Books, Prehistory, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries V15 1895

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries V15 1895 is in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries.

John Ward, Esq., F.S.A., communicated the following account of some barrows recently opened in the vicinity of Buxton, Derbyshire:

"During the past year, four barrows in the vicinity of this well-known Derbyshire town were opened, with results of great interest. The two nearest to Buxton, at Grinlow and Thirkel-low Frith, were investigated by Mr. Micah Salt of that place and his son, both of whom have rendered great service to local archaeology in their excavations in Deepdale Cave. The other two barrows, Roylow and Brundlow, are in Staffordshire, and were opened by Mr. J. P. Sheldon, of Sheen, in that county, formerly professor of agriculture in the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. These gentlemen have given me the honour of editing their notes. I may add that I have personally inspected Grinlow.

The suffix low (A.S. hlew, a small hill, heap, or mound), 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. 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 1,440 feet above the sea-level. The barrow upon its summit, however, has by no means disappeared ; but its nature was not suspected from the circumstance that it has served as the foundation of a conspicuous castellated structure popularly 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 [Grin Low Barrow [Map]] is a circular mound of about 60 feet in diameter, with an irregular convex top. Messrs. Salt commenced digging on April 25th, 1894, and soon found, as occasionally has been observed 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. William 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. Salt's notes) explains the arrangement of the interments in this area better than words. 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 postures were uot easily made out. The plan is somewhat diagrammatic, 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, by means of a demi-cist formed of two stones, one on each side, and a third resting upon them. 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, whose 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.

The skull is typically brachycephalic, of a variety 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.

Another skeleton (B) was found a few feet south of the above, ata depth of about 1 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 tibia, 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 a depth of about 2 feet, and showed no signs of having been disturbed. It was in 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 stones, the whole forming a rectangular recess about 2 feet by 3 feet 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 vessel of the usual character found in British interments and of the form known as the 'drinking cup.' 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. The ornamentation has points of resemblance to a food vase found at Hitter Hill.1 Almost in contact with this vessel was a calcined flint scraper, 23 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 4 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 had the same dental prognathism, strong lower jaw, and bold chin.

Note 1. Llewellyn Jewitt, Grave Mounds and their Contents, 98.

Immediately at the head of this grave and on the same level was a small four-sided cist (£) about 1 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. 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 this district (Derbyshire 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 corpse, 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.

On December 27, 1894, Mr. Salt and his son resumed their diggings at this barrow, confining their work to the south-east margin. On this occasion they found ata depth of 10 inches (r) 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 7½ inches in diameter at the base and 5½ 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 trace of ealcined bone was 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 surface at a depth of 30 inches. Soon they came to a raised shelf of rock (@) 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 3 inches thick (¢) which had been laid over the interment, but without supports. The fragments of the urn are too fragile and small to admit of reconstruction, 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 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 eastwards, and found, about 5 feet from the edge of the barrow, an irregular cist, 8 feet by 2 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 (d), a few teeth of the pig (e), a broken ox tooth, a portion of an unburnt trimmed flint flake, and a whetstone of blue slate (/). 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.1 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.2

Note 1. Bateman, Ten Years' Diggings, 135.

Note 2. 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, may have been more exposed to the action of the weather than those nearer the centre.

Thirkel-low Frith [Map] is a hill of about the same altitude as Grinlow, three miles south of Buxton. The barrow on its summit, which Messrs. Salt opened on May 8th, 1894, is about 55 feet in diameter, and is constructed of broken limestone thrown together without any apparent order. Very much of the central portion was carted away for the sake of the stone in 1840. By removing more stone from this area, Messrs. Salt soon discovered human bones extremely decayed, but sufficiently perfect, nevertheless, to make it evident that the skeleton Jay on its right side in the usual flexed posture, with the head to the east. It appeared to be quite unprotected, lying upon a sloping shelf of rock. The massive mastoid processes of the skull, and the prominent linea aspera of the femurs, indicated a powerfully built person.

