You'll probably have to take your life in your hands crossing the A303, but walking along the track to the Normanton Down barrows is very pleasant. It does feel ancient (I imagine it is). Chalk and flint are everywhere. I liked the way there were apples (albeit a bit sour) and other fruit plants along the way. Once up on the ridge you get a great view of the Bush barrow and a disc barrow, with other barrows beyond. A board informs you that the barrows are all on private land. I was a little disappointed but hardly surprised. The sheep were happy running about on them at least. On one side you can see down to Stonehenge and over to the King Barrows on the horizon; on the other side there are the Lake Barrows, most of which are hidden in and behind the trees.
Just a short distance from the hustle and bustle of Stonehenge is the barrow cemetery of Normanton down. Although you can see the stones and the tourists in the distance, if you come here you’ll probably have the place to yourself – the only other person I saw was looking for a crop circle and the only thing to spoil the peace and quiet was the distant hum of military transport planes.
As for the barrows, there’s long barrows, bowl, bell, disc and saucer barrows including the famous Bush Barrow excavated in 1808 by Sir Richard Colt Hoare.
Details of the central section of the Barrow Group on Pastscape
14 Bronze Age round barrows on Normanton Down survive as earthworks. They form the central group of the Normanton Down round barrow cemetery (Monument Number 1531088). The round barrows were listed individually by Goddard (1913) and Grinsell (1957), as: Wilsford 3-9, 9a, 10-12 and 14-17. The group includes Bush Barrow (Monument Number 943060). The linear barrow cemetery continues to the west (Monument Number 219735) and east (Monument Number 219564). Many of the round barrows were excavated by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in the early 19th century and they were surveyed at a scale of 1:1000 in April 2010 as part of English Heritage's Stonehenge WHS Landscape Project. Please see the individual records for specific details about each barrow.
Account of William Stukeley's diggings on a disc barrow in the Normanton Down group:
We dug up one of those I call Druid's barrows, a small tump inclos'd in a large circular ditch. I chose that next to bushbarrow, westward of it. Stonehenge bears hence north-east. We made a cross section ten foot each way, three foot broad over its center, upon the cardinal points. At length we found a squarish hole cut into the solid chalk, in the center of the tumulus. It was three foot and a half, i.e. two cubits long, and near two foot broad, i.e. one cubit: pointing to Stonehenge directly. It was a cubit and half deep from the surface. This was the domus exilis Plutonia cover'd with artificial earth, not above a foot thick from the surface. In this little grave we found all the burnt bones of a man, but no signs of an urn. The bank of the circular ditch is on the outside, and is 12 cubits broad. The ditch is 6 cubits broad (the Druid's staff) the area is 70 cubits in diameter. The whole 100.
Stonehenge, A Temple Restor'd to the British Druids, by William Stukeley, 1740
Neolithic mortuary enclosure on Normanton Down. Originally a rectangular ditched enclosure with internal banks, orientated east-south-east to west-north-west, measuring circa 36 metres by 21 metres. The eastern end was slightly wider than the western. The banks were visible as earthworks in 1949 but had been competely ploughed out by the time the site was fully excavated in 1959. Excavation showed the enclosure to be rectangular with rounded ends, the ditch being interrupted by 11 causeways. The largest causeway, 16 feet long, was at the eastern end. Within and at right angles to this "entrance" were a pair of bedding trenches, each containing 3 post holes. Both yielded evidence for horizontal timbers linking each set of three posts. A shallow linear depression ran across the entrance causeway, linking the ditch segments on either side. The segment south of the entrance showed evidence for recutting. The segment north of the entrance featured a deposit of three antler picks in the ditch terminal adjacent to the entrance. Finds were few - there were no flint or stone artefacts, and only a single potsherd - Mortlake Ware, found high in the ditch silts on the south side. In all, 11 antler were recovered, plus a few bones of sheep/goat and cattle. A radiocarbon date of 3510-2920 Cal BC has been obtained. The enclosure is visible as a cropmark on aerial photographs.
A Neolithic long barrow survives as earthworks situated circa 350 metres southwest of the main linear alignment of the Normanton Down barrow cemetery (1531088). It was excavated by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in the early 19th century (Barrow 173) who found a primary deposit of four skeletons on the "floor" at the eastern end, and a secondary inhumation, possibly Anglo-Saxon, near the top of the mound, also at the eastern end. The barrow was listed as Wilsford 30 by Goddard (1913) and subsequently by Grinsell (1957). It was surveyed at a scale of 1:1000 in April 2010 as part of English Heritage's Stonehenge WHS Landscape Project. The surviving earthworks extend east / west for circa 43m and comprise a linear mound flanked to the north by a ditch. The eastern end of the mound stands 2.3m high: its summit, which is also aligned east / west, measures 6m long and 3m wide. At least three phases of construction are suggested by the circular mounding of the eastern end, which measures 22m wide at its base, and presence of a narrow terrace, circa 1m wide, on its southern side. The western end of the mound measures circa 12m wide and has been heavily eroded by a trackway. The northern ditch measures up to 8m wide and up to 0.7m deep.
