An Account of the British and Anglo-Saxon Barrows on Roundway Hill, in the Parish of Bishop's Cannings, by Mr Cunnington, F.G.S.
Barrows have been opened on this spot. — The first, No. 1, [Roundway Hill Barrow 1 [Map]] (see map p. 160) was opened in 1855, by Mr. Coward and Mr. Cunnington, and again in 1856. A considerable section was made, but nothing found except a fragment of burnt bone, and a piece or two of broken pottery. It is a circular and somewhat flat barrow, about forty feet in diameter and one foot in height.
Barrow No. 3 [Roundway Hill Barrow 3 [Map]] is situated close to, and on the south side of the large chalkpit. It is thus described by the late Mr. Cunnington, by whom it was explored in 1805. "It is circular in its form, and about two feet and a half in elevation. At the depth of four feet and a half, we found a skeleton lying from west to east, and with it an iron ring, and thirty bits of ivory, in form and size like childrens' marbles cut in two: these articles were intermixed with a large quantity of decayed wood, which was probably once attached to the ivory."1
In 1855 this barrow was again opened, and an antler of a deer, and a medal, with the inscription, "Opened by Wm. Cunnington 1805," was found. The skeleton was disinterred, and the cranium and some of the bones having been examined by Dr. Thurnam, he has favoured me with the following notes on the subject.
" The skull is that of a man of middle age, probably about fifty years. Nearly all the teeth are in place, and in good condition, except that their crowns are considerably worn down. The nasal bones in this skull do not present the abrupt projection so distinctive in that from barrow No. 2. The face is large and broad, owing to the prominence of the cheek bones. The upper and lower jaw are deep and large, and strongly marked for muscular attachments.
The frontal sinuses are full and prominent ; the forehead is narrow and somewhat flat and receding. Viewed from above the skull is seen to have a much more lengthened oval form than that from barrow No. 2. (Wilts Mag. vol. iii. p. 186). The thickest parts of the parietals measure a third, those of the frontal bones half an inch. Immediately behind the coronal suture is a depression which extends across the parietal bones, and seems to indicate that this part of the skull was subject to some habitual pressure or constriction ; from the use perhaps of some form of bandage or ligature. This may possibly explain the fact of the sutures of the cranium being more obliterated than is usual in persons of middle age. The capacity of the skull is large, and such as indicates a brain weighing about 56 oz. The characteristics of this skull, though Ancient British or Celtic, are less strongly marked than those of the skull No. 2, which may perhaps point to a more modern period, though unfortunately the archaeological evidence as to this is wanting. The much lighter and more decayed condition of the bones is very apparent, and agrees with the fact of the body having been interred in a superficial cist, and covered by a barrow of slight elevation."
When Dr. Thurnam made the above remark, as to the insufficiency of the archaeological evidence in this case, it was impossible to identify this barrow as the one in which the iron ring and pieces of ivory were found. Our recent researches however leave no doubt on the subject, and thus corroborate the opinion of Dr. Thurnam, that it is of a more modern period than the barrrow No. 2, to which he refers. It dates probably much nearer to the Roman period.
Note 1. Hoare's Ancient Wiltshire, vol. ii. p. 98.
Barrow No. 4 [Roundway Hill Barrow 4 [Map]] is situated on the brow of the hill, very near the right hand corner of the "Leipsic" plantation. It is doubtless one of the barrows opened by the late Mr. Cunnington. It is thus briefly noticed in "Hoare's Ancient Wiltshire."1
" A small circular tumulus on the right hand as you reach the summit from Devizes." (The main course of the track has been diverted from the left to the right hand of the barrow since this was written.) "At the depth of four feet and a half it produced a skeleton, lying from north to south, but without any accompaniments either of arms or trinkets."
On re-opening the barrow, the skeleton as mentioned by Mr. Cunnington was found at the bottom of the cist, and with it a halfpenny deposited there when it was formerly opened. The cist is of oval shape, the longer axis is 6 feet 8 inches in length, the direction east and west. Some fragments of an Ancient British drinking cup were found in it. The skull was unfortunately so much broken that its characteristics cannot bo determined. Sufficient however remains to show that the person here interred was a young man, in height somewhat above the middle stature. The length of the thigh bone, 19 in. ⅝ would indicate a stature of about 5 feet 10 inches. This bone is remarkably slender in proportion to its length. The tumulus is about fifteen or eighteen inches high, above the level of the Down. Its diameter is about twenty-eight feet.
Note 1. Vol. ii. p. 98.
