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Bartlow Hills Roman barrow cemetery

A Scheduled Monument in Bartlow, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.0797 / 52°4'46"N

Longitude: 0.3134 / 0°18'48"E

OS Eastings: 558626.634432

OS Northings: 244894.262678

OS Grid: TL586448

Mapcode National: GBR NCR.N26

Mapcode Global: VHHKS.DZ1L

Entry Name: Bartlow Hills Roman barrow cemetery

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 6 October 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018974

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33355

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Bartlow

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Ashdon

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes a group of six Roman barrows,known as Bartlow Hills, in
two areas of protection. They are situated on a north facing slope, 150m south
of the River Granta, at Bartlow. Four barrows remain preserved as steep
conical mounds, while two have been largely levelled but survive as low
mounds. Despite archeological investigations in the area, no evidence of
ditches surrounding the mounds has been found.
The barrows form two parallel rows running roughly north to south. In the
western row two mounds survive as slight earthworks after being partly
levelled by agricultural activity. The northernmost mound measures
approximately 24m in diameter and is 1m high. Investigation in 1832 revealed a
decayed wooden chest with fittings holding a deposit of human bones and
numerous grave goods, such as glass vessels, Samian pottery stamped with
the potters' marks, a bronze lock and an iron lamp. The mound immediately
south of it measures 23m in diameter with a height of 1m. In the centre a
tile-built chamber protecting a glass cinerary urn was found, accompanied by a
gold ring, a coin of Hadrian, a wooden tankard and a wicker work bottle filled
with incense.
The eastern row consists of four conical mounds with flat platform tops.
The northernmost mound, which is in a separate area of protection, has a
diameter of 30m and is approximately 6.4m high. Explorations in 1815 recovered
an iron lamp-holder, a bronze patera (shallow bowl used in banquets), and a
small sickle shaped knife. Immediately south of it lies a second mound with a
diameter of approximately 32m and a height of 7.1m. In 1840 a tunnel was dug
to the centre revealing a wooden chest protecting a green glass cinerary
bottle and grave goods, including a Bronze cup and flagon, Samian pottery, and
an iron lamp holding a half burned wick. In between the artifacts were the
petals of roses or poppies. Its neighbour to the south is the largest mound in
the group, measuring 46m in diameter and 12.3m high. It contained a glass
cinerary bottle in a wooden chest, holding the cremated remains of a small
adult, possibly a female. Grave goods included an iron folding chair with a
seat of leather straps, glass containers filled with liquids such as wine
mixed with honey, and bronze strigils (skin-scrapers), flagons and a gilt bowl
enamelled in blue, green and red. The southernmost mound measures 40m
east-west and 34m north-south and is 5.2m high. Its contents included a glass
cinerary bottle in a wooden chest, a bronze flagon on top of a patera, both
decorated with silver and covered with cloth, a sponge, an iron lamp holder
decorated with a wreath, and glass and pottery vessels, one of which contained
chicken bones.
The Bartlow Hills Roman barrow cemetery dates from the late first to the
early second century AD and is part of a larger funerary complex. Between the
two rows of barrows a flint surface dated by a coin of Valens (AD 364-78) may
have served as the foundation of a monumental tomb or mausoleum. During the
construction of the railway through the barrow group in 1864, 15 skeletons
were uncovered, while in 1853 a former cemetery of Roman or Anglo-Saxon date
was found 100m north east of Bartlow Hills. The site was of considerable
economic importance, as stray finds of large quantities of rough bronze lumps,
coin moulds, and hoards as large as 350 coins, indicate. Approximately 100m
east of Bartlow Hills, Richard Neville discovered the remains of a Roman villa
inhabited until roughly AD 350, of which no trace remains today.
All fence posts, as well as the steps providing access to the highest mound,
are excluded from scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Earthen barrows are the most visually spectacular survivals of a wide variety
of funerary monuments in Britain dating to the Roman period. Constructed as
steep-sided conical mounds, usually of considerable size and occasionally with
an encircling bank or ditch, they covered one or more burials, generally
believed to be those of high-ranking individuals. The burials were mainly
cremations, although inhumations have been recorded, and were often deposited
with accompanying grave goods in chambers or cists constructed of wood, tile
or stone sealed beneath the barrow mound. Occasionally the mound appears to
have been built directly over a funeral pyre. The barrows usually occur
singly, although they can be grouped into "cemeteries" of up to ten examples.
They are sited in a variety of locations but often occur near Roman roads. A
small number of barrows were of particularly elaborate construction, with
masonry revetment walls or radial internal walls. Roman barrows are rare
nationally, with less than 150 recorded examples, and are generally restricted
to lowland England with the majority in East Anglia. The earliest examples
date to the first decades of the Roman occupation and occur mainly within this
East Anglian concentration. It has been suggested that they are the graves of
native British aristocrats who chose to perpetuate aspects of Iron Age burial
practice. The majority of the barrows were constructed in the early second
century AD but by the end of that century the fashion for barrow building
appears to have ended. Occasionally the barrows were re-used when secondary
Anglo-Saxon burials were dug into the mound. Many barrows were subjected to
cursory investigation by antiquarians in the 19th century and, as little
investigation to modern standards has taken place, they remain generally
poorly understood. As a rare monument type which exhibits a wide diversity of
burial tradition all Roman barrows, unless significantly damaged, are
identified as nationally important.

Bartlow Hills Roman barrow cemetery includes some of the best preserved
Roman barrows in Britain and on the continent. As part of a concentration of
Roman barrows in East Anglia, they provide a unique insight into the social
and economic development of south east England in the early days of the Roman
occupation. Their association with contemporary features, such as a Roman
villa and possibly a metal working area, reveals the multi-dimensional use of
the Bartlow Hills site for domestic, funerary and industrial purposes and
highlights its exceptional importance. As a result of investigation at the
beginning of the 19th century, the remains are quite well understood, while
significant archaeological deposits have been left intact.

Source: Historic England

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