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Latitude: 53.8318 / 53°49'54"N
Longitude: -1.0227 / 1°1'21"W
OS Eastings: 464420.042223
OS Northings: 437719.484265
OS Grid: SE644377
Mapcode National: GBR PS94.D5
Mapcode Global: WHFCQ.8Y8D
Entry Name: Danes Hills square barrow cemetery, 300m south of Adamson Farm
Scheduled Date: 2 December 1938
Last Amended: 2 December 1998
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1018603
English Heritage Legacy ID: 30179
County: North Yorkshire
Civil Parish: Skipwith
Traditional County: Yorkshire
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire
Church of England Parish: Skipwith St Helen
Church of England Diocese: York
The monument includes the buried and earthwork remains of an Iron Age cemetery
located on the north western side of Skipwith Common and extending into Mound
Plantation, which is part of the adjoining Riccall Common. The monument is
within three areas of protection.
The barrows on Skipwith Common are traditionally, but erroneously, believed to
be the burial mounds of members of the Norwegian army killed, at the battle of
Stamford Bridge in 1066. They have been the subject of several small scale
excavations in the past. The earliest was conducted by Dr John Burton in 1754,
who recorded the find of a near complete skeleton and part of a second in a
large barrow in the south eastern part of the cemetery, one of three destroyed
in 1941 during the construction of the airfield. The more complete skeleton
was identified as that of a decapitated young man laid out with his skull
between his knees facing east. A fragment of textile described as course
sacking cloth was found adhering to a thigh bone. In 1849 William Proctor and
the Yorkshire Antiquaries Club opened at least ten barrows. These were
described as being circular mounds between 0.6m-1.2m high and 6m-12m in
diameter, each surrounded by a square ditch around 0.4m deep and 1m wide
aligned by the cardinal compass points, that is east-west and north-south. At
a depth of around 1m in all of the barrows investigated was a layer of `black
sand' 15cm-30cm thick sometimes containing pieces of burnt bone and occasional
iron, flint and other fragments. One of the barrows opened was identified as
that investigated by Dr Burton. This was described as being 15m in diameter
and 1.2m-1.5m high and was described as containing a number of human bones. In
1941, Miss K Hodgeson conducted an unpublished rescue excavation on four
barrows due to be destroyed by the construction of the wartime airfield. They
were found to be mounds surrounded by ditches square in plan with rounded
corners and `V' cut profiles. No central burial pits were identified under the
mounds, but ash, charcoal and bones were identified in the excavated layers.
The ditches were infilled with alternating thin layers of clean yellow sand
and thicker layers of dark mud containing 3rd to 4th century Roman pottery.
This ditch infill is now considered to be evidence of Romano-British farming
activity in the area and to postdate the construction of the barrow cemetery.
In 1994 the area was surveyed by MAP Archaeological Consultants. In spring
1998 Mike Griffiths excavated one square barrow in an open area excavation in
the arable field just to the north east of Danes Hills. Although plough
damaged, this was shown to have been a mound covering a layer containing large
quantities of charcoal, described as `black sand' in 1849, and cremated bone
fragments surrounded by a square ditch similar to those described by Hodgeson.
The square barrow cemetery survives as three areas of low earthwork mounds.
The main area lies to the north west of the parimeter track on the western
side of the runway and is labeled Danes Hills on Ordnance Survey maps. Two
smaller areas, each containing at least two mounds, lie to the east of the
main area, north east and east of the north eastern end of the runway. The
barrows survive as earthwork mounds typically 0.2m-0.6m high ranging between
5m in diameter up to 20m in diameter. The ditches around most of the mounds
have been largely infilled over the centuries. Depressions marking at least
one side ditch can be identified for the majority of the mounds, and in most
cases at least two sides can be seen. These ditches, except with one barrow
which is orientated at an angle to all of the rest, run north-south and east-
west, describing squares around the individual mounds. Early Ordnance Survey
maps mark ten barrows within the main area which were not later destroyed by
the construction of the World War II airfield. William Proctor's mid-19th
century plan marks an additional five barrows and the survey conducted in 1994
identified a minimum of 20 square barrows in the main area.
The water tank sited on top of a barrow on the north eastern side of the main
area, and the fence line marking the boundary between Mound Plantation and the
Common 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.
Source: Historic England
Square barrows are funerary monuments of the Middle Iron Age, mostly dating
from the period between c.500 BC and c.50 BC. The majority of these monuments
are found 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 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. Despite the term `square', barrows can vary
in shape. The majority are truly square, although many have rounded corners
and some are more rectangular in plan. A few, however, occurring both in
square barrow cemeteries and individually, are actually round in plan, but
distinguishable from earlier Bronze Age round barrows by their smaller size.
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 burials 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. Some Iron Age barrows have been associated with an
unusual burial ritual of `spearing the corpse'.
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
The square barrow cemetery on Skipwith Common is of importance for a number of
reasons. Firstly it is nationally one of the very few square barrow cemeteries
with upstanding earthwork remains. It is also a rare example representing an
evolving or transitional funerary tradition mixing the traditions of the Arras
Culture to the east (an Iron Age grouping of people in eastern Yorkshire who
buried their dead in graves under square ditched barrows orientated with the
cardinal compass points) with that of Iron Age people elsewhere (where
cremation rather than inhumation was the dominant tradition). The monument's
importance is also enhanced by the earthwork survival of four Bronze Age round
barrows to the east. Excavations of similar sites in the 1970s and 1980s have
shown that square barrow cemeteries were typically densely utilised, sometimes
with barrows sharing boundary ditches with their neighbours, and with
additional flat graves (a grave without a covering mound or surrounding ditch)
placed in spaces between barrows. The 18th and 19th century investigations
were small in scale, limited to individual narrow trenches concentrated on the
centre of the mounds, and extensive archaeological remains will still survive.
Flat graves and secondary burials, typically placed in the ditches, also
Source: Historic England
Typescript report, MAP Archaeological Consultancy, Skipwith Common Presentation Survey, (1995)
Source: Historic England
Other nearby scheduled monuments