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Prehistoric barrow cemetery and cross dyke in Five Hill Field, 290m south west of Heath Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.0546 / 52°3'16"N

Longitude: 0.0155 / 0°0'55"E

OS Eastings: 538292.721375

OS Northings: 241498.340972

OS Grid: TL382414

Mapcode National: GBR K7R.4QS

Mapcode Global: VHHKT.7M29

Entry Name: Prehistoric barrow cemetery and cross dyke in Five Hill Field, 290m south west of Heath Farm

Scheduled Date: 11 February 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020396

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33374

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Melbourn

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Melbourn

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The monument includes Five Hill Field barrow cemetery and a cross dyke,
situated 290m south west of Heath Farm. It occupies a prominent position on a
steep hill overlooking the course of the prehistoric Icknield Way, which ran
across the chalk uplands of north Hertfordshire and south Cambridgeshire. The
cemetery forms part of an extensive pattern of burial mounds scattered along
this important prehistoric route. Some 1300m to the north east, for example,
lies Goffers Knoll tumulus, which is the subject of a separate scheduling.

Five Hill Field cemetery includes five Bronze Age round barrows, as well as an
Iron Age square barrow. Four of these barrows are no longer visible above
ground, as their mounds have been reduced by ploughing, yet buried remains of
all six barrows survive. Their surrounding ditches, from which earth was dug
in the construction of the mounds, have become infilled over the years.
However, they still remain visible as cropmarks (areas of enhanced growth
resulting from the higher moisture content of buried archaeological features),
which have been recorded by aerial photographs.

In 1847 RC Neville noted five barrow mounds as well as a prehistoric earthwork
bank, or cross dyke, which probably functioned as a boundary marker. The dyke
runs north east to south west, parallel with the Royston to Newmarket Road
(A505), and forms the north western edge of the barrow cemetery. It was
recorded by Neville in 1847 as standing up to 2.5m high and about 200m long
with a maximum width of 13m. A drawing published in Neville's report
(Sepulchra Exposita) suggests that its south western terminal had a rounded
shape, while the north eastern end was more pointed. The drawing also shows a
footpath from Heath Farm running across the earthwork within a central hollow.
The cross dyke is no longer visible above ground, yet its buried remains are
preserved, showing clearly as a dark coloured cropmark on aerial photographs.

Neville investigated parts of the three tallest barrows, including the barrow
immediately south east of the cross dyke. He noted that its mound stood 1.3m
high with a 20m diameter. It is now no longer visible above ground, yet its
encircling ditch shows clearly on aerial photographs and is thought to measure
about 5m wide. At the heart of the barrow, dug into the prehistoric ground
surface, Neville discovered a pit filled with burnt animal and human remains,
mixed together. Other finds included the base of a small vase, part of a red
deer antler, charcoal and a second century AD brass coin of the emperor Marcus
Aurelius, which appears to suggest some incursion into the barrow in the Roman

Immediately to the south is a further barrow which is neither visible above
ground nor documented by Neville. Its encircling ditch, however, can be seen
on aerial photographs and its dimensions are similar to the smaller barrows in
this cemetery; the mound being about 18m in diameter, surrounded by a 4m wide

To the south lies a further round barrow and a later Iron Age square barrow,
whose mounds had already been reduced significantly by the time of Neville's
visit and by now can no longer be seen above ground. In 1847 the mound of the
round barrow stood 0.8m high with a diameter of 18m, while the square barrow's
mound measured 1m high and 15m in width. Neville did not excavate these two
barrows but mentions that the farmer had recovered pottery fragments from the
ploughed mounds. Aerial photographs reveal that the 4m wide encircling ditch
of the round barrow merges on the south east side with the square ditch of the
Iron Age barrow. This square ditch measures approximately 30m north west to
south east and 20m north east to south west and is 4m wide.

Aerial photographs also reveal that a small ditch connects this pair with
another barrow to the south west. This was the tallest barrow in the cemetery
in 1847, when the mound stood 3m high with a diameter of 18m. It now survives
as a slight earthwork, 0.3m high, while its encircling ditch is visible as a
cropmark and is thought to measure 4m wide. Neville excavated part of the
mound and encountered three cinerary vases, a small pierced cup (possibly used
for incense), and charcoal throughout. In the more superficial layers were
found a bronze double buckle and two skeletons, thought to be secondary
burials of the Anglo-Saxon period.

Immediately to the south west is a further round barrow, whose mound measured
24m in diameter and 1.6m high in 1847. Its present height is 0.2m while its
buried encircling ditch is thought to measure 5m wide. Within this barrow
Neville found the horn of a fallow deer and a heap of snail shells, as well an
iron pike head and six skeletons, which are likely to be secondary burials,
similar in date to those found in its north eastern neighbour.

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

Round barrow cemeteries date to the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). They comprise
closely-spaced groups of up to 30 round barrows - rubble or earthen mounds
covering single or multiple burials. Most cemeteries developed over a
considerable period of time, often many centuries, and in some cases acted as
a focus for burials as late as the early medieval period. They exhibit
considerable diversity of burial rite, plan and form, frequently including
several different types of round barrow, occasionally associated with earlier
long barrows. Where large scale investigation has been undertaken around them,
contemporary or later "flat" burials between the barrow mounds have often been
revealed. Round barrow cemeteries occur across most of lowland Britain, with a
marked concentration in Wessex. In some cases, they are clustered around other
important contemporary monuments such as henges. Often occupying prominent
locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape, whilst
their diversity and their longevity as a monument type provide important
information on the variety of beliefs and social organisation amongst early
prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of their period
and a substantial proportion of surviving or partly-surviving examples are
considered worthy of protection.

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 to be of
national importance and worthy of protection.

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 a combination 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 reused
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.

Five Hill Field round barrow cemetery contains some of the few surviving
examples of a formerly extensive barrow cemetery now largely destroyed by
ploughing. The standing and buried deposits will contain a wealth of
archaeological evidence relating to the barrows' construction, the manner and
duration of their use, and the landscape in which they were set. As the
cemetery contained Bronze Age and Iron Age remains, these deposits will
provide information on the development of the site over a considerable
timespan, while the combination of barrows and the cross dyke provides an
unusual insight into its spatial organisation. The continued use of the cross
dyke as a field boundary and the reuse of the barrow mounds probably during
the Anglo-Saxon period highlights their importance as a local landmark
throughout the centuries.

Source: Historic England

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