A Neolithic long barrow, listed as Amesbury 14 by Grinsell, and located North of Normanton Gorse. Excavations by Colt Hoare in the early 19th century failed to find any burials. Excavations by Thurnam in the mid-19th century uncovered three skeletons described by him as primary interments. Two of the skulls had been cleft before burial. He also found two crouched inhumations which he regarded as secondary burials. The barrow is still extant as an earthwork.
Account of Bush Barrow made by Leslie V. Grinsell in which he reflects upon other known burials from the same period and attempts to draw together relevant sources. See below for an index of all referances included.
Apparently a large bowl-barrow, probably the most notable round barrow in Wessex for its grave-group.
In the early 18th century it was planted with thorn trees (Stukeley 1740, 46 and TABS XXXII, XXXIII).
The first investigation was on 11 July 1808, when Cunnington explored it but failed to locate the interment. Reluctant to be defeated by a barrow, he had another try in September that year.
The tree roots had not penetrated deep enough to interfere with the primary deposit as the mound (which is c. 120 feet in diameter) was then c. 11 feet high. 'Contrary to the more general practice we found on the floor of this Barrow the skeleton of a stout and tall man, lying from south to north'. (Most of the other skeletons he had excavated had their head to the N). The extreme length of the thighbone was 20.5 inches, indicating a man around 6 feet tall.
About 18 inches south of the head (which shows that the head was at the south) was a large quantity of bronze rivets intermixed with wood and some thin bits of bronze, these objects covering a space of 12 inches or more. Cunnington and Hoare interpreted this assemblage as the remains of a shield, but Coles (1962, 172) has stated that 'there seems no possible way in which these objects could be arranged to form a shield. The flat-headed rivets are so short and relatively thick, that they could not have been driven through any wood without splitting it'. This, together with the position of the remains above the head, and their diameter which is small for a shield but about right for a headpiece flattened by pressure from the soil above, makes it most probable that they are the surviving pieces of a helmet, 'perhaps utilising wooden plates as scales'. A possible parallel, from a Minoan chamber tomb at Ayios loannis near Knossos, also above the head of a fragmentary skeleton, is dated to c. 1450 B.C. (Hood 1956).
The interment has been reconstructed by Ashbee (I960, 77) on the assumption that it was in the extended posture. Cunnington's account provides no evidence of this; but parallels of Early Bronze Age chieftains' interments in Germany and Brittany suggest that this could well be the case. (S. Piggott 1965, 127, Fig. 67).
The disposition of the rest of the grave furnishings was:
Near the shoulders, a flanged axe of copper or bronze with impression of cloth on blade, and traces of wooden knee-shaft handle (Thomas 1966). Near the right arm, a large six-riveted copper dagger of Gerloffs Armorico-British A type with traces of wood on blade, and handle of wood inlaid with a zig-zag pattern formed by an immense number of minute gold pins in poinlille style, for which there are parallels in Armorica. Near this dagger was a small lozenge-shaped plate of sheet gold with incised ornament, which Cunnington thought may have belonged to the sheath of the dagger. Near the right arm was also a large bronze grooved dagger of Gerloff's Armorico-British B type. Beneath the fingers of the right hand was a 'lance head of brass, but so much corroded that it broke to pieces in taking out'.
On the breast was a large lozenge-shaped plate of sheet gold bearing incised ornament; it was originally 'fixed to a thin piece of wood over the edges of which the Gold was wrapped', and it is holed at the top and bottom corners for fastening to the dress as a breast plate. On the right side of the skeleton was a polished and perforated mace-head of fossil Stromaloporoid believed to
be from the area of Teignmouth in South Devon; around its hole are traces of a bronze ring with which it was attached to its shaft by a bronze pin. Near this mace-head were 3 cylindrical bone mounts of zig-zag form and two end-pieces of the same material, believed to be the fittings for either the shaft of the mace-head or some other baton of authority.
They resemble those from shaft grave Iota in Grave Circle B at Mycenae, in the National Archaeological Museum at Athens (8623-4) but not illustrated by Mylonas (1973); they accompanied a male adult skeleton with a bronze sword and are dated c. 1600/1550 B.C. Similar examples in gold were found in a dolmen at Kerlagat in the Morbihan (Le Rouzic 1931; Taylor 1978). These in turn might have been inspired from the Eastern Mediterranean. The gold belt hook was near the right arm. If the Aegean parallels are meaningful the date of the Bush Barrow burial could approximate to that of shaft grave Iota (c. 1600/1550 BC) rather than that of the bronze rivets which are too generalised for close dating in them-selves.
A letter from Hoare to Cunnington, dated June 1810, states that 'Bush Barrow should be completed and filled up'; it was evidently not properly filled in until at least a year and nine months after it was dug.
