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Henge Enclosure, Conquer Barrow and Barrow Cemetery

A Scheduled Monument in Dorchester, Dorset

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Latitude: 50.7082 / 50°42'29"N

Longitude: -2.4116 / 2°24'41"W

OS Eastings: 371029.810577

OS Northings: 89922.000934

OS Grid: SY710899

Mapcode National: GBR PZ.BWB0

Mapcode Global: FRA 57V6.L8W

Entry Name: Henge Enclosure, Conquer Barrow and Barrow Cemetery

Scheduled Date: 5 March 1961

Last Amended: 25 August 2017

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1002463

English Heritage Legacy ID: DO 624

County: Dorset

Civil Parish: Dorchester

Built-Up Area: Dorchester

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Dorchester and West Stafford

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury


The monument includes a Late Neolithic henge enclosure; Conquer Barrow, a substantial earthwork which probably dates initially to the Late Neolithic period; and a number of later prehistoric round barrows which variously survive as upstanding earthworks and as ring ditches visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs.

Source: Historic England


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a Late Neolithic henge enclosure at Mount Pleasant, situated on the west-east axis of the Alington Ridge. Immediately to the west is Conquer Barrow, a substantial earthwork which probably dates initially to the Late Neolithic period. To the south-west and south-east are a number of later prehistoric round barrows which variously survive as upstanding earthworks and as ring ditches that are visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs.

DESCRIPTION: the monument is evident as a complex series of cropmarks and earthworks in an area of approximately 13 hectares. The henge was subject to geophysical survey and excavation in 1969-1971 and also has good aerial photographic coverage. A watching brief was carried out in one part of the site in 1986. These investigations collectively provide considerable information about the form and function of the monument.

Excavation of the henge has indicated that it comprises a large, roughly D-shaped enclosure defined by a bank and an internal ditch which enclose an area some 370m from west to east and 340m north to south. The chalk rubble bank was originally some 4m high and its width varied between 16m and 23m Although the site has been under plough for centuries, it survives as a slight earthwork along its south-eastern sector, although this may be due to a possible later heightening of this section of bank. All but the north and north-west sections of the bank are visible on aerial photographs and on LiDAR (remote sensing); it is possible that the northernmost section may have been truncated by the construction of the railway cutting. The width of the internal ditch varies between 9m and 17m wide and its depth is irregular. Although it cannot be traced on the ground, almost its entire circuit is visible as cropmarks. Aerial photographs taken in 2004 have provided evidence for a berm between the bank and ditch and also for an external ditch on the north, east and south-east sides of the enclosure; however it is unclear whether this ditch is present around the whole circuit of the henge.

There are a number of entrances into the enclosure, to the west, east, south-east and north, and a fifth entrance in the south-western section has been identified on aerial photographs taken in the 1990s. The 1970-1971 excavation demonstrated that the west entrance had been narrowed in about 1800 BC by extending the adjacent ditch terminals, while two rows of large pits within the south-western entrance, visible on aerial photographs, seem to indicate that this entrance may also have been narrowed or partly blocked at some time. A foundation trench for a palisade running within and parallel to the enclosure ditch was also partly excavated in 1970-1971 and found to contain post holes for closely-set, large oak timbers that probably stood some 6m high. Narrow entrances to the north and east were identified through the palisade which aligned with the respective entrances in the enclosure bank. The excavation also uncovered evidence to indicate that some sections of the timber palisade were destroyed by fire, while elsewhere its posts were removed or left to decay in-situ. To the north-east of the henge is a substantial linear feature which appears as a cropmark on aerial photographs, but can also be discerned as a wide, shallow depression on the ground. It is at least 200m in length and is orientated south-west to north-east, running close to, but not aligned with, the east entrance. It has been suggested (Barber, 2005) that it may be some form of approach to the henge, but it has not been subject to archaeological investigation.

Within the south-western area of the enclosure is the large circular feature known as 'Site IV' which has been dated to around 2000 BC. The excavation provided evidence that it comprised a penannular ditch, some 43m in diameter, 2.5m wide and 2m deep with an entrance on its north side which encircled five broadly concentric rings of posts holes where large wooden posts once stood. These were laid out around central aisles which were aligned north to south and east to west respectively, dividing the rings into quadrants. A series of larger pits representing the remains of a rectangular structure of sarsens were also found, along with evidence for a number of outlying pits and monoliths. Site IV’s ditch remains clearly visible on aerial photographs taken in the years post-excavation.

The pottery recovered during the excavation of the henge was primarily Late Neolithic Grooved Ware, but Wessex/Middle Rhine, plain Neolithic bowl forms and Beaker Ware were also present, as well as later prehistoric and Romano-British pottery. Flint and chalk artefacts, antler picks, human remains, animal bone, a Bronze Age axe and two Anglo-Saxon inhumation graves were also recovered.

