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Prehistoric cairn group, cists and prehistoric to Roman field system and settlement on Little Arthur, St Martin's

A Scheduled Monument in St. Martin's, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.9468 / 49°56'48"N

Longitude: -6.2653 / 6°15'55"W

OS Eastings: 94117.458225

OS Northings: 13907.643442

OS Grid: SV941139

Mapcode National: GBR BXXT.P02

Mapcode Global: VGYBZ.CL4L

Entry Name: Prehistoric cairn group, cists and prehistoric to Roman field system and settlement on Little Arthur, St Martin's

Scheduled Date: 7 October 1976

Last Amended: 21 January 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015672

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15487

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: St. Martin's

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a prehistoric cairn group with two nearby funerary
cists on Little Arthur, a small uninhabited island in the Eastern Isles of the
Isles of Scilly. The monument also includes a prehistoric to Romano-British
field system and settlement encompassing most of the island and the adjacent
inter-tidal bar to Middle Arthur.
The cairn group includes three cairns arranged as a north west-south east
line, spaced 4.5m apart along the spine of the small island. Each survives
with a mound of heaped earth and rubble, generally turf-covered, with remains
of kerbing and a central funerary structure. The largest cairn, central in the
row and on the island's summit, is 10.5m in diameter, rising 1.2m to a
flattened upper area measuring 5.5m north-south by 5m east-west. It has two
kerbs of mostly edge-set slabs 0.5m-0.7m high; the outer kerb follows an
eccentric course round the mound's slope, approaching the upper surface on the
south east but diverging from it to the north west; the inner kerb marks the
perimeter of the flattened top. The upper surface contains a funerary chamber,
visible as a hollow 3.5m long, WSW-ENE, by 1.1m wide, with traces of coursed
slab side-walls. A slender covering slab lies across the WSW end, with a
similar slab displaced on the mound's south western slope.
The north western cairn is 7.5m in diameter and 0.8m high; a kerb along the
mound's periphery contains at least ten slabs, mostly edge-set and 0.2m-0.3m
high, plus several large boulders on the north. On top of the mound, remains
of a funerary chamber include two large slabs meeting at right angles to
define the chamber's north west end and south west side.
The south eastern cairn is 6m in diameter, built out from the slope to a
maximum 0.8m high to the south east. A 4.5m diameter kerb of at least eight
slabs is centred north west of the mound's centre and interrupted on the WSW
where the mound's edge is overlain by a bank of the later field system. Within
the kerb, remains of a small funerary chamber include three edge-set slabs, to
0.5m high and 0.6m long, defining the south west, north west and north east of
an internal area 0.8m long, north east-south west, by at least 0.65m wide. A
fourth edge-set slab projects outwards from the south west of the chamber.
Situated approximately 20m east of the south eastern cairn is a small box-like
funerary structure called a cist, against a small natural outcrop on the
island's south east slope. The cist uses a natural recess defined on the south
and west by the outcrop's small bedrock bosses; the north side of the recess
is closed, creating the cist, by an edge-set slab 1.1m long, east-west. A
second funerary cist is located 90m to the WSW on the upper shore adjacent to
the island's south western tip, its details largely masked by modern shore
The island's land area is subdivided by a later prehistoric to Roman period
field system, truncated by the present coastal cliff on all sides. The field
system has a north west-south east central boundary across the spine of the
island. At two points, on the north west and south east slopes, side-banks
extend north east and the south west, meeting the central boundary at
staggered junctions, the south western banks joining slightly south east of
those to the north east. The central boundary is visible as a turf-covered
rubble bank, approximately 90m long, generally 1m wide and 0.4m high, with
occasional midline edge-set slabs 0.7m high. After over-riding the edge of the
south eastern cairn the boundary's course deviates westward to pass just
beyond the other two cairns. On the north west, the boundary aligns toward a
small outcrop at the tip of the island's low flat northern peninsula where
traces of the boundary reappear, though its course is masked over most of that
area by a dense spread of cobbles washed ashore. The side-banks on the
island's main hill are each visible as substantial steps called lynchets, 2m
wide and 1m-1.5m high, their form reflecting soil movement against and from
the original boundaries due to early cultivation on the slope. Some stone and
small outcrops occur along the lynchets, including that forming the cist on
the south east slope.
The broadly contemporary settlement includes two house platforms at the foot
of the side-banks on the north west slope. Each has an ovoid interior levelled
into the slope and lynchet but defined around the north west by a bank
approximately 0.75m wide and 5m high, faced by coursed-slab walling. The south
western house platform is in the angle of the central boundary with the bank
to the south west; its interior measures 3.9m north east-south west by 3.5m
north west-south east, its wall interrupted by an entrance 1m wide on the
north. Situated 4.5m south of this house platform is a distinctive edge-set
slab, 1.2m long and 0.5m high, with two deep hollows in its upper edge and a
small hole bored through its northern end, features suggesting its origin as a
prehistoric mortar stone. The other house platform is built against the north
eastern side-bank near the present coastal cliff; it measures 3m north west-
south east by 2.2m north east-south west internally, lacking positive evidence
for an entrance. Excavations have confirmed the remains of a third house
platform, associated with Iron Age pottery, in the island's south western
coastal cliff; further limited excavations have demonstrated the survival of
prehistoric occupation deposits with midden and artefactual debris beneath the
sand of the bar linking Little and Middle Arthur.
Beyond this scheduling, broadly contemporary cairn groups and settlement
remains survive on several other islands of the Eastern Isles, including
Middle Arthur and Great Arthur which, with Little Arthur, are now joined by
inter-tidal bars; further field boundaries and house platforms occur on Little
Ganilly nearby to the north. These survivals now separated by the sea were
linked by dry land in the landscape contemporary with their construction, when
the Eastern Isles formed areas of high ground in the dissected terrain of a
single broad peninsula.

