Books, Prehistory, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine V36 CXII 1909, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine V36 CXII Page 300
Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine V36 CXII Page 300 is in Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1910 V36.
In June last (1909) a fine sepulchral chamber was discovered in the stone-built long barrow at Lanhill, near Chippenham, Wilts.
This once fine barrow was partially excavated by Dr. Thurnam in 1855, when he discovered what he believed to be the remains of two cists, both of which seem to have been previously opened and ruined.1 Until this summer the barrow seems to have been little, if at all, disturbed since that date, and the description of its appearance then applies to it equally well to-day. "At present the mound," Dr. Thurnam wrote, "has the appearance of several irregular hillocks, in part grown over with thorns and briars, resembling somewhat the site of an old quarry." The barrow has, indeed, from time to time been used as a quarry, and it is a matter of difficulty to recognise the remnants of a long barrow in the few more or less detached hillocks that now remain.
Some stone being needed to repair the floor of the cowyards of Lanhill Farm, the barrow was attacked this summer at a hitherto undisturbed section on the south side of the mound.
Note 1. Wilts Arch. Mag., vol. iii., p. 67. This barrow is sometimes called "Hubba's Low."
After a considerable quantity of stone had been removed two large upright stones were uncovered which proved to be the portals of a sepulchral chamber. The workmen moved the easternmost of these two uprights, and were proceeding to clear out the chamber, which had become filled with loose stone as a consequence of the collapse of the roof. They soon recognised that they were digging out human bones with the stone, and the work was stopped, but unfortunately not before three skulls that seem to have been in an excellent state of preservation were smashed, and the greater part of them no doubt carted away to mend the cow-yards.1
Note 1. The Rev. C. N. Wyld, Rector of Grittleton, hearing of the discovery, brought it to the notice of the Wilts Archaeological Society, and with the kind approval of Sir Audley Neeld, Mr. B. H. Cunnington, of Devizes, was privileged to open out the chamber.
The chamber proved to be a large and very interesting example of its kind. It is situate on the south side of the mound, 10ft. within the outer edge, and 84ft. from the western end, the total length of the barrow, as well as it can now be judged, being 196ft.
Six irregularly-sbaped stones form the walls of the chamber ; Nos. 5 and 6 on the plan are narrow in proportion to their height, and while they form the southern wall of the chamber, they may, perhaps, be regarded equally well as portals, or pillar stones, on either side of the entrance.
At the highest point of the remaining original roof the chamber is 5ft. high; its greatest length inside the portals 8ft., or at N.N. 8½ft.; its width just inside the portals at M.M. 4½ft. ; its greatest width at o.o. 5ft. 2in. ; the width between the portal stones 2ft. 4in. ; the stones themselves are from 5in. to 1ft. in thickness,
The greater part of the roof was found to have collapsed into the chamber, filling it with loose stones, but about 3ft. of roof over the back part of the chamber was intact, and beneath this and above the fallen-in rubble there still remained an open space.
The part of the original roof still remaining is formed of thin slabs of stone of no great size. On top of the large stones forming the walls of the chamber is a carefully-laid dry walling, the upper layers of which are laid with increasingly large stones towards the top, so placed as to overlap each other, and thus to form a slightly domed roof, somewhat after the fashion of stone-built Irish beehive huts.1
As no stone large enough to span the width of the chamber was found among the debris, it seems tbat this device for utilising smaller pieces of stone must have been attempted over the whole space to be roofed in. But unless this overlapping dry stonework was carried up at a fairly steep pitch it could not have formed a very strong covering. Possibly timbers were thrown across on top of the walls to support the roof over the front part of the chamber. Either the decay of such timbers, or the inherent weakness of the roofing would account for its collapse.
In the angles between the large stones of the wall, where from the irregularity in their shape they do not meet, the spaces are filled up with dry walling. In the north-eastern corner between the stones Nos. 3 and 4, is a particularly neat and pretty little piece of work, executed with evident care and precision, and shown in the accompanying photograph.2
Note 1. This form of roofing is not uncommon in long barrows. It occurred at Stony Littleton, Archeaologia, XIX., p. 46; at Uley, Arch. Journal, XI., 319, 326; and at Upper Swell, Greenwell's "Barrows," No. ccxxxl., p. 522, &C. It has been called the "horizontal arch."