Barrow No. 5 [Roundway Hill Barrow 5 [Map]], on "Windmill Knoll," is a circular barrow, forty feet in diameter and three and a half high. This was opened by Dr. Thurnam, but without result. There was a small cist, but it contained no bones, nor were there any signs of an interment. It was evident that it had been previously opened, but there is no record of its history.
Barrow No. 6 [Roundway Hill Barrow 6 [Map]]. This is the long shaped barrow near Mr. Coward's farm buildings, on the further side of the hill. It is an irregular oval, with an indistinct hour-glass contraction in the middle. It was as first supposed to be a "long barrow," properly so called, but subsequent investigations have proved that it is formed by the filling in of the space between two adjoining round barrows. It is surrounded by a fosse about eighteen inches deep. The length is one hundred and thirty-four feet; the greatest width is ninety-five feet. The general direction of the barrow is about east and west. Its greatest height above the surface of the chalk is seven feet, in the depression in the middle the height is five feet.
A longitudinal trench was commenced from end to end of the tumulus, and numerous fragments of pottery, bones of sheep, ox, &c. were found, also a small iron spike. Near the highest point of the barrow, and about eighteen inches below the turf a skeleton was discovered, but without any weapon or other relics. This is certainly a secondary interment. It had been previously disturbed, as the bones were broken and lying in much disorder, and the cranium had been altogether removed. Some fragments of the lower jaw with teeth, prove it to have been an adult.
At forty-five feet from the eastern end of the barrow is a large oblong cist, ranging from west south-west to east-north east. It is five feet eight inches in length, by two feet five inches wide, and two feet deep, having a long ledge or step along the northern side. Large as is this cist, it contained only a small heap of incinerated bones, and piled up close by, the following articles: — two neatly grooved whetstones of coarse silicious sandstone, and a large whet-stone of the same material; a flat piece of sandstone, which has evidently been used as a whetstone ; a well made flint arrow head ; a small flint knife ; sundry flint flakes ; a small bronze spear head, having decayed wood adhering to it, probably the remains of the sheath ; a long instrument, like a netting needle, formed of deer's horn, and pointed at one end; a portion of deer's horn, cut flat at both ends, as if to form the handle of some instrument or weapon ; three oblong pieces of bone, neatly smoothed, one of them bevelled off at the ends, and a quartz pebble. This pebble was not obtained in the immediate neighbourhood, and the whetstones are of a material not found in this county. In the earth, with which the cist was filled up, were numerous flint flakes, and some fragments of pottery. The incinerated bones are those of an adult, beyond this fact nothing can be ascertained as to the characteristics of the individual.
The western end of this barrow was not examined till August 1858, on which occasion the Rector of Devizes was present. The former interment having been found at a distance of forty-five feet from the eastern end of the barrow, we marked off the same distance from the western end, and commenced by digging a shaft. Immediately below the turf, evidences of human occupation of the spol were abundant; fragments of pottery, flint flakes, and bones of ox, sheep, dog, and other domestic animals were dispersed throughout the soil. At the depth of two feet a small irregular layer of wood ashes, and some fragments of burnt bone were found. It appeared as if these were the ashes of the fire used for consuming the body interred below, having been thrown up on the mound after the interment. At five feet we reached the original soil; on which was a thin sprinkling of chalk. This being followed, on one side it was found to increase in thickness, till at last it led to the cist. On digging downwards, the chalk rubble suddenly gave way beneath the feet, disclosing a hollow cavity, as the men said, like an oven. The chalk that had fallen into it was cleared away, and we shortly arrived at the interment, which consisted of incinerated bones, mixed with wood ashes, heaped up in the centre, but covered with a layer of decayed wood, which extended to a length of two and a half feet, and to a breadth of twelve or fourteen inches. Beneath the bones was another layer of wood of the same extent, but in a less decomposed condition, evidently the remains of a board. As there was a considerable thickness of this substance at the sides, we came to the conclusion that the burnt bones had been enclosed in a rude chest or coffin, the decay of which had caused the chalk to fall in, and thus produced the cavity mentioned above. Under the bones was a small bronze spear, or more probably dagger head, with three bronze rivets. The wooden handle of it, apparently about a foot in length, crumbled to dust when touched. The cist, contrary to that at the other end of the barrow, was north and south. It was oblong, the south end square, the north irregularly rounded; length five feet four inches, breadth three feet, depth three feet six inches. Total depth from the surface to the bottom of the cist eight feet nine inches. The bones in this, as in the other instance, were those of an adult. Both the cists were filled up with chalk, not with earth.
