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Stonehenge Cursus Group

Barrow / Cairn Cemetery


The following account of the Cursus group of barrows comes from William Stukeley in 1740 and moves westwards.
On the 1810 map by Hoare, the numbers would equate to 28 onwards.
This account contains all we know of the contains from some of these barrows.

In 1722, my late Lord Pembroke, Earl Thomas, who was pleas'd to favour my inquiries at this place, open'd a barrow, in order to find the position of the body observ'd in these early days. He pitch'd upon one of those south of Stonehenge, close upon the road thither from Wilton: and on the east side of the road. 'Tis one of the double barrows, or where two are inclos'd in one ditch: one of those, which I suppose the later kind, and of a fine turn'd bell-fashion. It may be seen in Plate IX. On the west side, he made a section from the top to the bottom, an intire segment, from center to circumference. The manner of composition of the barrow was good earth, quite thro', except a coat of chalk of about two foot thickness, covering it quite over, under the turf. Hence it appears, that the method of making these barrows was to dig up the turf for a great space round, till the barrow was brought to its intended bulk. Then with the chalk, dug out of the environing ditch, they powder'd it all over. So that for a considerable time, these barrows must have look'd white: even for some number of years. And the notion of sanctity annex'd to them, forbid people trampling on them, till perfectly settled and turf'd over. Hence the neatness of their form to this day. At the top or center of this barrow, not above three foot under the surface, my Lord found the skeleton of the interr'd; perfect, of a reasonable size, the head lying toward Stonehenge, or northward.

The year following, in order to prosecute this inquiry, by my Lord's order, I begun upon a barrow north of Stonehenge, in that group south of the cursus. 'Tis one of the double barrows there: and the more easterly, and lower of the two: likewise somewhat less. It was reasonable to believe, this was the sepulture of a man and his wise: and that the lesser was the female: and so it prov'd, at least a daughter. We made a large cut on the top from east to west. After the turf taken off, we came to the layer of chalk, as before, then fine garden mould. About three foot below the surface, a layer of flints, humouring the convexity of the barrow. These flints are gather'd from the surface of the downs in some places, especially where it has been plow'd. This being about a foot thick, rested on a layer of soft mould another foot: in which was inclos'd an urn full of bones. This urn was of unbak'd clay, of a dark reddish colour: crumbled into pieces. It had been rudely wrought with small mouldings round the verge, and other circular channels on the outside, with several indentures between, made with a pointed tool, as depicted in Plate XXXII. where I have drawn all the sorts of things found in this barrow.

The bones had been burnt, and crouded all together in a little heap, not so much as a hat crown would contain. The collar bone, and one side of the under-jaw are grav'd in their true magnitude. It appears to have been a girl of about 14 years old, by their bulk and the great quantity of female ornaments mix'd with the bones, all which we gather'd. Beads of all sorts, and in great number, of glass of divers colours, most yellow, one black. Many single, many in long pieces notch'd between, so as to resemble a string of beads, and these were generally of a blue colour. There were many of amber, of all shapes and sizes, flat squares, long squares, round, oblong, little and great. Likewise many of earth, of different shapes, magnitude and colour, some little and white, many large and flattish like a button, others like a pully. But all had holes to run a string thro', either thro' their diameter, or sides. Many of the button sort seem to have been cover'd with metal, there being a rim work'd in them, wherein to turn the edge of the covering. One of these was cover'd with a thin film of pure gold. These were the young lady's ornaments. And had all undergone the fire: so that what would easily consume fell to pieces as soon as handled. Much of the amber burnt half thro'. This person was a heroin, for we found the head of her javelin in brass. At bottom are two holes for the pins that fastned it to the staff. Besides, there was a sharp bodkin, round at one end, square at the other, where it went into a handle. I still preserve whatever is permanent of these trinkets. But we recompos'd the ashes of the illustrious defunct, and cover'd them with earth. Leaving visible marks at top, of the barrow having been open'd, to dissuade any other from again disturbing them: and this was our practice in all the rest.
Then we op'd the next barrow to it, inclos'd in the same ditch, which we suppos'd the husband or father of this lady. At fourteen inches deep, the mould being mix'd with chalk, we came to the intire skeleton of a man. The skull and all the bones exceedingly rotten and perish'd, thro' length of time. Tho' this was a barrow of the latest sort, as we conjecture. The body lay north and south, the head to the north, as that Lord Pembroke open'd.
Stukeley then goes on to descried the rest of the barrow group looking west. The largest barrow, Amesbury G55 was marked as No.40 by Hoare as 'in point of size, the monarch of the plain'.
Next, I went westward, to a group of barrows whence Stonehenge bears east north-east. Here is a large barrow ditch'd about, but of an ancient make. On that side next Stonehenge are ten lesser, small, and as it were crouded together. South of the great one is another barrow, larger than those of the group, but not equalling the first. It would seem, that a man and his wife were bury'd in the two larger, and that the rest were of their children or dependants. One of the small ones, 20 cubits in diameter, I cut thro', with a pit nine foot in diameter, to the surface of the natural chalk, in the center of the barrow; where was a little hole cut. A child's body (as it seems) had been burnt here, and cover'd up in that hole: but thro' the length of time consum'd. From three foot deep, we found much wood ashes soft and black as ink, same little bits of an urn, and black and red earth very rotten. Some small lumps of earth red as vermilion: some flints burnt thro'. Toward the bottom a great quantity of ashes and burnt bones. From this place I could count 128 barrows in sight.
Stonehenge, A Temple Restor'd to the British Druids, by William Stukeley, 1740
Chance Posted by Chance
31st May 2010ce
Edited 31st May 2010ce

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