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'
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.

A variety of prehistoric funerary monuments survives on Scilly, with a
combined date range extending from the later Neolithic to the Middle Bronze
Age (c.2500-1000 BC). Most are formed as funerary cairns constructed as
earth-and-rubble mounds, with flattened tops in the case of platform cairns
and entrance graves, often with a kerb of stones or edge-set slabs around the
mound, platform surface or both. In round and platform cairns, burials were
sometimes accompanied by pottery urns and placed on the old land surface, in
small pits or, on occasion, within a box-like structure of slabs called a cist
which may also be set into the old ground surface or dug into the body of the
cairn. Occasionally, cairns include larger stone-built funerary chambers,
built of edge-set slabs, coursed rubble walling or both, and roofed by large
covering slabs; the chamber may be closed or, in the case of entrance graves,
accessible via a gap in the mound's kerb or outer edge. Cists may also occur
as monuments in their own right, lacking evidence for any covering mound. Each
of these forms of funerary monument can occur singly, in small groups or in
larger cemeteries containing several types. They may also occur in close
proximity to prehistoric field systems and linear boundaries, displaying
relationships of considerable significance for our understanding of the
development of land use, funerary practice and settlement during the
prehistoric and later periods. The field systems so associated may be of
various forms, irregular or regular, enclosing large or small plots, and may
include contemporary settlements of hut circles or house platforms. Such
settlements similarly display a diversity of overall pattern and of detailed
features, providing valuable insights into the physical and social
organisation of the prehistoric landscape.

The prehistoric and later funerary and settlement elements on Little Arthur
survive well, including an unusually clear successive relationship between the
cairn group and the later field system. The diversity of forms present among
the cairns and cists, and the linear arrangement of the cairn group on the
island's spine give useful insights into the nature of prehistoric funerary
ritual and the important influence of topography on its physical expression.
The influence of the underlying landforms is also clearly apparent in the
layout of the field system, with its dominant boundary also adopting a course
along the spine of the island. The field system's survival is sufficiently
extensive to show its pattern of associated settlement and the deep
lynchetting of its side-banks will contain important traces of old land
surfaces, deposits and features. Although confined to an island by rising sea
levels, the funerary and settlement remains on Little Arthur complement those
on the nearby islands to preserve valuable evidence for the nature and
development of land use in the now largely submerged prehistoric and Roman
landscape in the east of the Scilly archipeligo. The unusual presence of
prehistoric occupation deposits beneath the inter-tidal bar linking Little and
Middle Arthur further enhances that evidence.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ratcliffe, J, The Archaeology of Scilly, (1989)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7214.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7214.03, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215.04, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7650, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7214.01 & .02, (1988)
Parkes,C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215.02, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map: SV 91 SW
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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