Books, Prehistory, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries V16 1896

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries V16 1896 is in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries.

Books, Prehistory, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries V16 1896 Dec 17

John Ward, Esq., F.S.A., communicated the following paper on some further excavations in barrows in the neighbourhood of Buxton, Derbyshire:

"Since the excavation of the barrows described in my last communication, Mr. Micah Salt (age 48) and his son have opened several more in the vicinity of Buxton, with results which well deserve to be brought before your notice. For the present I confine myself to two of these ; they are situated upon Stoop High Edge, a hill near Hollingsclough, 3 miles S.S.E. of Buxton, and the other (in the exploration of which I accompanied the Salts) upon Thirkel-low, a hill three miles S.S.W. of that Derbyshire town. Both have an elevation of between 1,400 and 1,500 feet above the sea level.

Books, Prehistory, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries V16 1896, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries 1896 Dec 17 Stoop High Edge

In September, 1894, the Messrs. Salt made a series of excavations in a ruined round barrow [Stoop High Edge Barrow [Map]], of some 60 feet in diameter, upon this hill. Its outline was most noticeable on the south-west side, where several rows of large limestones, standing on end and inclining inwards, still remained ; the relics, undoubtedly, of a once continuous revetment or podium, behind which were piled up the loose materials (weathered limestones from the moor around) of the cairn. As frequently has happened in this district, the bulk of both cairn and its enclosing circle had been removed for the sake of the stone, and by this means some protruding rocks, around which the barrow had been reared up, had been exposed. The diggings of Messrs. Salt proved that the recesses between these rocks had been used as shallow graves. The interments, which I will describe in the order of discovery, were about one foot deep, upon the natural surface, and simply covered up with loose stones. All the human remains were much decayed and more or less disturbed, so that the skeletons on the accompanying plan, which is taken from Mr. W. H. Salt's notes, must be regarded as indicating their original, and not their actual condition as found.

Interment A. The skeleton of this interment lay on its left side, with its head to the south, in the usual contracted attitude. The skull was represented by only a few crumbling fragments. The blade of a small bronze dagger-knife lay in contact with the lower jaw, which was turned green in consequence. The blade is flat and plain 2¼ inches by 4⅝ inches, and was affixed to the haft (the outline of which was plainly visible on the blade) by three bronze rivets, two of which were found.

Interment B. In a neighbouring recess, another large skeleton was found, which, like the former, was also contracted, and lay on the left side, but the head pointed to the S.E. The skull was much broken, but has admitted of sufficient reconstruction to give some measurements and other particulars as to the calvaria. It is brachycephalic, having an extreme length (from glabella) of 7·4 inches, and maximum breadth of 5·87 inches, but this was undoubtedly greater in life, as its left side has been slightly flattened from pressure in the grave: these measurements give a cephalic index of 79·32. It is remarkably flat-topped, a character which the late Mr. Thomas Bateman frequently observed in this class of skull in his Derbyshire and Staffordshire diggings. It is moderately thick, and its mastoid, angular, and other processes, as well as the superciliary ridges, are well developed. These, taken into consideration with the half-obliterated sutures, indicate a man in the middle period of life. A rough chipping of chert was found under the remains of the skull. The tibiae of both skeletons were markedly platycnemic.

At C, near interment A, were found some fragments of hand-made pottery and many chippings of flint and chert, amongst a large number of rats' bones. The potsherds belonged to a delicate fawn-coloured vessel, apparently a 'food vase,' of fine paste, about 6 inches in diameter, and highly decorated by means of carefully incised lines.

Towards the southern margin of the barrow, at D, were found a few burnt bones associated with a well-made flint fabricator or flaker, 3 inches long and f inch wide, and towards the east, at E, were the remains of a much-disturbed and decayed unburnt skeleton, amid a multitude of rats' bones.

Books, Prehistory, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries V16 1896, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries 1896 Dec 17 Thirkel Low

On July 18th, 1895, the Messrs. Salt and myself excavated a round barrow, 42 feet in diameter, upon this hill [Thirkel Low Round Barrow [Map]]. It was of considerable interest, for the construction of both the mound and the receptacle of its primary interment admitted of full and easy determination. As in the preceding barrow, part of its edge, that from east to south-west, was well defined by large stones set on end and inclining inwards. These were obviously the remnants of a former podium consisting of such stones in actual contact with one another ; but the mound did not appear to have ever been completely surrounded by the stones, for its north and north-west portions consisted mainly of rock, the outer face of which continued the circle. Within this podium, weathered limestones from the surrounding waste had been piled up without any order whatever. At the time of our excavation, the surface, in spite of its many irregularities, presented a general slight convexity, which probably approximated to its original form and height a shallow truncated cone with slightly domed top, the podium forming the shoulder. The preliminary investigation showed that the mound had not been much disturbed. A Mr. Webster made several slight excavations in 1894, and Mr. Salt a shallow trench (A on the accompanying plan and section from my notes on the spot) ; both found a few scattered bones.

