The Round Barrows

The visitor to Stonehenge has only to turn his back to the Friar's

Heel, as he stands on the Altar Stone, and he will see a typical

group of Round Barrows, seven in number. Let him remember, then,

that Wiltshire boasts of two thousand similar sepulchral mounds; and

that he can, within an easy distance of Stonehenge, find three hundred

of them, while in the same radius he will only encounter two Long



The proportion, therefore, of round to long is considerable, viz.

1:150. The figures of round and long for the entire county are

eighty-six Long to two thousand Round Barrows, or 1:24. In other words

there are five times more Round Barrows in the Stonehenge District,

than there are anywhere else in Wiltshire, taking Long and Round

Barrows together. This disproportion in distribution cannot altogether

be the result of accident; it must bespeak a special attraction for

the spot by the builders of the Barrows, and from the very fact that

Stonehenge was erected at a time when these people were first arriving

on Salisbury Plain, it does not seem extravagant to claim that they

had some reason for wishing their remains finally to rest within easy

distance of what must have been to them a sacred spot.

As already noted, these Round Barrows can be divided into three

classes: 1. The simple Bowl-shaped Barrow, that most frequently

encountered, having a diameter of from twenty to sixty feet, and a

height of from three to five feet. 2. The Bell-shaped Barrow which

reaches its highest development on the plain round Stonehenge, and is

more common and more beautiful in Wiltshire than in any other part of


Indeed, the Stonehenge Bell Barrows are the very crown of the

Sepulchral Mound on Salisbury Plain. Unlike the Long Barrow, they are

entirely surrounded by a circular ditch, from which material for the

Mound has been excavated; within the ditch is a circular area level

with the turf, from which the mound rises from five to fifteen feet in

a graceful conical form. The diameter will be upwards of one hundred

feet, so that the entire structure is considerably larger and more

impressive than the Bowl Barrow.

3. The Disc Barrow, so named by Dr. Thurnam, the great Barrow

expert, from its resemblance to a flat dish surrounded by a deep rim.

It consists of a circular area, level with surrounding turf, having a

diameter of about one hundred feet. This circular area is enclosed by

a ditch with a bank on the outside, both usually very regular and well

constructed. Within, at the centre, is a mound not more than a foot

high containing the sepulchral deposit. Occasionally there are more

than one of these minute mounds, which often escape notice by reason

of their insignificance.

It is very significant that the Disc Barrow is more plentiful around

Stonehenge than in any other part of Wiltshire. Elsewhere they are

comparatively rare.

In the Round Barrows it is not uncommon to find that the body has

been cremated before interment. In the Bowl and Bell types, about

three out of every four bodies have been so disposed of. In Dorset the

relative interments, by cremation or otherwise, is four out of five,

while in Cornwall cremation is almost universal.

Almost without exception, however, the Disc Barrows contain only

cremated remains. The existing impression is that these three forms of

Round Barrow were in use at one and the same time, but that the Bowl

Barrow was the earliest, followed by the Bell, and that the Disc is

the latest form of all. From construction, if for no other reason,

this hypothesis seems perfectly tenable.

The Barrows on the Plain were built of the materials most easily

accessible, mould, chalk, and flints, with occasional fragments of

Sarsen. As has already been recorded, fragments of Foreign Stone from

Stonehenge have been found in one of those forming the group which lay

immediately south-west of the circle, but now destroyed by

cultivation. The method of procedure was simple. A grave would in many

cases be dug sufficiently long to contain the body if buried by

inhumation in a crouching position. This grave would vary in depth

from a few inches to six feet. Sometimes blocks of Sarsen would be

built over the body to protect it. The crouching posture is specially

noteworthy. The knees are drawn up to the trunk and the legs bent on

the thighs, while the arms are closed towards the chest, and the hands

over the face. There has been some speculation as to the significance

of this particular attitude. Some have seen in it that of an unborn

infant, others the natural position in death, others again have

maintained it was the primæval posture of sleep. It seems quite

possible, however, that the position may be due to mere utilitarian

motives as being more compact for the purpose of burial. The lie of

the inhumed skeleton is usually with the head to the north; exceptions

show that the east, south-east, and south-west, have sometimes been

selected, but never due south. Interments with the head to the west,

as in Christian burial, are very rare.

When burial by cremation took place, it is evident that the actual

rite of burning took place elsewhere, and that the calcined remains

were brought to the plain for burial. In some cases the ashes were

conveyed to the spot wrapped in skins, or possibly in some rude form

of cloth; more frequently in Wiltshire they were deposited in cinerary

urns. The proportion of urn burial is as three to one. This method of

conducting the cremation at one spot, and the subsequent removal of

the ashes to another, generally considered sacred, is not uncommon,

even at the present day.

