The Grafton barrow cemetery consists of three disc barrows, two of which overlap, and a bowl barrow which form a unique site. Of the various types of round barrow, nationally disc barrows are rare, with about 250 known examples, most of which are in Wessex. While Bowl barrows are the most numerous form of round barrow, dating from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age, most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. Disc barrows, the most fragile type of round barrow are of the early Bronze Age, with most dating to a much shorter 200 year period, possibly between 1400-1200 BC. The setting of this barrow group on a gentle west-facing slope above the floor of a dry valley and not on a more level part of the undulating chalk downland, has added greatly to it's survival.
When I visited the site in May 2009, I came along the footpath from the Fair Mile to Scots poor. The first section is a good made up road but once the path drops into the valley it becomes a dirt track. The height of the trees surrounding this barrow group makes it a frustrating site to try to photograph. It makes me wonder why the hillside was chosen. The two joined barrows sit on the lower slop with the single disc slightly higher. The Bowl barrow sits on a spur high up the side of the hill and is the most visible today.
Of the three disc barrows, two overlap and have been classified as a single monument by English heritage, although the Wiltshire SMR lists each barrow individually. The two conjoined disc barrows, aligned broadly north- south and set on the lower slope, are both about 46 m in diameter, the northern barrow has a central mound 10m in diameter and 0.75m high surrounded by a berm 7.5m wide. The southern barrow has a central mound l2m across and 0.75m high surrounded by a level berm 10m across.
Both show a hollow on the mound measuring approx 5m by 0.5m and are the results of the 1952 partial excavation by the Newbury District Field Club.
Surrounding the berm of the northern barrow, is a ditch 6m wide by 1m deep and a high outer bank on the west side of the mound, 6m wide and 1.5m high. The southern barrow's ditch surrounds it's central area, except to the north where it abuts the southern part of the ditch surrounding the adjacent northern barrow. This may indicate that the order of construction. The ditch has been partly in filled over the years but survives as an earthwork 5m wide and 1m deep. An outer bank defines the maximum extent of the monument, at least on the downhill side where it stands 1.5m high and is 5m across.
The other single disc barrow, SMR No.SU25NE618, National Monument 12267. is called the Heath Copse disc barrow. The English heritage report says the barrow mound stands 1m high surrounded by a berm 9m wide and a quarry ditch 3m wide, the central mound stands 1m high and is c.10m across. Surrounding this is a level berm 9m wide and a ditch, from which material was obtained during construction of the monument. The ditch has been partly in filled over the years but survives as a low earthwork 3m wide and 0.5m deep. This disc barrow is an outstanding example with no evidence for excavation.
The burials, normally cremations, are frequently accompanied by pottery vessels, tools and personal ornaments. It has been suggested that disc barrows were normally used for the burial of women, although this remains unproven. However, it is likely that the individuals buried were of high status.