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Prehistoric entrance grave and round cairn on western Samson Hill, Bryher

A Scheduled Monument in Bryher, Isles of Scilly

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Coordinates

Latitude: 49.9468 / 49°56'48"N

Longitude: -6.3534 / 6°21'12"W

OS Eastings: 87799.871086

OS Northings: 14266.236951

OS Grid: SV877142

Mapcode National: GBR BXPT.QMV

Mapcode Global: VGYBX.TLLN

Entry Name: Prehistoric entrance grave and round cairn on western Samson Hill, Bryher

Scheduled Date: 7 October 1976

Last Amended: 31 January 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013811

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15424

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: Bryher

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro

Details

The monument includes a prehistoric entrance grave and a nearby round cairn
situated on the western side of Samson Hill on Bryher in the Isles of Scilly.
The entrance grave is located 17m south west of the round cairn and abuts the
south west side of a small natural granite outcrop called Top Rock. It
survives with a `D-shaped' mound of heaped rubble and earth measuring up to
11m north west-south east, extending to 3.75m south west from the outcrop and
rising up to 1.7m high. A line of at least four spaced, edge-set, small slabs
form a kerb along the slope of the mound, c.1m within the mound's perimeter.
The chamber of the entrance grave is located at the centre of the mound
against the natural outcrop, which forms the chamber's north east wall. The
other sides of the chamber are formed by four large edge-set slabs, defining a
sub-rectangular internal area measuring 4m north west-south east by up to 1.5m
north east-south west. The north west end is pointed, formed by the
convergence of the south west wall with the outcrop; the entrance is at the
south east end, partly blocked by the lowest of the side slabs, considered to
be displaced in its present position. No covering slabs are present.

The round cairn is visible as a circular mound of heaped earth and rubble,
19.5m in diameter and up to 1.2m high, situated on a group of low bedrock
exposures which break through the surface soil along parts of the cairn's
perimeter. The centre of the mound contains an irregular hollow, c.4m in
diameter and 0.1m deep, resulting from an unrecorded antiquarian excavation.
On the northern edge of the hollow is an edge-set slab 1.3m long, east-west,
by 0.4m wide and 0.4m high, considered to be part of a former slab-built
funerary structure.

Beyond this monument, another closely-spaced pair of funerary cairns is
situated on the eastern summit of Samson Hill, 120m to the east, and a large
entrance grave is situated on the southern midslope of the hill, 120m to the
SSE, all in close proximity to prominent natural outcrops. Prehistoric field
systems and settlement sites are known beyond nearly all sides of Samson Hill,
mostly from the present coastal cliff and inter-tidal zone, but also from the
south west slope of the hill, extending to within 40m of this monument, and
from the low promontory of Heathy Hill to the west.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west
England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains
from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the
islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English
Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many
unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social
development of early communities.
Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the
islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its
exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change
against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of
archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands'
settlement.
The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually
expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post-
medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic
location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works
reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the
mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post-
medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard
for the nation's shipping in the western approaches.
The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has
long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of
documentation, including several recent surveys.

Entrance graves and round cairns are two examples within the diversity of
funerary monument types known from the later Neolithic and Bronze Ages
(c.2500-700 BC). They were constructed with roughly circular mounds of heaped
rubble and earth, up to 40m in diameter though usually considerably smaller,
often with a kerb of edge-set or coursed slabs. On the Isles of Scilly, the
mounds often incorporate natural outcrops in their fabric. Both entrance
graves and round cairns covered single or multiple burials but their manner of
burial differs.
In entrance graves, the mound contains a rectangular chamber built of edge-set
slabs, coursed rubble or both, and roofed by further slabs set across the
chamber, called capstones. The chamber was accessible by a gap in the mound's
kerb or outer edge and often extends back beyond the centre of the mound.
Excavations have revealed cremated human bone and funerary urns, usually
within the chambers but on occasion within the mound. Unburnt human bone has
also been recovered but is only rarely preserved. Some chambers have also
produced ritual deposits of domestic midden debris, including dark earth
typical of the surface soil found within settlements, animal bone and artefact
fragments.
In round cairns, by contrast, burials may be placed in small pits or, on
occasion, within a small box-like structure called a cist, set into the old
ground surface or dug into the body of the cairn. The burials may lack
associated grave goods or may be accompanied by funerary urns, beads, knives
or other artefacts.
Round cairns make up a high proportion of the 387 surviving cairns recorded on
the Isles of Scilly and are one of the chief forms of prehistoric funerary
monument nationally. Entrance graves are much rarer; their national
distribution is heavily weighted towards the Isles of Scilly which contain 79
of the 93 surviving examples recorded nationally, the remaining 14 being
located in western Cornwall. Both entrance graves and round cairns provide
important information on the diversity of beliefs, burial practices and social
organisation among prehistoric communities.

The entrance grave and round cairn in this monument on Samson Hill have
survived substantially intact, despite some limited disturbance at the round
cairn due to an unrecorded antiquarian excavation. The close physical
association between these differing forms of funerary monument is unusual and
demonstrates a mutual respect among their builders. The entrance grave also
provides a good example of the incorporation of natural outcrops as elements
in this class of monument. The wider organisation of prehistoric land use and
the subsequent profound changes in landscape context are illustrated by the
monument's relationship with the other funerary monuments on Samson Hill and
the largely lower-level prehistoric field systems and settlement sites nearby,
often in the present inter-tidal zone.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Other
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7394.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7394.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7396, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7394.03-.04, (1988)
Rees, S E, and Morley, B, AM7 scheduling documentation for CO 1006, 1975, cairn 'a'
Rees, S E, and Morley, B, AM7 scheduling documetation for CO 1006, 1975,
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8714
Source Date: 1980
Author:
Publisher:
Surveyor:

Source: Historic England

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