Conquer Barrow is situated immediately to the west of the henge. Its earthen mound rises approximately 8m above the surrounding ground surface and is around 30m in diameter at its base, rising to a flat summit, some 7m in diameter. Archaeological investigations, including augering and limited excavation, in 1970 demonstrated that the mound is surrounded by a circular, flat-bottomed ditch, some 7m wide and 3m deep, which is interrupted by at least two causeways. A ditch terminal and small section of ditch were briefly examined in 1970-1971, but little dateable evidence was recovered; an antler pick, radiocarbon dated to 2880-2480cal BC, was found either in the primary fills or the base of the ditch, and some fragments of pottery, including a Bronze Age sherd, a Beaker sherd and some of Iron Age date. Although it is not visible on the surface, the ditch is considered to survive as a buried feature.

Some 370m south-east of the henge is a later prehistoric round barrow (SY7149989701) which survives as a circular earthwork mound some 16m in diameter and 1.5m high. The surrounding quarry ditch, from which material was excavated during the construction of the mound, is no longer visible at ground level or on aerial photographs, but it is likely to survive as a buried feature. In addition, eight cropmark ring ditches which are considered to represent the remains of plough-levelled barrows are visible on aerial photographs to the west and north-west of the upstanding barrow. Collectively they form three discrete groups: two parallel groups of three and four barrows which are orientated north-west to south-east, and two further ring ditches slightly to the north which are located between the parallel groups. The ring ditches vary in size, with internal diameters ranging from 13m up to 32m. The one immediately north-west of the upstanding barrow was described as a ploughed-down mound in 1979, but has since been levelled by cultivation. In 1986 the area in which the northernmost ring ditch is situated was examined during a watching brief in advance of the construction of a water pipeline to the south and south-east of the henge. It revealed some features associated with burning on either side of the location of the ring ditch and a small collection of lithic finds. However, nothing firmly identifiable as the ring ditch appears to have been identified. The area between these groups of ring ditches regularly produces ‘natural’ cropmarks, which may possibly mask the presence of other archaeological features. The cropmark of a further possible ring ditch has also been identified approximately 140m south-east of Conquer Barrow, but it is a relatively small feature that is isolated from the rest of the group and is not included in the scheduling.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: the scheduled area, which comprises four separate areas, includes the known extent of the henge enclosure, the upstanding earthwork known as Conquer Barrow, and the groups of ring ditches and one upstanding bowl barrow. A 2m margin has been included for the support and protection of the monument on all sides, except to the north where the monument boundary follows the line of the railway cutting.

EXCLUSIONS: all concrete and wooden fence posts, fencing, garden walls, sheds and decking and retaining walls are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath these features, however, is included.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The henge enclosure, Conquer Barrow and the barrow cemetery at Mount Pleasant are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Rarity: henges are one of the relatively few types of monuments which characterise the later Neolithic period and this example is one of only four large henge enclosures known nationally. Conquer Barrow is an enigmatic monument that is considered likely to have had significant role at this ceremonial site;
* Potential: despite plough-levelling, they are considered to retain important archaeological information and environmental evidence relating to prehistoric ritual and funerary activities and the landscape in which they were constructed;
* Documentation (Archaeological): they have been well-documented through aerial photography, geophysical survey and excavation, which enhance our knowledge of these monuments;
* Group value: located on Alington Ridge, an area with a dense concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial monuments, a study of which will contribute valuable information about the continuity of land use and the importance of this landscape to prehistoric communities.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Wainwright, G, Mount Pleasant, Dorset: Excavations 1970-71. Report of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 37, (1979)
Barber, M, 'Mount Pleasant, Dorchester: Cropmarks Old and New' in Past: the Newsletter of the Prehistoric Society, , Vol. 49, (April 2005), 5-7
Barber, M, 'Mount Pleasant from the Air, Cropmarks old and new at the henge enclosure near Dorchester, Dorset' in Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, , Vol. 126, (2004), 7-14
Davies, SM, Bellamy, PS, Heaton, MJ, Woodward, PJ, 'Excavations at Allington Avenue, Fordington, Dorchester 1984-87' in Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Monograph Series , , Vol. 15, (2002), 186-194
Sparey-Green, C, 'Observations on the Site of the ‘Two Barrows’, Fordington Farm, Dorchester; with a Note on the ‘Conquer Barrow’' in Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, , Vol. 116, (1994), 45-54
Barber, M, Mount Pleasant, Dorset. A Survey of the Neolithic ‘Henge Enclosure’ and Associated Features, Historic England Research Report Series no. 70-2014
Barber, M, Winton, H, Stoertz, C, Carpenter, E and Martin, L, 2010, The Brood of Silbury? A Remote Look at Some Other Sizeable Wessex Mounds in J Leary & D Field (eds), Round Mounds and Monumentality in the British Neolithic and Beyond, 153-173

Source: Historic England

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