The photograph of the roof here given shows the original overlapping stonework and the large slab supported by iron bars, with which the roof has recently been completed.
One of the workmen present when the uprights at the entrance were first uncovered stated that a thin slab of stone was found resting lengthwise against the outside of the two uprights ; from his description it also appears that the stones immediately outside the entrance were larger than elsewhere. Possibly these formed a dry walling closing up the chamber.
A course of regularly-laid stones, forming a containing wall, such as is often found in stone-built barrows was well shown in the section into the mound made by the stone diggers. Where exposed this wall was 3ft. high, and 4ft. within the barrow, measured from the present outside edge of the mound. Possibly this wall had curved inwards to form an entry to the chamber, but evidence as to this was destroyed by the stone diggers.
In his paper on long barrows in Archaeologia, vol. XLII, Dr. Thurnam classified chambered long barrows into three types:- [A] those with chambers opening into a central gallery; [B], those with no central gallery, but with separate chambers, all with passages opening externally; and [C], those with cists in place of chambers. In this third class Dr. Thurnam placed the barrow at Lanhill. The recently discovered construction is, nevertheless, more corectly described as a chamber than as a cist, for, as Dr. Thurnam himself has said, cists are built up on all four sides and not intended to be entered except from the top, whereas chambers open on one side by a recognisable entrance. Cists, also, generally speaking, are smaller than true chambers. The four cists in the neighbouring barrow at Littleton Drew were not much more than 2ft. in height1, nor were the cists previously discovered at Lanhill. There were both cists and chambers in the long barrow at Avening, Glos.
Note 1. Archaeologia, XLIIL, 218.
Bones that could not have belonged to fewer than eleven individuals were found in the chamber. The majority of these were on, or in, the red clayey soil of the floor, but one skull was found among the rubble filling-in, some 3 or 4 inches above the level of the floor. This skull was much crushed but otherwise complete, and proved to be the only one capable of restoration. The lower jaw was imperfect, and lay some 3 inches in front of the facial bones. The skull was upside-down, resting on its crown among the rubble.
Among the bones cleared out by the stone diggers when they first broke into the chamber, and which, therefore must have been just inside the entrance, are parts of three adult skulls, two well- preserved femurs, four nearly perfect pelvic bones, the only two sacra, and the only sternum found. It seems therefore probable that two or three skeletons, or parts of skeletons, were placed just inside the entrance at some time later than the disposal of the majority of the remains, and it is possible that had these not been disturbed by the workmen one or more fairly perfect skeletons would have been found there.
In that part of the chamber undisturbed by the workmen it was impossible to trace out the position of any individual skeleton, the bones being all scattered promiscuously on the floor, and rarely even were two found in their natural relative positions.
The limb bones, with only one or two exceptions, were broken, sometimes into as many as five or six pieces, the hollows of the bones being filled with red soil, showing that the breakages were of no recent date. In more than one instance parts of the same bone, fitting each other, were found in different parts of the chamber.
It is notable that in addition to the three skulls broken by the stone diggers, the only one found in good condition, referred to above, was also in the outer half of the chamber. Only fragments of two other skulls were found, one of an adult, and one of a young child, making a total of six, while there were nine lower jaws, and from the number of limb bones it is evident that the remains of not fewer than eleven individuals were represented in all.
Unless the scattered condition of the bones be taken as such, there is no reason to think that the chamber had ever been opened since it was closed for the last time by its original owners, but it is nevertheless possible that at some early date an entry had been made through the roof. Even so, it is doubtful if such an in- trusion would account altogether satisfactorily for the conditions within. The collapse of the roof would no doubt account for the breakage of the longer bones, but not for their complete dis-arrangement.
