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Neolithic and Bronze Age mortuary complex 600m north west of Octagon Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Kingsbrook, Bedford

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Latitude: 52.1368 / 52°8'12"N

Longitude: -0.4078 / 0°24'28"W

OS Eastings: 509064.807012

OS Northings: 249918.133749

OS Grid: TL090499

Mapcode National: GBR G21.ZNM

Mapcode Global: VHFQ8.WK78

Entry Name: Neolithic and Bronze Age mortuary complex 600m NW of Octagon Farm

Scheduled Date: 19 May 1993

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011629

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20745

County: Bedford

Electoral Ward/Division: Kingsbrook

Built-Up Area: Great Barford

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Cardington

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument includes the central part of a group of Neolithic and Bronze Age
mortuary sites, initially recorded from aerial photographs and situated
between the River Great Ouse and the Elstow Brook, south-east of Bedford. The
monument includes at least 19 closely spaced sites, including four large
rectangular mortuary enclosures with one or more entrances, a long oval-shaped
enclosure, a small oval-shaped enclosure, a cursus and 11 ring ditches
representing the remains of barrows with single, double and triple rings. The
four rectangular enclosures, which are in the central and south-western part
of the monument, are identified as long mortuary enclosures and measure
between 70m and 180m in length by 20m and 60m in width. The long oval
enclosure, which is in the same part of the site, measures 70m SW-NE by 15m
NW-SE and has an entrance 15m wide in the south-eastern side. A second,
smaller oval enclosure is situated 850m east of the long oval enclosure and
measures 41m SE-NW by a maximum of 28m NE-SW. It has an entrance 5m wide in
the northern arm and one of the ring ditches is sited within it. North of the
smaller oval enclosure, and on the same alignment, is the cursus. It measures
130m in length by 20m in width; another ring ditch is sited at its eastern
end. A curvilinear ditch, measuring approximately 60m in length and situated
nearer the centre of the complex, is considered to have been part of another
oval-shaped enclosure.
The 11 ring ditches represent the remains of barrows which vary in size from a
maximum of 45m to a minimum of 16m in diameter. The largest of these is the
triple ring ditch, near the centre of the monument, which is the only site in
the group which remains visible as an earthwork; it is approximately 0.3m
high. Most of the ring ditches are grouped in the northern and western part of
the site away from the rectangular enclosures. Although, with the exception of
the centrally placed triple ring ditch, these sites are no longer visible as
earthworks, they survive as buried features and their locations have been
confirmed by both geophysical survey and partial excavation.
The geophysical survey indicated that other, less well preserved features also
belonged to this group of sites. These include internal features within the
long mortuary enclosures and ring ditches, some of which may represent the
site of burials.
In 1992 a total of thirteen trenches were excavated in order to evaluate the
cropmarks. It was found that the depth of plough soil overlying the
archaeological features varied from 0.9m to as little as 0.28m. Both the
western-most long mortuary enclosure and the adjacent long oval-shaped
enclosure, contained some Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery and flint flakes
within their ditches. A trial trench across the northern-most ring ditch,
which contains a rectangular enclosure, showed that the rectangular enclosures
predated the barrow.
The excavations also revealed a number of other features associated with these
sites, including groups of pits within the enclosures and a number of
postholes and linear ditches outside them. The linear ditches, in particular,
are believed to be part of a Prehistoric field system which was in use between
the Bronze Age and the Roman period.
The public footpath and the row of telegraph poles which run along the south
side of the path are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
the path is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Neolithic and Bronze mortuary complexes date to the period between c4000 and
c700 BC. Typically they are set within topographically defined areas, perhaps
between rivers and valleys, sometimes their topographical boundaries are
emphasised by ditch systems. Within the defined area such complexes comprise
closely spaced groups of features of different types, later types of feature
often being superimposed on earlier ones, indicating continuity of use over a
long period of time. Features found on such sites include round barrows, which
can take a variety of forms, of which bowl barrows are the most common. Such
barrows were earthen or stone mounds covering a burial or group of burials.
Such barrows were usually surrounded by a circular ditch from which material
for the construction of the mound was obtained. These circular ditches are
often visible through aerial photography when the mound no longer shows as an
earthwork and are frequently classified as 'ring-ditches'. Burials on such
sites, however, are not confined to the barrows and 'flat burials' have often
been discovered in between them. Also found on such sites are a variety of
enclosures, sometimes referred to as mortuary enclosures. These are often
square or rectangular in plan but round-ended and even sub-circular examples
are known. They are usually defined by a bank and external ditch and sometimes
have opposed entrances. Their original function is uncertain but it is
presumed that they were employed in the burial ritual and in subsequent
Neolithic and Bronze Age mortuary complexes often also include other classes
of ceremonial monuments such as cursuses (which were elongated embanked
enclosures which probably served as ceremonial routeways) and henges (which
were major circular earthworks which probably served as gathering places).
A small number of such complexes have individual components surviving as
earthworks but the majority are cropmark sites which are known from aerial
photography and which survive only as buried features below the ploughsoil.
They provide important evidence for the diversity of beliefs and social
organisation amongst Early Prehistoric communities and all examples where
significant archaeological deposits remain are considered to be of national
The Neolithic and Bronze Age mortuary complex north west of Octagon Farm was
discovered through aerial photography and has been investigated by
fieldwalking, geophysical survey and sample excavation. These investigations
have confirmed that the sites within the complex retain important
archaeological information, which is well preserved below the ploughsoil. This
information is important to our understanding of the structure and function of
the monuments and in our appreciation of the landscape in which they were
built and used. Individually, the cropmarks represent important ceremonial and
ritual monuments and, when taken as a group, they demonstrate how such
ceremonials and rituals developed over an extended period of time through the
Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. It is also apparent that the complex
north west of Octagon Farm retains important information regarding the decline
in use of this major ceremonial site and its conversion into agricultural land
during the later Prehistoric period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bedford Bypass Archaeological Evaluation: The Norse Road Link, (1992)

Source: Historic England

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