Books, Prehistory, Ten Years' Digging 1857

 Rowsley Smerrill

Ten Years' Digging 1857 is in Ten Years' Digging.

Books, Prehistory, Ten Years' Digging 1857, Rowsley

On the 8th of April, I went to Rowsley, to see an ancient burial ground [Rowsley Barrow [Map]], brought to light by the alterations required to convert an old farm-yard into a garden, the situation of which is in an angle of land at the confluence of the Wye and Derwent. The skeletons were found by digging trenches to bury stone from the old buildings, then being pulled down: they lay in tenacious earth, about 3 feet from the surface, with the heads to the north-west, extended at length on the back, with the arms straight by the sides as in modern burial, but without any trace either of wood or nails to indicate that they had been enclosed in coffins. I carefully examined a skeleton that was uncovered, in the presence of several gentlemen, and found its position to agree with that of those previously found, as described by the labourers.

There is a tradition in the neighbourhood that a chapel formerly stood on the spot, and that this was its graveyard; but I am unable to refer to any documentary or recorded confirmation of it, still it is most probably true; and the presence of a sandstone stoup or vessel for consecrated water, which had lain about the place from time immemorial, adds greatly to the credit of the tradition; this object (latterly used for feeding the cats), is something like a mortar, but of globular shape, 6 inches high by 8 diameter, ornamented by four projecting ribs, two of which are enlarged so as to form ears or handles; it may be of the Norman or early English period.

Books, Prehistory, Ten Years' Digging 1857, Smerrill

On the 3rd of June, we opened the first [Smerrill Barrow 2 [Map]] of three barrows upon Smerrill Moor, near Middleton-by-Youlgrave, situated on the edge of the hill forming one side of a rocky but waterless valley. It measured about 11 yards across by 3 feet in height, was composed of earth and stones, and exhibited signs of former disturbance in the external appearance of a large stone in the centre, that had been removed from the side of a cist, which we afterwards found to consist of two compartments. The first had been plundered, and its contents were re-interred in confusion: they comprised bones from no fewer than twelve skeletons, of ages varying from infancy to senility, intermixed with a few pieces of calcined bone, charred wood, rats' bones, potsherds, &c., including jaws of two foxes or dogs, and a good spear head of white flint.

The second compartment was made by three large limestones placed on edge, their upper part appearing above the surface of the mound. It contained the skeleton of a female of rather low stature, who had been placed on her left side with the knees drawn up, and the head towards the north-east; a plain flake and a knife of flint lay at the head, and the bones were embedded in earth that had acquired a dark colour, apparently from the decomposition of wood; particles of charcoal, rats' bones, and fragments of earthenware of two sorts, were also present. The skull is remarkably small, and elevated in its contour, the occipital bone being much flattened, possibly by artificial compression in youth; the teeth indicate an age not exceeding 18 or 20 years, and the long bones are slender in proportion to the length; the femur measures 16½ inches.

On the 13th of June, we opened the second barrow [Smerrill Barrow 1 [Map]] on the contrary side of the ravine, a mound about 9 yards across and 2 feet high, surrounded by an irregular circle of large limestones, and showing the grey surfaces of many others that jutted through its grassy covering. We began our cutting on the west side, and continued it to the centre, where, after much labour, we uncovered a large grave of irregular shape, sunk in the rock to the depth of 5 feet; its average dimensions were 8 feet by 6; it was filled with stones, and had upon its stony floor, a coating of stiff clay in which was embedded the skeleton of a tall young man, who lay On his left side with his knees drawn up, and the head in an easterly direction; owing to the wetness of the clay, the bones were in an advanced state of decomposition, having become of the consistency of cheese; the skull was narrowed and otherwise posthumously distorted by the pressure of the overlying mass; and the femur measured 19½ inches, the tibia 16. Behind the pelvis lay a very beautiful drinking cup, 8¾ inches high, the exterior entirely covered with ornament: it lay on its side upon an assemblage of implements, consisting of a bone netting rule or modelling tool, 12 inches long, made from the rib of a large animal (horse or cow), neatly rounded off at each end, and reduced to a regular breadth and thickness throughout; a dagger 4¾ inches long, a spear head 3 inches long, and four other instruments of flint, all whitened by the action of fire. The usual rats' bones were present in this undisturbed and interesting tumulus.

On the 15th of June, we opened the third of the tumuli on Smerrill Moor, which is situated rather lower down the course of the valley, on the same side as the last, and is about 10 yards diameter by 18 inches high. The centre afforded no deposit, but a little to the west of it we found a skeleton slightly guarded by two large stones, one at the head, the other at the feet: it was not more than a foot beneath the turf, and owing to that circumstance, was not in good preservation; it lay on the left side with the knees drawn up, the hands near the face, and the head pointing south-east. The skull is rather globular, and is of dense texture, though thin; the femur measures 17¼ inches. No instruments were found in immediate contact with it; but we found some bones from a former interment, a small piece or two of white flint, and a sharping stone, in the earth just above. The mound was composed of earth and stones in pretty equal proportion, plentifully mingled with rats' bones around the skeleton.