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Moulton Hills Roman barrows

A Scheduled Monument in Bourn, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.196 / 52°11'45"N

Longitude: -0.0614 / 0°3'41"W

OS Eastings: 532595.528174

OS Northings: 257079.558437

OS Grid: TL325570

Mapcode National: GBR K5X.99B

Mapcode Global: VHGMQ.W2DC

Entry Name: Moulton Hills Roman barrows

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1925

Last Amended: 6 October 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019837

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33350

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Bourn

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Bourn St Helena and St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The monument includes a group of three Roman barrows, known as Moulton Hills
or Arms Hills, located on the crest of a hill overlooking Bourn village, 300m
north of the bridge over Bourn Brook and within two areas of protection. The
mounds are preserved as substantial earthworks encircled by large ditches,
from which earth was dug and used in the construction of the mounds.

The mound of the northernmost barrow measures approximately 23m in diameter
and is 3m high. Its ditch is 6m wide, as 1909 excavation results indicate, but
is currently visible as a depression of approximately 0.3m deep with a width
of 4m on the southern and eastern sides; on the north and the west it has been
cut by the present Crow End Track and Broad Way. Partial excavation undertaken
in 1909 revealed two superimposed mounds, of Roman and medieval date
consecutively. The inner mound contained what is thought to be a late second
century AD cremation burial, accompanied by a host of grave goods, including
pottery, a bone pin and a loom weight. Early medieval hearths were found on
the top and southern lip of the internal mound. The overlying mound is a post-
Norman Conquest construction containing Roman and medieval debris, including
coins of Edward II (1307-27) and Edward III (1327-77).

The barrow 10m south of the first has a mound covering a circular area of 27m
in diameter and is 4m high. Its ditch has a width of 7.5m, according to 1909
excavation results, and today is visible as a depression of 0.5m deep with a
width of up to 4.5m, of which the western edge has been truncated by Broad
Way. In the centre of the mound, on ground level, a cremation interment was
found, accompanied by a mid second century piece of Samian ware, a coin of
Marcus Aurelius (AD 140-80), and other grave goods such as an iron knife and
bronze pins and buckles. The mound contained medieval pottery and basalt lava
millstones. An early medieval hearth was found in the northern lip of the

The third barrow lies on the west of Broad Way on the Caxton Road junction.
Its mound is 20m in diameter and 1.5m high. Its ditch survives as a slight
depression with a maximum width of 3m, except on the south side, where it
has been cut by the two adjoining roads. Originally it was 5m wide, as 1909
excavation results indicate.

Moulton Hills Roman barrows are situated in an area of great archaeological
interest. The Roman Ermine Street runs 1.9km west of the barrows and Roman
pottery and coins in the immediate vicinity attest to further activity during
this period. During the Middle Ages the surrounding fields were ploughed. The
function of the barrows during the medieval period, when the mounds were
enlarged, remains obscure, although their strategic position overlooking the
village suggests that they may have been used as look outs.

The trackway and 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.

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.

Moulton Hills, which survive as substantial earthworks, are exceptionally
well-preserved. 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 Roman occupation. The occurrence of
two superimposed mounds of Roman and medieval date consecutively is
particularly rare. The enlargement and reuse of the mounds during the Middle
Ages highlights their continued importance as a local landmark throughout the
centuries. As a result of partial excavation at the beginning of the 20th
century, the remains are quite well understood, while significant
archaeological deposits of over 1800 years of human activity survive intact.

Source: Historic England

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