No. 7. [Roundway Hill Barrow 7 [Map]] This interesting barrow was opened by the desire of the late E. F. Colston, Esq. in 1840. An account of the investigation was sent to the Devizes Gazette by the late Mr. Stoughton Money, and a description of some of the articles found in it, accompanied with an engraving, was published by J. Yonge Akerman (age 46), Esq., Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries, in his "Remains of Pagan Saxondom," plate i. From these sources we obtain the following particulars. "The barrow in question is a small one on the apex of Roundway down, which though particularly mentioned by Sir R. Colt Hoare, somehow or other escaped examination by that indefatigable antiquary. On digging into it, at the depth of seven feet the workmen reached the natural chalk level, and came to a skeleton very much decayed, which had formerly been enclosed in a wooden cist bound round and clamped together with strong iron plates or hoops. Several portions of this iron work, though in a very corroded state, had fibres of the wood still adhering to them, and remained precisely as originally placed. The skeleton lay east and west, the head towards the latter point. At the feet was one of those vessels which are sometimes discovered in the graves of this period, in the shape of a pail, hooped with brass, and ornamented with about twenty triangular pieces of the same metal. Near the neck of the skeleton were found some elegant ornaments, consisting of garnets and vitrified pastes strongly set in gold.
" There were also two gold pins with garnets set in the head, and connected by a chain of the same metal, suspended to the centre of which, is a small medallion bearing a cruciform pattern. This, and a triangular plate. of a paste-like composition, set in gold, led Mr. Money to the conclusion that the grave was that of a Christian Romanized Briton, who existed in one of the four first centuries after Christ." Mr. Akerman however expresses a doubt on this subject, which wo are quite inclined to support, and says that it is by no means certain, that the body was that of a Christianized Anglo-Saxon Lady, " for though the ornament in the centre of the chain represents a cross, we cannot receive it as a conclusive evi-. denee of the faith of the wearer. The same remark applies to the triangular shaped pendant. That this form of necklace was popular in the sixth century wo may infer from the circumstance of its occurring on the neck of a bust of Roma, which appears on the coins of the Gothic monarchs, struck in Italy about this time." An engraving of one of these coins is included in Mr. Akerman'a plate.
Mrs. Colston having kindly allowed me o further examination of the fragments of the vessel mentioned above, I have been enabled to ascertain its original size. It was about nine inches in height, and five and a half inches diameter. The wood of which it was formed was thin, apparently less than a quarter of an inch in thickness. Microscopic examination proves it not to have been coniferous wood. There were two hoops only, one of them is en- tire; they are formed of thin brass, over-lapping at the ends, and the joints were made with soft solder. The ornaments consist of rows of dots, produced by punching on the inside of the hoops. The broader hoop was fastened to the wood with iron rivets, the heads of which were plated with brass. The triangular plates are also of brass, they were secured to the pail by an iron rivet through the point of each, the broad ends being inserted under the hoop. Thev are decorated with rows of dots, similar to those on the hoops.
Mr. Akerman remarks, "That it is much to be regretted that the excavation of this tumulus was not superintended by some person accustomed to such researches, as the details which have reached us are not so satisfactory as could be desired." It is in- deed too true that much valuable information is lost because the persons who open barrows are not experienced in the matter, and do not make full and correct observations.
In the same year Mr. Colston made some extensive plantations on Houndway Hill, and in the early part of August the workmen disinterred three skeletons, which were found lying close together, a little more than a foot beneath the surface, at the bottom of an old trench, which takes a direction east and west across the Down, immediately opposite Castle Hill. They subsequently found another skeleton about three quarters of a furlong to the south-west of the last, at the same depth below the surface, but this was the most remarkable of the four, inasmuch as the skull exhibited two severe sabre wounds, one on the front, the other on the hinder part, and the right arm severed from the body, had been deposited between the legs of the corpse. The bones were those of a strong young man, who judging from the thigh and leg would stand upwards of six feet in height. Each of the skeletons, from the comparative freshness of their appearance, may be fairly assigned to the period at which the battle of Roundway took place, and unquestionably are the remains of individuals engaged in that memorable fray. No weapon of any kind was found with them, the bodies having evidently been stripped of all military accoutrements before they were committed to their desolate grave. It would appear that the greater part, if not all, of the slain were interred on the spot where they fell; for neither the registers of Bishop's Cannings, Bromham, Heddington, nor of the three churches in Devizes, contain any record of burials connected with the battle: the register of Rowde forming an exception in one instance only. Although no relics were found in the immediate vicinity of the skeletons, the labour- ers in the course of their work dug up a cannon ball weighing 2¾ lbs., a stirrup of curious form, a large spur, from half a dozen to a dozen bullets, and several fragments of iron, the use of which, owing to their decayed and shapeless state, it is difficult to ascertain.