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Square and circular barrows 260m south east of Parsonage Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Great Dunmow, Essex

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Latitude: 51.8817 / 51°52'53"N

Longitude: 0.3629 / 0°21'46"E

OS Eastings: 562728.388069

OS Northings: 222981.868822

OS Grid: TL627229

Mapcode National: GBR NG4.VZW

Mapcode Global: VHJJ7.7YPX

Entry Name: Square and circular barrows 260m south east of Parsonage Farm

Scheduled Date: 29 October 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017231

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32417

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Great Dunmow

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Great Dunmow St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes the buried remains of three square barrows and a single
circular barrow of Iron Age or Early Roman date located 260m south east of
Parsonage Farm on the northern outskirts of Great Dunmow, to the west of the
Church of St Mary the Virgin.

Although the square and circular barrows are no longer visible on the ground,
their infilled ditches and central burial pits can be seen from the air as
cropmarks. These cropmarks (areas of enhanced crop growth resulting from
higher levels of moisture retained by the underlying archaeological features)
were first identified on aerial photographs taken during the summer drought of

The three square barrows are defined by broad ditches, each enclosing areas
measuring some 9m-10m square, with slightly rounded corners. Internal burial
pits are visible within each of the three enclosed areas; in two of the
barrows these are placed centrally. The circular barrow is some 10m in
diameter; it too has a broad perimeter ditch and internal pits of primary and
secondary burials. Originally the barrows would have had internal mounds
created by the upcast from the excavation of the ditches; these, however have
long since been reduced by ploughing. All four barrows are aligned close
together on a NNW-SSE axis.

Although most square barrows are of Iron Age date, finds collected from the
field surface suggest that these examples may be of Roman origin. Artefacts
from the Roman period have been found in the field since the 1760s, when late
second century coins were collected. A more recent find of a glass ointment
jar dating to the second to third centuries AD is most likely to have been
derived from a disturbed grave fill. The construction of houses in the 1930s
some 150m to the south east revealed urned cremation burials dating from the
first to third centuries AD, suggesting that the barrows may have been part of
a wider cemetery.

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

Square barrows are funerary monuments of the Middle Iron Age, most examples
dating from the period between c.500 BC and c.50 BC. The majority of these
monuments are found in the area between the River Humber and the southern
slopes of the North Yorkshire Moors but a wider distribution has also been
identified, principally through aerial photography, spreading through the
river valleys of the Midlands and south Essex. Around 200 square barrow
cemeteries have been recorded; in addition, a further 250 sites consisting of
single barrows or small groups of barrows have been identified.
Square barrows, which may be square or rectangular, were constructed as
earthen mounds surrounded by a ditch and covering one or more bodies. Slight
banks around the outer edge of the ditch have been noted in some examples. The
main burial is normally central and carefully placed in a rectangular or oval
grave pit, although burials placed on the ground surface below the mound are
also known.
A number of different types of burial have been identified, accompanied by
grave goods which vary greatly in range and type. The most elaborate include
the dismantled parts of a two-wheeled vehicle placed in the grave with the
body of the deceased.
Ploughing and intensive land use since prehistoric times have eroded and
levelled most square barrows and very few remain as upstanding monuments,
although the ditches and the grave pits, with their contents, will survive
beneath the ground surface. The different forms of burial and the variations
in the type and range of artefacts placed in the graves provide important
information on the beliefs, social organisation and material culture of these
Iron Age communities and their development over time. All examples of square
barrows which survive as upstanding earthworks, and a significant proportion
of the remainder, are considered of national importance and worthy of

Although square barrows are most commonly of Iron Age date, the artefacts
collected from the field, including finds typically deposited as grave goods
and therefore likely to be from graves disturbed by ploughing, are mostly
first to second century AD in date: the Early Roman period. This is of
particular interest as it demonstrates the longevity of this form of burial
and shows that it was not confined to the Iron Age.

The square barrows 260m south east of Parsonage Farm no longer survive as
earthworks, but their buried remains, including the internal burials, are
expected to survive well. The internal burials will, whether they prove to be
cremations or inhumations, contain grave goods and skeletal material which
will confirm their date as well as providing information on burial custom and
ritual practice, and demographic information on the Roman population.
Environmental evidence preserved in the buried ground surfaces and in the
fills of the ditches may illustrate the nature of the landscape in which the
barrows were set.

The association of the three square barrows with the single round barrow is
rare and gives the site particular importance.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Crummy, P, City of Victory, (1997)
Lawson, A J, Martin, E A, Priddy, D, The Barrows of East Anglia, (1981), p89-105
Hull, M R, 'Victoria County History' in Roman Gazetteer, , Vol. Vol.3, (1963), p125
1:10000 NMP Plot, Strachan, D, TL62SW, (1994)
NMR, TL6223/1/93, 4, (1976)

Source: Historic England

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