The human remains in a trench forming the primary interment in a long barrow at Upper Swell, Glos.1, seem to have been found in much the same condition as those in the chamber at Lanhill. One complete skeleleton was found, but the other bones were broken, and indiscriminately mixed up, some on the floor and some in the rubble above the floor ; and bones apparently belonging to the same individual were found at distances from each other. There were fourteen lower jaws to only ten skulls, and more limb bones than could have belonged to so few as ten individuals. Professor Eolleston, from whose account these details are taken, took these facts to disprove in this case the " ossuary theory," and thought them altogether in favour of the "successive interment theory." He thought the moving of the older bones to make room for the later burials would account for their disordered condition, and intermixture with the rubble. It is difficult, however, to see how this theory would account for the absence of many of the principal bones, especially of the skulls.2
Note 1. British Barrows, CCXXXIL, p. 533.
Note 2. In unchambered long barrows the skeletons are often found to be incomplete and huddled promiscuously together. At Norton Bavant there were too many skulls in proportion to the limb bones. Archceologia, XLII., p. 184.
Some fragments of pottery which appear all to have belonged to one vessel were found by the men digging stone when they first broke into the chamber. The ware is a blackish brown in colour on the outside of the vessel, shading up to a bright brick-red on the inner side. It is roughly modelled by hand and devoid of orna- ment ; the rim is straight with a slight and very irregular beading. The paste is of a good quality and freely mixed with crushed fossil shells. In clearing out the floor of the chamber a few more fragments of identical pottery were found, embedded in the clay. In addition to these, three small fragments of a different ware were found. This latter is of much the same texture as the first, but on the outside it is a light brown in colour, shading to buff, and the surface is smooth, as though it had been tooled. The colour of the inner side and of the paste itself is a brownish black.
It is interesting that in four instances Dr. Thurnam mentions that pottery found in a long barrow was mixed with crushed shells, and not, as is more usual in Bronze Age ware, with pounded flint or quartz. It occurred in the chambered barrows of Eodmarton and Nether Swell, in Glos., and in the unchambered barrows at Nor- ton Bavant and Tinhead, in Wilts. No doubt locality would to a great extent determine the materials used in the manufacture of the wares, and fossil shells may have been easily obtained at Lanhill and in the three first-mentioned cases, but at Tinhead, on Salisbury Plain, chalk or flint would seem more likely to be used.
Two small flint flakes, a small piece of burnt flint, a nodule of iron stone, some pebbles and gravel flints, such as may be found locally on the surface, were the only other objects found. These were all on the floor of the barrow, either in the chamber or just outside it.
The edges of two large stones were noticed above the turf near the eastern end of the mound. It was not at the time recognised that these were part of the cist opened by Dr. Thurnam in 1855 ; his description not being very definite. But on excavating at this spot it was made clear that this was the eastern cist opened by him, in which he found a few scattered fragments of human bones. The northern of the two parallel stones described by him seems to have been broken, and the larger part of it put back into the cist leaning up against the western side of the stone which he described as fomiing the cross bar of the letter "H." Nothing was found except one finger bone among the stones filling in the cist. This leaning stone has now (1909) been taken and used as a covering or roofing stone for the better preservation of the southern chamber.
Dr. Thurnam seems to have excavated at four different places in the barrow. But as he made no plan or exact measurement it is not now possible to locate them. In his third excavation it seems that he may have narrowly missed finding the southern chamber. The small disturbed cist that he found on the north side of the mound was apparently to the north or north-east of the southern chamber. These two cists found by Dr. Thurnam and the chamber found in 1909 are the only recorded burial places- found in the barrow at Lanhill, but it is quite possible that other cists, and even chambers, have been destroyed by stone diggers.
It is a pleasure to be able to add that Sir Audley Neeld has taken steps to preserve and safeguard the chamber from destruction. A large stone has been put over the chamber where the roof had fallen in, and an iron framework adjusted to counteract the inward thrust of the walls. Earth has been banked up against the exposed sections of the mound, as otherwise rain and frost would bring down the loose stones of which it is built and iron railings have been put round that part of the barrow containing the chamber.
The following list of the principal bones found is given in case it may some day be of use for purposes of comparison.
The stone diggers are probably responsible for some of the missing bones, but not for many.
The complete bones are inclusive of those that it was found possible to mend. These bones are exclusive of those of the very young child.