Grave Mounds and their Contents Chapter II General Characteristics: Positions of the Body

Grave Mounds and their Contents Chapter II General Characteristics: Positions of the Body is in Grave Mounds and their Contents Chapter II General Characteristics.

Along with it were found a bronze dagger, a barbed arrow-head of flint, a beautiful drinking cup and other objects. This example is from Roundway Hill, in North Wiltshire.1 Another excellent example, from Hitter Hill [Map], Derbyshire, is given in the next engraving (fig. 9), which shows successive interments, each being on the left side, in the usual contracted position.

Of this barrow, the opening of which presented peculiarly interesting features, a tolerably detailed account will be advisable. It was opened by myself and Mr. Lucas in 1862. The mound, which was about twenty-two feet in diameter, was composed of rough stone and earth intermixed. It was only about three feet in height, its centre being somewhat sunk. The first opening was made at the part marked A on the accompanying ground-plan (fig. 10), where, from the outside, we cut a trench, four feet in width, in a north-easterly direction, towards the centre of the barrow, and soon came upon an interment of burnt and unburnt human bones. Along with these were an immense quantity of rats' bones2 and snail-shells. After proceeding to a distance of seven feet, we came upon the side, or what may almost be called the entrance, of a cist formed partly of the natural rock, and partly of stones set up edgewise. The dimensions of this cist were about forty inches by twenty-six inches, and it was two feet in depth, the floor being three feet six inches below the surface. The cist was formed between two portions of natural rock, and protected at its entrance by a large flat stone set up edgwise, and other stones filled up the interstices at the sides. It was also covered with a large flat stone. On clearing away the surrounding earth, after removing the covering stone, we were rewarded by finding that the cist contained the fragmentary remains of a young person, which had lain on its right side, in the usual position, with the knees drawn up.

Note 1. See Crania Britannica, one of the most valuable ethnological works ever issued.

Note 2. It will be well to bear in mind that when "rats' bones" are mentioned, it must be understood that they are the bones, not of the common rat, but of the water-vole or water-rat. They are very abundant in Derbyshire barrows, and, indeed, are so frequently found in them, that their presence in a mound is considered to be a certain indication of the presence of human remains. "The barrows of Derbyshire, a hilly, almost mountainous, county, abounding with beautiful brooks and rills, inhabited by the water-vole, were made use of for its hybernacula, or winter retreats, into which it stored its provisions, and where it passed its time during the cold and frosty season. It is a rodent, or gnawer, or vegetable eater, and, as I have described elsewhere, has a set of grinding-teeth of the utmost beauty, and fitted most admirably for the food on which it lives. The part of the matter which is curious to the antiquary is, that the bones in Derbyshire barrows are frequently perceived to have been gnawed by the scalpri-form incisors of these animals. I have endeavoured to explain, in the note referred to, that all the rodents amuse themselves, or possibly preserve their teeth in a naturally useful state, and themselves in health, by gnawing any object that comes in their way. This is well known to every boy who keeps rabbits. I remember, some years ago, seeing a very fine black squirrel in the house of a workman in this town, which had been sent him by his son from Canada. It was found that it was impossible to keep this animal in any wooden house. He would gnaw a road out of the strongest wooden cage that could be made for him, in a few hours. In consequence, his owner made him a tin cage, in which he was kept securely. In confirmation of what I have said respecting the water-voles, vegetable feeders, gnawing the bones of the ancient Britons in barrows, I may refer to Linnasus's most interesting Tour in Lapland. When in Lycksele, Lapland, June i, he describes the Kodda, or hut of the Laplander, and incidentally remarks, " Everywhere around the huts I observed horns of the reindeer lying neglected, and it is remarkable that they were gnawed, and sometimes half devoured, by squirrels." I. 127. That is, if anything were truly devoured, it was the antlers, not the bodies. " The bones of the Arvicola, or water-vole, were found in the exploration of the colossal tumulus of Fontenay de Marmion, which was one of the galleried tumuli, opened in 1829, near Caen in Normandy. It belonged to the primeval period of the ancient Gauls. Mem. de la Soc. des Antiq. de Normandie, 1831-3, p. 282." Dr. Davis.

The accompanying engraving (fig. 11) will show the opened cist, with the stone across its entrance, and the interment in situ. In front of the skeleton, and close to its hands, was a remarkably good and perfect food vessel, which was richly ornamented with the diagonal and herring-bone lines, formed by twisted thongs impressed into the soft clay.

The next morning we dug a trench four feet wide, on the west side towards the centre, as shown at B on the plan (fig. 10), and the day's labours had an equally satisfactory result. At about the same distance as on the previous day we came to the side of a cist, immediately in front of which, at F on the plan, lay a heap of burnt bones, and a few flakes of burnt flint. Having cleared away the surrounding stones and earth, and removed the large flat covering stones, which showed above the surface of the mound, we found the cist to be composed on one side by the natural rock, and on the other by flat stones set up on edge. Its dimensions were about one foot ten inches by four feet, and it contained a large quantity of rats' bones and snails' shells. In this cist was an interment of an adult, much crushed by one of the large covering stones having fallen upon it. Thanks to this circumstance, however, a food vessel, which we discovered, owed its preservation. The body lay in the usual contracted position, on its right side, as shown on the ground-plan at B, and in front and close to the hands was the food vessel, which, like the other, was taken out entire. It is five and a quarter inches in height, and six and a quarter inches in diameter at the top, and is richly ornamented.

