes, there is a single skeleton doubled up; but more commonly a pile of many skeletons, as many perhaps as ten or twenty in number, the bones mixed promiscuously, as if removed from some prior place of burial. The greater part of the skulls are cleft, and many of the long bones split, as if the majority of those interred had been immolated, in honour perhaps of a de- ceased chieftain, and as if not alone human sacrifice, but cannibalism likewise, had been resorted to. In rare cases (and the Long Barrow round which they were now gathered was one), the body or bodies had been burnt, but the cremation was of a peculiar and imperfect sort, the bones being charred, rather than completely burnt like those in the Round Barrows. In one instance, that of the largest Long Barrow in South Wilts, that of Tilshead Old Ditch [Map], which measures 380ft. in length, and was imperfectly explored in 1802, Dr. Thurnam in 1865, found the true primary interment, at a depth of ten feet, consisting of one imperfectly burnt body, and immediately adjacent a doubled-up unburnt skeleton, that of a woman of small stature, the skull bearing indisputable marks of having been violently cleft before burial, and doubtless during life. The burnt body must be regarded as that of the chief, the unburnt one as that of the wife or female slave, slaughtered that she might accompany her lord to the land of spirits.

Note 1. Archæologia. Vol. XLII., p. 169.

In the Long Barrow at Bratton, however, the primary interment consisted of burnt remains alone. At the beginning of this century, Mr. Cunnington made two attempts on this tumulus. "At first he cut a section nine feet long and five wide, and found black vegetable earth for the depth of five feet intermixed with pottery and animal bones. On one side of the section, at the depth of four foot, he discovered a pile of pebble stones (probably brought from Codford, for use as sling-stones) and a large stone bead." This excavation seems to have been made near the centre of the barrow, before Mr. Cunnington had ascertained that the interments in Long Barrows are almost always at the larger, generally the eastern, end. "At a subsequent period, Mr. Cunnington employed his men for several days in examining the large end of this barrow, but he only dis- covered the remains of three skeletons (a secondary interment) near the top."1 In 1866, Dr. Thurnam's "working-party made two large openings at the extreme east end, and in the more westerly of the two, on the natural level, at a depth of 8½ ft. and only one or two feet from the point where Mr. Cunnington's excavations appear to have been left off, was a heap of imperfectly burnt, or rather charred, human bones, as many, perhaps, as would be left by the incineration of one or at the most, two adult bodies. Careful search was made for an entire unburnt skeleton or skeletons, but without success."

Note 1. Ancient Wilts. Vol. I., p. 55.

With the primary interments in Long Barrows no weapons or implements of bronze or other metal are ever found, but oc- casionally leaf-shaped arrow-heads and other implements of flint. Long Barrows belong essentially to the Stone Age of this country,and are to be regarded as the very earliest of our sepulchral monuments.

The Long Barrows described by Dr. Thurnam were of the simple, un chambered sort, such as are alone found in South Wiltshire, and on the chalk downs of other parts of the South of England. In North Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, however, where we have either Sarsen stones of large size on the surface, or else quarries of oolitic stone, Long Barrows in other respects similar to those of South Wilts, but with Chambers built up under their broad ends, are met with. In them are found numerous skeletons, many with the skull cleft, ranged around the walls of the chambers, in the crouching attitude. Here also is the same absence of metallic implements, but the presence of those of stone. The striking analogy of these Chambered Long Barrows to the so-called "Giant Chambers" of the Scandinavian countries was pointed out.

As elsewhere shown1, the skulls from the long barrows of Wiltshire are remarkable for their long and narrow form, and the skeletons are those of a people of short stature. The skulls from the round barrows, on the contrary, are in general short and broad, and the skeletons those of a people at least somewhat above the middle size.

Note 1. Some account of the Blackmore Museum, Opening Meeting, 1807, p. 38.