A little to the north of this interment were the remains of a child, so scattered that it was quite impossible to determine the original posture. Near where the head lay, however, were a small plain blue glass bead, several teeth of the dog, the lower jaw of some animal, and some fragments of coarse hand-made black pottery. These were of ordinary ancient British character, and belonged to a small plain vessel of the ' food vase' form.

On October 2nd Mr. Sheldon opened a barrow of very different type from the foregoing, situated between Sheen, a Staffordshire village about 8 miles south-east of Buxton, and the Brund, 2 mile to the west. This barrow is known as Roylow [Roy Low Barrow [Map]], and is circular, about 100 feet in diameter and 8 feet high in the centre. It was slightly examined by Mr. Thomas Bateman in 1849, and his short notice1 of its peculiar construction agrees exactly with the notes of Mr. Sheldon, who, however, has been able to give additional details.

Mr. Sheldon cut a trench down to the natural surface from west to east through the more elevated portion of the barrow. Throughout this trench the upper part of the mound was of loamy clay with a few pieces of the local sandstone, none, however, larger than a man's fist. Below this and about a foot from the natural surface there was, at the commencement of the trench, 'a thin stratum of ferruginous earth more or less hardened by the action of fire. This was also noticed by Mr. Bateman, who described it as 'perfectly solid and hard, like pottery.' It appears to have been continuous throughout the barrow, rising towards the centre. The soil immediately below was dark, and in its turn rested upon several layers of vegetable matter pressed close and flat, and having a subdued primrose-green colour, which faded after a few minutes' exposure into a dull brown like that of silage. Mr. Sheldon found that these layers were sods, at least two in depth, and laid in irregular courses. The plants still retained their form and structure, consisting for the most part of mosses, but there were also grasses, rushes, leaves, sprigs of heather, and one well-defined pod of the common field-vetch. He also detected yarious insects, two specimens of the common house-fly, two species of beetle, and the common ant. Mr. Bateman had also noticed the 'layers of moss,' and the 'many beetles, some of which were well preserved'; but Mr. Sheldon observed a remarkable feature in the centre of the mound which escaped the older explorer. It consisted of 'layers and vein-like ramifications of some kind of sedimentary matter, the colour of which was a bright blue, which did not fade by contact with the air.' .... 'Some of the layers and veins were parallel with the surface, some perpendicular, and yet others in various oblique directions, as if the liquid . . had found its way in many directions among the clods and left its sediment in the crevices,'

Note 1. Ten Years Diggings, 62.

Below all these in the central region Mr. Sheldon found another deposit, apparently unnoticed by Mr. Bateman. It was 'a pasty sort of clay that worked up like putty in the hand, and of a light grey colour, about 1 foot in thickness. In this stratum were many white nodules, obviously bones in a soft decomposed condition. From the 'curious and unpleasant odour,' which arose from this grey deposit, and from the circumstance that some of it spread on the adjacent grass caused a brilliant green growth (as if nitrate of soda had been applied), Mr. Sheldon inferred that it was permeated with decomposed animal matter; and he concluded that as this layer was of considerable extent 'there must have been many dead buried under the clods" He admits, however, that he found nothing to indicate whether these remains of bones were those of animals or human beings.

No cist was found. Mr. Sheldon explained this, and the absence of large stones generally in the mound, by their scarcity in this district, contrasted with that of the limestone region of the Peak. This, I think, is true to some extent. Where large stones are absent we must expect to find the barrows constructed of other materials. But while earthen barrows of the type of Roylow are more common in Staffordshire than in Derbyshire, and in this county are confined to its western borderland, still they are as frequently found in the limestone tracts as in those where large stones are absent. The materials, however, do not constitute the only or even the chief point of difference between this group and the commoner British form of which we may regard Grinlow as a type. In the former group the human remains over which the mound was erected have invariably undergone cremation. They were never placed in urns or cists, but were usually allowed to remain as left by the funeral fire, or, more rarely, collected into a depression in the natural ground. The articles associated with these interments are meagre and poor. Whole vessels are never found; but it is not uncommon to find one or more potsherds which were thrown into the fire as such. Fragments of flint are also frequently present. These scanty interments have frequently eluded the search of the barrow-opener, who in consequence has sometimes regarded the mounds as cenotaphs. The most characteristic feature, however, of these barrows is their peculiar construction. The forty or more which have been described in Western Derbyshire and the adjoining parts of Staffordshire substantially agree in consisting of several materials alternating with one another, as gravel with clay, clays of different colour, ete. It is usual to find the lower stratum baked and mixed with charcoal, and showing signs of having been puddled or tempered. Occasionally the natural surface has been observed also to be baked, and more rarely a layer of stones is found lying upon it as though they had formed a pavement. It seems clear that as a rule the corpse was consumed on the spot, either on the natural surface or on a pavement of stones; that the remains of the pyre were covered up with puddled earth; that a great fire was made upon this layer, and that over all was raised a mound consisting of one or of several materials in alternate layers.

