Books, Prehistory, Ancient Remains near Buxton: Barrows: Grin Low

Ancient Remains near Buxton: Barrows: Grin Low is in Ancient Remains near Buxton.

The suffix low (A.S. hlæw, a small hill, heap, or mound), I need hardly say, is very common in this part of the country, and should always be understood as indicating a barrow, whether any traces remain or not; in fact, it is still used as a common name for such burial places. In a great number of instances the mound has so far disappeared, that all memory of it has vanished and its name has been transferred to the site: this is the case with Grinlow [Map]. The name is now applied to a hill of irregular shape, about three-quarters of a mile south-west of Buxton, and with an altitude of about 1440 feet above the sea level. The barrow upon its summit, however, has by no means disappeared ; but its nature was not suspected from the circum- stance that it has served as the foundation of a conspicuous castellated structure known as 'Solomon's Temple.' This 'temple' was an ornamental structure, built one severe winter about sixty years ago to afford occupation to the unemployed of Buxton. Being constructed of unmortared rubble, it gradually succumbed to the wind and became a mere heap of stones, which served as a convenient quarry for materials for the stone fences of the neighbourhood. When, several years ago, all remains of the 'temple' had gone, the contour of the more solid barrow was rendered visible.

In. its present condition it is a circular mound of about sixty feet in diameter, with an irregular convex top. Messrs. Salt commenced digging on April 25th, 1894, and soon found, as occasionally had been discovered before in this district, that a natural elevation of the carboniferous limestone rock had been utilized. The artificial portion of the barrow consisted originally of stone only, but with the lapse of time the interstices had become filled up with earth by natural causes. Instead of being simply thrown together the larger stones exhibited here and there a definite arrangement, being placed on end and leaning towards the centre of the mound, a mode of construction by no means uncommon in the Peak Barrows. The accompanying section, taken from a drawing by Mr. W. H. Salt, will make the construction quite clear.

The excavation on this occasion extended from the centre westwards, and southwards half-way to the margin. The plan (also taken from Mr. W. H. Salt's notes) explains the arrangement of the interments in this area better than words.1 It must not, however, be supposed that the skeletons were as well preserved as they appear to be on this plan ; on the contrary, they were so much decayed that their positions were not easily made out. The plan is somewhat diagramatic, illustrating how the corpses lay, but not their fragmentary condition. The skeleton A was a trifle west of the centre, and, being the nearest to that point, may perhaps be regarded as the primary interment. It lay in a contracted attitude on its right side, with the head pointing to the east, upon a sloping shelf of rock which terminated eastwards in a step-like fall. With the exception of the lower extremities, which could not be traced, it was complete. The skull hung a trifle over the step, and was the only part protected, which was by means of a demi-cist formed of two stones, one on each side, and a third resting upon these. The lower jaw was broken, and one-half lay at the back of the skull, which was full of rats' bones, broken into very short lengths. These presumably belonged to the water-rat, arvicola amphibia, which remains are usually plentiful in these sepulchral cairns. Their broken condition was probably due to polecats or other carnivora, which preyed on these rodents, making the cavities of the mound their lairs.2

Note 1. Plate XVII., fig. 1.

Note 2. Plate XVII., fig 2.

The skull1 is typically brachy-cephalic, of a variety2 frequently found in Derbyshire and the adjacent parts of Staffordshire. Its well-filled and rugged appearance, the great thickness of the vertex, the bold superciliary ridges, and the large well-formed teeth, all indicate a powerfully built male ; while the moderate wear of the teeth, the low position of the mental foramen, and half-obliterated sutures indicate that he died in middle life.

Note 1. Plate XVIII., figs. 1, 2, 3.

Note 2. Skulls of this type have frequently been found in the barrows of this district, and have been described as acro-cephalic to distinguish them from those brachy-cephalic skulls which have flattened vaults — platy-cephalic. It is noteworthy that the skeletons belonging to these skulls have invariably been described as powerful and large, points with which this Grin-low skeleton fully agrees, the length of the femur being 19.25 inches, which, reckoned as 27.5 per cent, of the stature, gives 5 feet 10 inches, for the latter. The "linea aspera" is rough and pilaster-like, and the tibiæ are strongly platycnemic. The flattened occiputs of these skulls have been referred to " nursing on the cradle-board," but in the case of this (Grin-low skull the flattening is, undoubtedly, due to some extent to posthumous pressure. — J.W.

Another skeleton (B) was found a few feet south of the above, at a depth of about one foot. It also lay on its right side, but the head pointed to the south-west. As before, the skull was the only part protected, but very imperfectly so, merely by two upright stones, as indicated on the plan. With this interment were associated a few pieces of hand-made pottery, a cow's tooth, and some burnt bones, but whether animal or human is not certain. To judge from the fragments, the skull must have borne a close likeness to the one just described, belonging, like it, to a powerful and muscular individual, well-advanced in life, for the teeth are well worn, and the sutures nearly obliterated ; the tibiae, however, are so slender as to suggest that the individual was a woman.

A little westward (C) of these two' interments, were scattered decayed and broken human bones, intermixed with a vast number of rats' bones. Mr. Salt attributed their scattered condition to these animals ; but it is more likely that they belonged to' an early interment, disturbed when A or B was introduced. Several teeth of deer or sheep, and a few pieces of burnt bone (whether animal or human is uncertain), accompanied this interment. The fragments of skull were rather thick, and the teeth moderately worn.