The urns were sometimes placed upright, at others they were inverted,

the latter being the more common custom. The mouths of these urns were

frequently stopped with clay, or closely packed flints. The urns vary

in size considerably from nine inches to fifteen in height, and from

about a pint to more than a bushel in capacity. A veritable giant

rather over two feet high, the largest of its kind hitherto found in

Wiltshire, is preserved in the Salisbury and South Wilts Museum.

Another only two inches less in height was recovered from a Barrow

within a third of a mile from Stonehenge.

In most cases various objects were found associated with these

interments, such as drinking-cups, food vessels, incense-cups, weapons

and ornaments.

The fictile vessels are all of a very primitive nature, being entirely

moulded by hand, and showing no trace of the use of the potter's

wheel. The body consists of a mixture of clay mixed with fine pebbles,

or pounded flint, and sometimes ground chalk or shells. For finer work

sharp sand has been employed. The firing is most primitive and

imperfect. After drying in the sun the vessel was probably baked in

the ashes of a fire of brushwood piled over and about it. The

decoration, like the other processes, bespeaks a simple culture. It is

usually in the nature of lines, or dots, varied now and then by thumb

marks, many exhibit the impress of the thumbnail. A pointed stick

would produce lines on the soft body of the vessel, so would a twisted

cord, while a rude comb of points inserted in a stick, gave a fine

dotted line. Circles, animal forms, or arabesques do not appear at


The Cinerary Urns and Incense Cups were strictly sepulchral; the Food

Vessels and Drinking Cups seem also to have been reserved for funeral

rites, as they are not found apart from the Barrows, and placed beside

the dead ceremonially, to contain provision for the Spirit in its

voyage to the distant land to which it had departed. Both Food Vessels

and Drinking Cups are rare in Wiltshire. Two were presented to the

Salisbury Museum in 1915, both of which came from Hampshire. A similar

vessel was found at Bulford in 1910, and is in the same collection.

The finds in the Round Barrows are not, however, confined to

pottery. Weapons, some of stone, some of bronze, and occasional

ornaments of gold and amber shed further light upon this departed race

of Salisbury Plain. Although this people has been referred to as a

Bronze Age people, it does not follow that their weapons were made

exclusively of that material. In all ages there is a perceptible

overlap from the former culture. In much later days the bow and arrow

lingered on long after the introduction of fire-arms; so, too, in

these early times, the stone implement was used side by side with the

more recent metal one. Axes both perforated and unperforated have been

found, but it is distinctly significant of an advancing culture, that

the perforated axes outnumber the older form. Several of these stone

hammer-axes have been found associated with bronze daggers and celts,

showing that the use of stone and bronze was contemporaneous.

Dagger blades of flint have also been found in barrows, though not

commonly. Four such blades, which might perhaps have been javelin

heads, were found in one barrow at Winterbourne Stoke. They represent

a very high standard of workmanship, and elegance of form and finish.

Three are of a delicate leaf-shape, while the fourth is

lozenge-shaped. Flint arrow-heads when found are always finely barbed.

The bronze objects, however, are in excess of those of stone, thus

showing that the new bronze was displacing the older flint implement.

Moreover, all the bronze weapons are of an early type. This is of some

considerable importance, since it would seem to indicate that the

Barrows were erected very shortly after Stonehenge, which it will be

remembered has been referred to an early period of the Bronze Age.

Certainly only a very short interval separates the completion of

Stonehenge and the building of the Barrows; or to put it in other

words, before Stonehenge was built there only existed two, or perhaps

three, Long Barrows upon the Plain; but when it was finished, Barrows

to the number of three hundred grew up around it, and all these

Barrows, from their contents, belong to a period almost identical with

that of the Stone Circle itself.

No other Barrows in Wiltshire have been so productive of bronze

daggers as those about Stonehenge. In some cases it has been possible

to recover portions of the ornamental sheaths in which they lay. Their

handles were of wood, strengthened occasionally with an oval pommel of

bone. In some cases, gold pins have been hammered into the wood to

form a zig-zag pattern.

Personal ornaments also occur among the Barrow finds; more usually

they are of amber, sometimes of gold, and occasionally of bronze.

Ornaments of amber have been found in thirty-three barrows; the

quality of the material is usually red and transparent, though

sometimes a paler variety has been employed. These ornaments are

mostly necklaces, either of beads, or of graduated plates perforated

and strung together. One found at Lake consisted of nearly two hundred

beads and plates, and when worn must have extended halfway down to the


Ornaments of gold were found in seven barrows. Many of these were

built up upon a wooden mould, the gold being hammered on, and fastened

by indentation.