We cut a broad trench (BB) from about midway between the south margin and the centre, to considerably beyond the latter point. The stones of the upper part of the mound were, as a rule, small, and the spaces between them filled with dark vegetable mould and roots ; but below, the stones were larger and their inter-spaces empty. Nothing noteworthy, beyond a few fragments of burnt and unburnt bone, was observed until the centre was reached, where a large human skeleton was uncovered. This skeleton lay in the usual contracted attitude on its right side and pointing to the N.E., in a bed of limestone rubble about 4ft. 6in. below the summit of the mound. This rubble appeared to consist of stone broken for the purpose, and upon careful examination it was found to be spread over an oval space of the natural surface, about 5 feet long, rudely fenced in by large stones, and imperfectly paved. Within this prepared space, previously strewn with some of the rubble, had been deposited the corpse, which was then covered up with the rest of the rubble, the whole being then covered up by the cairn.

The skeleton related to a powerfully-built person with the usual platycneinic tibiae of ancient hills-men. Its most remarkable feature was the absence of a skull. Although a most careful search was made several feet around the normal position of the head upon this occasion, and the Salts a few days afterwards considerably extended the search, not a trace of one, not even a fragment which could with any show of reason be attributed to the skull of this skeleton, was found. Nor was there the slightest indication that the mound hereabouts had been subjected to any disturbance subsequent to the primary interment. It is true that several fragments of a burnt and one of an unburnt skull had been picked up during the excavation, but these were widely scattered at higher levels than this interment, and doubtless were derived from superficial secondary interments; besides, the unburnt fragment was very thin, and probably belonged to a child. It was impossible to think that the skull had disintegrated into 'mother earth' for the bones of the trunk and limbs were still hard, and, except for the usual fractures of the long ones due to the unequal pressure of the stones, sound. I am unable to arrive at any other conclusion than that the corpse was buried headless.

The only object of human manufacture associated with this skeleton was a beautiful and well-preserved perforated stone axe, which was so close to the hands as to suggest that its haft, presuming that it had one, was grasped immediately below the head. It was of a fine-grained volcanic stone, highly symmetrical in shape, about 3⅜ inches long, and still retaining traces of its original polish. Its small size, and the absence of signs of wear, render it probable that it was made for funeral purposes only. No trace of charcoal was found in any part of the excavation.

On July 24th, Mr. Salt and his son resumed the digging, primarily with a view to finding the missing skull. They continued the trench to within two feet of the north-east margin of the barrow. Nothing noteworthy was met with until about 3 feet from this margin, when a high-level unburnt interment was discovered at about a depth of 9 inches from the surface. The skeleton, as might be expected from being so near the surface, was much decayed, broken, and disarranged, so that nothing could be made out as to its original attitude. With these remains were found the following: several fragments of a hand-made vessel of the ordinary 'food-vase' type, about 8 or 9 inches in diameter at the mouth, and its upper part decorated with chevrons and diagonal parallel lines, produced by the impression of a twisted rush or thong: a small disc-like jet bead, about 1/16 inch in thickness, and ¼ inch in diameter ; an irregular fragment of flint of no determinable use; a rudely formed horse-shoe shaped scraper of chert ; and a portion of an iron ox or horse-shoe. This shoe probably did not exceed inch in thickness in its original condition, and was fastened with clout nails (of which one remained), the large heads of which compensated in some measure for the deficiency in the thickness, besides helping to 'rough' the tread.

It is, of course, quite uncertain whether any of these objects were coeval with the interment, since all of them had been subjected to disarrangement through being so near the surface. It is reasonable, however, to think that the pottery was contemporary with the interment, while on the other hand one is inclined to regard the horse-shoe as more recent, perhaps medieval or even modern.

On September 10th, 1896, and since the foregoing was written, Mr. Salt and his son cut a trench from the south side of this barrow to the central excavation made on 18th July, 1895. In so doing they found upon the natural surface, which was here four feet below the surface of the barrow, and at a distance of six feet from the margin, the remains of a skeleton in such decayed and disturbed condition that they could not determine the attitude in which it had been deposited, except that it had been embedded in clay and gravel. The teeth were much worn.

A little nearer the centre, and at a depth of two feet, was found another skeleton laid upon the large inclined blocks of limestone, of which the outer parts of the barrow were built. Like the former skeleton this was too much decayed and disturbed for its original attitude to be determined. This skeleton presumably related to a young individual, for the teeth were only slightly worn. Associated with it were a long flat pebble from the local shale beds, which had been used as a whetstone, and a small chipping of flint."

By the kindness of Mr. M. Salt some of the antiquities discovered were exhibited.

Thanks were ordered to be returned for these exhibitions and communications.