Continuing the excavations to the south, we found that another cist c adjoined the one just described, and was, like it, formed of flat stones set up edgewise ; in fact, it was like one long cist divided across the middle. In this second cist, besides the usual accompaniment of rats' bones, was the remains of an interment, sufficiently in situ to show that the skeleton had, like the others, been deposited in a contracted position. A small fragment of pottery was also found, but owing to the cist being so near the surface the stones had been partially crushed in, and thus both the deposit and the urn had become destroyed. A portion of a stone hammer was also found.

The two cists are here shown (fig. 12), which also shows the central interment at a higher level, to be hereafter described.

On the following Monday we resumed our operations by making an opening on the north-west side, as shown at D on the plan. Here, again, at a few feet from the outer edge, we came upon an interment H, without a cist, accompanied by an unusual quantity of rats' bones. Continuing the excavation, we were again rewarded by the discovery of a fine cist, but at a greater depth than those before described. Above this cist we found some large bones of the ox, and on the covering stone was a deposit of burnt bones and ashes, with innumerable quantities of rats' bones.

The cist, which was covered with one extremely large flat stone, we found to be formed partly of the natural rock, and partly like the others of flat stones set up edgewise ; and it was, without exception, the most compact and neatly formed of any which have come under our observation. Its form will be seen on the plan at D, and its appearance, when the interior soil was removed, is shown on fig. 9. The dimensions of the cist were as follows: Width at the foot, twenty-four inches ; extreme length, forty inches; general depth, twenty inches. The floor was composed of the natural surface of the rock, with some small flat stones laid to make it level, and at the narrow end a raised edge of stone, rudely hollowed in the centre, formed a pillow on which the head rested. The sides of the cist were square on the one side to the length of twenty-eight, and on the other of twenty-one, inches, and it then gradually became narrower until at the head its width was only ten inches. When the cist was cleared of its accumulation of soil and rats' bones of which scores of jaw-bones were present, thus showing the large number of these ravaging animals which had taken up their abode there it presented one of the most beautiful and interesting examples of primeval architecture ever exhumed. It contained the skeleton of an adult, laid on his left side, in the usual contracted position, but without any pottery or flint. The skull, of which an outline engraving is given on fig. 13, is a most interesting and characteristic example of the cranium of an ancient Coritanian Briton. It is brachy-cephalic, and is the subject of deformity from nursing on the cradle-board in infancy.1 It is the skull of a middle-aged man, and is remarkably well formed. The bones, with the exception of some of the small ones, were all remaining, and formed a skeleton of considerable ethnological interest. The small bones were gnawed away by the rats, and it is curious to see to what distances, in some interments, these active little animals have dragged even large bones from their original resting-places. It may not be without interest to note, that within the skull of this skeleton the bones of a rat, head and all, were found imbedded in the soil, along with some small stones, which he doubtless had dragged in with him on his last excursion. We continued our excavations in a north-easterly direction, as shown at G on the plan, and found another interment, but without a cist or any other notable remains ; and next day we commenced opening that portion of the centre of the barrow between the cists already described, and soon came upon an interment of an adult person, as shown on the plan at E. The bones were very much disturbed, but sufficient remained to show that the deceased had been placed on his left side, in the same contracted position as the others in this mound. The body was not more than twelve inches below the surface, and was much disturbed, but it is more than probable the top of the barrow had at some distant time been taken off, most likely for the sake of the stone. The position of this interment will be seen on reference to the plan, and it is also shown on figs. 9, 11, and 12.

Note 1. See Note on the Distortions which present themselves in the crania of the Ancient Britons, by J. Barnard Davis, M.D., in the "Natural History Review" for July, 1862, page 290.

Llewellynn Jewitt 1870. Contents.

Chapter I. Grave-Mounds In General - Their Historical Importance - General Situation - Known As Barrows, Houes, Tumps, And Lows - List Of Names Division Into Periods

Chapter II. Ancient British Or Celtic Period - General Characteristics Of The Barrows - Modes Of Construction - Interments By Inhumation And By Cremation Positions Of The Body - Hitter Hill Barrow - Elliptical Barrow At Swinscoe Burial In Contracted Position In Sitting And Kneeling Positions Double Interments

Chapter III. Ancient British Or Celtic Period Interment By Cremation - Discovery Of Lead Burial In Urns - Positions Of Urns - Heaps Of Burnt Bones Burnt Bones Enclosed In Cloth And Skins - Stone Cists - Long-Low - Liff's-Low, Etc. - Pit Interments Tree-Coffins

Chapter IV. Ancient British Or Celtic Period Sepulchral Chambers Of Stone - Cromlechs - Chambered Tumuli - New Grange And Dowth - The Channel Islands - Wieland Smith's Cave, And Others - Stone Circles - For What Purpose Formed - Formation Of Grave-Mounds Varieties Of Stone Circles - Examples Of Different Kinds - Arbor-Low, Etc.