Ancient Monuments

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Cross dyke and linear boundary on Melbury Hill and Compton Down

A Scheduled Monument in Melbury Abbas, Dorset

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Latitude: 50.9766 / 50°58'35"N

Longitude: -2.1748 / 2°10'29"W

OS Eastings: 387826.443933

OS Northings: 119707.216583

OS Grid: ST878197

Mapcode National: GBR 1XX.NZ7

Mapcode Global: FRA 66BJ.GLD

Entry Name: Cross dyke and linear boundary on Melbury Hill and Compton Down

Scheduled Date: 12 July 1961

Last Amended: 10 August 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016894

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31071

County: Dorset

Civil Parish: Melbury Abbas

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Melbury Abbas St Thomas

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury


The monument includes a cross dyke on Melbury Hill and a linear boundary which
intersects it and runs from Melbury Hill to Compton Down.
The cross dyke runs broadly north-south across a narrow ridge connecting
Melbury Hill, which rises steeply to the west, with Compton Down to the south
east, terminating at each end just above the steep slope of a coombe. It is
one of five similar monuments in the vicinity at the end of the escarpment,
all of which are the subject of separate schedulings. It has a bank up to 10m
wide and 2m high with a ditch on the uphill side 3.5m wide and up to 1m deep.
A gap of approximately 30m at the centre of the cross dyke, on the crest of
the ridge, may have been an original entrance, but this is an area which has
been disturbed. The cross dyke is cut near its northern end by the linear
The linear boundary rises straight up a very steep slope at its north western
end, runs over the lower levels of Melbury Hill, across a narrow ridge and on
to Compton Down, generally below the crest of the hill and above a steep
north-facing scarp, for a total length of 1.8km. It has a ditch between two
banks, `V'-shaped in profile with more enhanced banks on the steeper slopes at
its north eastern end. The ditch is up to 2.5m wide at the top and 0.8m at the
bottom and 0.2m deep. The lower northern bank is 3m wide and 0.8m high from
the bottom of the ditch with an outer height of up to 0.5m. The upper southern
bank is up to 7m wide and 1.8m high from the bottom of the ditch with an outer
height of 0.2m. The eastern end is disturbed and partially destroyed by old
quarrying but the ditch and banks continue beyond this curving back towards
the south, fading out before the road. About 400m to the south east there is a
90m stretch of bank and ditch of similar type, which may represent an
unfinished section of the same feature. The two sections of earthwork are
linked by a lynchet and a hedge bank on the same alignment. However, as this
section of ditch cannot be positively identified as part of the linear
boundary, it is not included in the scheduling. Other slight banks, visible
adjacent to it on Compton Down and near its northern end below Melbury Hill,
may be the remains of old field boundaries, but, as their date, nature and
relationship to the linear boundary are unclear, they are not included in the
scheduling. The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments described the
monument as a trackway, and a date in the Roman or post-Roman period has been
suggested. This cannot be verified without excavation but the earthwork is
characteristic of later prehistoric linear boundaries, of which there is a
particular concentration in Wessex. While it may have been used at a later
date for herding animals, its prime function was probably land demarcation.
All fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
these features is included.

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

Cross dykes are substantial linear earthworks typically between 0.2km and 1km
long and comprising one or more ditches arranged beside and parallel to one or
more banks. They generally occur in upland situations, running across ridges
and spurs. They are recognised as earthworks or as cropmarks on aerial
photographs, or as combinations of both. The evidence of excavation and
analogy with associated monuments demonstrates that their construction spans
the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been re-used
later. Current information favours the view that they were used as territorial
boundary markers, probably demarcating land allotment within communities,
although they may also have been used as trackways, cattle droveways or
defensive earthworks. Cross dykes are one of the few monument types which
illustrate how land was divided up in the prehistoric period. They are of
considerable importance for any analysis of settlement and land use in the
Bronze Age. Very few have survived to the present day and hence all well-
preserved examples are considered to be of national importance.

Linear boundaries are substantial earthwork features comprising single or
multiple ditches and banks which may extend over distances varying between
less than 1km to over 10km. They survive as earthworks or as linear features
visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs or as a combination of both. The
evidence of excavation and study of associated monuments demonstrate that
their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although
they may have been re-used later.
The scale of many linear boundaries has been taken to indicate that they were
constructed by large social groups and were used to mark important boundaries
in the landscape; their impressive scale displaying the corporate prestige of
their builders. They would have been powerful symbols, often with religious
associations, used to define and order the territorial holdings of those
groups who constructed them. Linear earthworks are of considerable importance
for the analysis of settlement and land use in the later prehistoric period.
The linear boundary and cross dyke on Melbury Hill and Compton Down are well
preserved examples of these classes of monument and will contain
archaeological remains providing information about later prehistoric land use
and society. The visible relationship between the cross dyke and linear
boundary is unusual and provides a significant association, and may represent
major reorganisation of land use or territories in the Iron Age.
The cross dyke is one of five in close proximity at the end of the escarpment
providing an unusual and significant association.

Source: Historic England

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