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Prehistoric chambered cairns and boundaries on Middle Arthur, St Martin's

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

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Latitude: 49.946 / 49°56'45"N

Longitude: -6.267 / 6°16'1"W

OS Eastings: 93991.83534

OS Northings: 13819.397427

OS Grid: SV939138

Mapcode National: GBR BXXT.N71

Mapcode Global: VGYBZ.BM88

Entry Name: Prehistoric chambered cairns and boundaries on Middle Arthur, St Martin's

Scheduled Date: 7 October 1976

Last Amended: 21 January 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015673

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15488

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 two prehistoric chambered cairns and two adjacent linear
boundaries on Middle Arthur, a small uninhabited island in the Eastern Isles
of the Isles of Scilly.
The prehistoric chambered cairns are spaced appproximately 25m apart on a
north-south axis, situated on successive small steps along the spine of the
island as it descends from a massive outcrop dominating the island's southern
The southern cairn has a small ovoid mound, 4m long north-south by 3.4m
east-west and defined by a kerb of contiguous, mostly edge-set slabs up to
0.45m high; turf-covered traces of a peripheral slope extend approximately
0.75m beyond the kerb. Within the kerb a flattened surface surrounds a large
funerary chamber which occupies most of the cairn's interior. The chamber is
sunk into the surface and is boat-shaped, 2.1m long, north-south, by up to
1.2m wide internally. Its bulging sides are walled by end-set slabs, to 0.75m
high, and it is closed on the south by a large edge-set slab, 1m high, across
the chamber's long axis. The chamber's pointed northern end is walled by a mix
of edge-set and coursed slabs and is covered by a large slab, 1.6m long by
1.1m wide, laid flat across the side walls. Excavations in 1953 revealed parts
of a Bronze Age urn in the south east of the chamber accompanied by burnt bone
and flint.
The northern cairn, on slightly lower ground, has an oval mound 6.7m north
west-south east by 6.5m north east-south west, built across a slope crest and
averaging 0.9m high. Three edge-set slabs of a low peripheral kerb are
visible, two adjacent on the north east and one on the south east. The
funerary chamber includes four covering slabs laid side-to-side and up to 1.9m
long, north east-south west, embedded in the mound's upper surface. They are
slightly dislodged from their original positions, exposing beneath them the
chamber's silted interior and side walls; the south west side wall is most
clearly visible, including edge-set slabs with some coursed slabs at its south
east end. The interior hollow is 0.5m deep and, together with the visible
side-walling, indicates a rectangular chamber approximately 4m long, north
west-south east, by 1.3m wide internally.
The prehistoric boundaries run along the west of a natural terrace containing
the southern chambered cairn. The western boundary extends over at least 18m
along the terrace's western crest with the steep scarp beyond; it links the
basal slabs of the island's main outcrop on the south with a small rocky knoll
5.5m north west of the chambered cairn on the north. It survives as a wall of
contiguous and closely spaced edge-set slabs, generally 0.5m high, with some
smaller rubble visible in the turf along their bases. Over a 5m length near
this boundary's midpoint, its course is mirrored from 1m to the east by a
second boundary, a line of lower edge-set slabs, spaced 1m apart, whose course
diverges slightly from the main boundary wall at the south.
Beyond this scheduling, prehistoric cairn groups and settlement remains
survive on several other islands of the Eastern Isles, including Little Arthur
and Great Arthur which are now joined to Middle Arthur by inter-tidal bars;
further settlement remains 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. Clear
evidence of the subsequent submergence is provided by a buried soil containing
prehistoric occupation remains along the inter-tidal bar linking Middle Arthur
with Little Arthur.

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. Occasionally, cairns include large
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. 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 chambered cairns and their adjacent prehistoric boundaries on Middle
Arthur survive well, displaying clearly their methods of construction. The
excavation at the southern cairn was limited to the chamber and was
well-recorded, proving informative on the nature and date of funerary
practices involved. The chamber in the southern cairn is also of unusual form
and plan. The marked differences between these two nearby cairns and their
siting along the island's spine give useful insights into the nature and
diversity of prehistoric funerary ritual and the important influence of
topography on its expression. The accommodation of funerary and ritual land
use within prehistoric land allotment is shown by the linear boundaries, these
again demonstrating the influence of the underlying landforms on the
organisation of prehistoric land use. Although confined to an island by rising
sea levels, the funerary and land division remains on Middle 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 landscape in
the east of the Scilly archipeligo. The unusual presence of prehistoric
occupation deposits beneath the inter-tidal bar linking Middle and Little
Arthur further enhances that evidence.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7224.01, (1988)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7224.02, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map: SV 91 SW
Source Date: 1980

Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 91 SW
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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