Mr. Sheldon ventures to suggest that Roylow was erected over the slain in some tribal skirmish, and he bases this suggestion on the large number of decayed bones in the grey pasty earth. But he admits that it is uncertain whether these are animal or human. Moreover, in those barrows of this class in which the interment has been found and described, it appears to have related to a single individual only, so that it is hardly safe to make Roylow an exception without very good reason. As this gentleman hopes to make further examination of this barrow shortly, he will probably make this a point of special investigation.

The following week, Mr. Sheldon opened a larger barrow, known as Brundlow [Map], in the vicinity of Roylow. It was opened by Mr. Carrington in 18511, who described it as of earth, and found in it several pieces of flint, two sandstones with cup-shaped cavities, and half-way down a deposit of calcined human bones. Mr. Sheldon's trench (east to west) supplies further particulars. He found that the mound was of two layers, an upper one of earth, four er five feet thick, and a lower of stones (mostly worn and probably derived from the river Manifold in the neighbourhood), thrown together anyhow. Below these stones he found, in a small hole in the natural soil, ashes and calcined human bones; and about a yard or so away, and upon the natural surface, ' fragments of well-preserved bones, hard and dry, and evidently human.' It is difficult to say whether these bones were connected with those of the hole; but it cannot be doubted that the latter represented the primary interment, that over which the mound was erected in the first instance. It is also difficult to know how to regard the high-level bones that Mr. Carrington observed.

Note 1. Ten Years' Diggings, 177.

It must be apparent to the reader that this barrow has points of divergence from Roylow; yet, on the other hand, it has so many features in common, that we can hardly hesitate to include it in the same class.. In several barrows of this class in Derbyshire and Staffordshire there was a nucleus of stones, and in others the cremated remains were found in a cavity in the natural soil.

The antiquity of these barrows is an interesting question. As observed above, their objects of human handiwork are few and characterless ; in fact, it is not unusual to find nothing more noteworthy than charcoal and burnt bones. Unfortunately, the potsherds, which should supply a safe clue, have not received much attention; still, in several instances, they have been described as ' wheel-made,' ' hard,' and 'compact,' terms which ill apply to pre-Roman pottery. In one instance, near Blore1, a 'firmly-baked' potsherd and a fragment of Samian ware were found in a barrow, but the exact conditions are vaguely put. More explicit was the discovery of 'wheel-formed earthen-ware' and a Roman coin with the interment itself of a barrow of this type.2 These facts, coupled with the absence of characteristic objects of pre- and post-Roman times, supply a strong cumulative evidence in favour of a Romano-British origin for this class of barrow."

Note 1. Ten Years' Diggings, 186.

Note 2. Mininglow, Ten Year's' Diggings, 55.

Ancient Remains near Buxton: Barrows. [From the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, May 9th, 1895.]

John Ward, Esq., F.S.A., communicated the following account of some Barrows recently opened in the vicinity of Buxton, Derbyshire:-

During thei past year, two baiTOws in the vicinity of this well-known Derbyshire town were opened, with the results of great intei-est, viz., Grinlow and Thirkel-low Frith, by Mr. Micah Salt, of that place, and his son, both of whom have rendered great service to local archaeology in their excavations in Deep Dale Cave. ... I have personally inspected Grinlow.