L. V. Grinsell, Stonehenge Barrow Groups (1979), page 30
Other referances in the above post made by Grinsell are listed as:-
Stukeley, W., 1740. Stonehenge: a Temple Restor'd to the British Druids.
Coles, J.M., 1962. 'European Bronze Age shields'. Proc. Prehist. Soc. 28, 1 56-90.
Hood, M..S.F., 1956. 'Another warrior-grave from Ayios loannis near Knossos.' Annual of British School in Athens. 51,81 -99.
Ashbee, Paul, 1960. The Bronze Age Round Barrow in Britain.
Piggott, S., 1965. Ancient Europe, Edinburgh.
Thomas, N. et at., 1966. 'Notes on some Early Bronze Age objects in Devices Museum'. W.A.M. 61, 1-8.
Mylonas, G.E., 1973. Grave Circle B at Mycenae (in Greek; English summary). Athens.
Le Rouzic. Z., 1931. Bijoux en Or decouverts dans les dolmens du Morbihan. Dijon.
Taylor, J.J., 1978. Bronze Age Goldwork of the British Isles. Cambridge.
Though Dr. Stukeley has given an engraving of this tumulus, under the title of BUSH BARROW, it does not appear that he ever attempted to open it. It was formerly fenced round and planted with trees, and its exterior at present bears a very rough appearance from being covered with furze and heath. The first attempts made by Mr. Cunnington on this barrow proved unsuccessful, as also those of some farmers, who tried their skill in digging into it. Our researches were renewed in September, 1808, and we were amply repaid for our perseverance and former disappointment. On reaching the floor of the barrow, we discovered the skeleton of a stout and tall man lying from south to north: the extreme length of his thigh bone was 20 inches. About 18 inches south of the head, we found several brass rivets intermixed with wood, and some thin bits of brass nearly decomposed. These articles covered a space of 19, inches or more ; it is probable, therefore, that they were the mouldered remains of a shield. Near the shoulders lay the fine celt* TUMULI PLATE XXVI No. 1, the lower end of which owes its great preservation to having been originally inserted within a handle of wood. Near the right arm was a large dagger of brass, and a spear-head of the same metal, full thirteen inches long, and the largest we have ever found, though not so neat in its pattern as some others of an inferior size which have been engraved in our work. These were accompanied by a curious article of gold, which I conceive had originally decorated the case of the dagger, TUMULI PLATE XXVII, NO.I . The handle of wood belonging to this instrument, No. 2, exceeds any thing we have yet seen, both in design and execution, and could not be surpassed (if indeed equalled) by the most able workman of modern times. By the annexed engraving, you will immediately recognize the British zigzag, or the modern Vandyke pattern, which was formed with a labour and exactness almost unaccountable, by thousands of gold rivets, smaller than the smallest pin. The head of the handle, though exhibiting no variety of pattern, was also formed by the same kind of studding. So very minute, indeed, were these pins, that our labourers had thrown out thousands of them with their shovel, and scattered them in every direction, before, by the necessary aid of a magnifying glass, we could discover what they were; but fortunately enough remained attached to the wood to enable us to develop the pattern. Beneath the fingers of the right hand lay a lancehead of brass, but so much corroded that it broke to pieces on moving. Immediately over the breast of the skeleton was a large plate of gold, TUMULI PLATE XXVI, in the form of a lozenge, and measuring 7 inches by 6. It was fixed to a thin piece of wood, over the edges of which the gold was lapped: it is perforated at top and bottom, for the purpose, probably, of fastening it to the dress as a breast-plate. The even surface of this noble ornament is relieved by indented lines, checques, and zigzags, following the shape of the outline, and forming lozenge within lozenge, diminishing gradually towards the centre. We next discovered, on the right side of the skeleton, a very curious perforated stone, some wrought articles of bone, many small rings of the same material, and another article of gold PLATE XXVII, No. 3,4, 5 . The stone is made out of a fossil mass of tubularia, and polished ; rather of an egg form, or as a farmer who was present, observed, resembling the top of a large gimlet. It had a wooden handle, which was fixed into the perforation in the centre, and encircled by a neat ornament of brass, part of which still adheres to the stone. As this stone bears no marks of wear or attrition, I can hardly consider it to have been used as a domestic implement, and from the circumstance of its being composed of a mass of seaworms, or little serpents, I think we may not be too fanciful in considering it an article of consequence. We know, by history, that much importance was attached by the ancients to the serpent, and I have before had occasion to mention the veneration with which the glain nadroeth was esteemed by the Britons ; and my classical readers will recollect the fanciful story related by Pliny on this subject, who says, that the Druid's egg was formed by the scum of a vast multitude of serpents twisted and conjured up together. This stone, therefore, which contains a mass of serpularia, or little serpents, might have been held in great veneration by the Britons, and considered of sufficient importance to merit a place amongst the many rich and valuable relicks deposited in this tumulus with the body of the deceased.
William Cunnington, Manuscript Letters, Vol. 10, p. 9-13