A few feet south of interment B was another skeleton (D), which lay at the depth of about two feet, and showed no signs of having been disturbed. It was a shallow rock grave, which appeared to have been enlarged artificially for the purpose. Two of its sides (north-east and south-east) were of rock ; and to judge from several stones at the western end of the space (indicated in the plan), which were of too extensive a character for a mere protection for the head, the other two sides were of placed stone, the whole forming a rectangular recess, about two feet by three or more. The skeleton lay on its right side, with the head to the south-west. Near the hands (at a) was a small hand-made vessel1 of the usual character found in British interments, and of the form known as the "food-vase."2 It was in an extremely friable condition, and fell into many pieces upon removal. The paste was fine and well worked, and the ornamentation produced wholly by the impression of twisted thongs of two thicknesses. In shape and ornamentation it has points of resemblance to a food vessel found at Hitter Hill.3

Note 1. Plate XIX.

Note 2. So in the MS. sent to the Society of Antiquaries. As the fragments of this vessel were considered by Mr. C. H. Reade, F.S.A., to relate to a drinking-cup, the paper was altered accordingly. I paid great attention to these fragments, and am convinced that the vessel, although of unusual shape, partook more of the character of a food-vase than that of a drinking-cup. — J.W.

Note 3. Llewellynn Jewitt, "Grave Mounds and their Contents," 98. — J.W.

Almost in contact with this vessel was a calcined flint scraper1, 2⅓ inches long (b), excellently worked, and of elongated horseshoe shape. A flint flake and a horse's tooth were probably also associated with this interment. The skull was too decayed and broken to admit of reconstruction. It was thinner and more delicate than the preceding ones, and compared with that of interment A, its occiput was more convex (giving it a slight dolichocephalic character), the mastoid and angular processes and the superciliary ridges less developed, and the sutures more intricate. But it has the same dental prognathism, strong lower jaw, and bold chin.

Note 1. Plate XX., figs. 1, 2, 3. Flint, fig. 3 (not mentioned in the text), was also found in D interment.— W. T.

Immediately at the head of this grave, and on the same level, was a small four-side cist (E), about one foot long, constructed of four stones, and covered with a fifth. It contained the burnt remains of a very young person, probably a child, and the calcined fragment of a flint flake.1 Was this interment independent of the preceding one, or an appendage of it? It is well known that burnt human remains have been frequently found accompanying the unburnt interments of the British period. In tins district (Derby- shire and North-eastern Staffordshire) about sixty instances have been recorded, but it is questionable whether the association was not accidental in many of them. To judge from the more definite, it seems likely that it was the custom to place the burnt bones in the same cist or grave with the unburnt corpses, either simply scattered over its floor or as a heap close by the corpse. On the other hand, encisted cremated remains, which have no connection with unburnt interments, have been frequently found in this district, and are plentiful in localities where the latter are absent, as on Stanton and Hartle Moors, and on the moors towards Sheffield. These considerations tend to prove that this Grinlow cist had no connection with the neighbouring skeleton, representing, in fact, an independent interment.

Note 1. Plate XXI., fig. 1.

On December 29th, 1894, Mr. Salt and his sons resumed their diggings at this barrow, confining their work to the south-east margin. On this occasion they found, at a depth of ten inches (F), many fragments of hard, coarse, dark-red, wheel-formed pottery, which belonged to a vessel having a general resemblance to the ordinary Roman cinerary urn, but less graceful and more jar-like. It had slightly bulging sides, and was about seven and a half inches in diameter at the base, and five and a half inches at the mouth, and of uncertain height. The lip was only slightly recurved. There is no reason to doubt its Roman origin, but it may be doubted whether it contained an interment, for no traces of calcined bone were found amongst the fragments. While digging on this occasion a rude-trimmed flint flake of uncertain use, and another of still ruder character, were found in soil which had been thrown up from interment D.

On the following day, the workers continued their trench in a westerly direction, finding the natural surfaces at a depth of thirty inches. Soon they came to a raised shelf of rock (G), on which was a heap of burnt human bones 2½ inches in thickness — in quantity about four times that contained in the above-described cist. This deposit appeared to have been covered by a cinerary urn of the usual British ware, for the fragments lay on and about it. This vessel had obviously been crushed by a rough slab of stone, 22 inches long and three inches thick (c), which had been laid over the interment, but without supports. The fragments of the urn are too fragile and small to admit of re-construction, but they are sufficiently large to indicate that the vessel was a small cinerary urn of the usual British form, with a plain body and a highly decorated rim. The paste is fine. The decoration was produced by the impression of a twisted thong, and takes the form of a series of parallel slanting lines surmounted by two horizontal lines, and probably these were reproduced at the bottom of the rim.

On the same day, Messrs. Salt extended their trench east-wards, and found, about five feet from the edge of the barrow, an irregular cist, three feet by two feet, and 27 inches deep, and constructed of large stones (H on plan). The remarkable point about this cist was that instead of human remains it contained the lower jaw of a dog, in a very decayed condition (li), a few teeth of the dog (e), a broken ox tooth, a portion of an unburnt trimmed flint flake, and a whetstone of blue slate (f)1 The interment of animal remains in cists in pre-Roman British barrows has been observed before ; for instance, Mr. Carrington found the skeleton of a young hog in a small cist in a barrow at Swinscoe, in Staffordshire.2 But it is curious that in the present example objects so small should have been placed in so large a cist. It leads one to suspect that it originally contained human or more complete animal remains, and that they have slowly dissolved. The dog's mandible was in a very decayed condition, too much so for removal, so that only the teeth are now retained. This bone is one of the most compact and durable in a skeleton, and having reached the last stage of decomposition, the other bones may well have disappeared entirely.3

Note 1. Plate XXI., figs. 2 and 3.

Note 2. Bateman, "Ten Years' Diggings," 135.— J.W.

Note 3. Upon the same principle, the Roman vase near this cist may also have contained bones which have disappeared. These remains, being near the margin of the barrow, they have been more exposed to the action of the weather than those nearer the centre. — J.W.