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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Tumuli and Barrows


Before I proceed with the article on Tumuli and Barrows it is extremely important to note that many Tumuli and Barrows are protected sites. The use of metal-detecting equipment on a scheduled site is illegal without a licence from English Heritage, as is the removal of objects found by detection equipment. It is an offence not to adhere to the conditions of scheduled monument consent. Conviction for these offences can lead to fines and imprisonment. All responsible Metal Detectorists would respect these laws. Not only do they not want to get themselves into trouble but many are keen historians and/or archaeologists and would not wish to cause any problems for future generations. However if you understand what a Tumuli or Barrow is - it can certainly help you researching an area. Just because you can't detect on a scheduled site does not mean you can't detect on farms around that area - with permission of course. At least you know there has been activity in the area.

Throughout the country we find many artificial mounds which are called tumuli or barrows, or in the neighbourhood of Wales, "tumps." Theseare the ancient burial-places of the early inhabitants of our island,
the word "barrow" being derived from the Anglo-Saxon _beorh_, a hill or grave-mound. It is not unusual to see a barrow in the centre, or near, an old churchyard. The church was built, of course, much later than
the erection of the mound; but doubtless the early preachers of the gospel took advantage of the reverence which was paid to these ancient tombs, proclaimed there the story of the cross, and on the spots so consecrated churches were ultimately built.

These mounds have much to tell us of the early inhabitants. To cover the dead with a mound of earth was a custom common to all nations. All over Europe, in Northern Asia, India, and in the new world of America, we find burial-mounds. The pyramids of Egypt are only glorified mounds; and our islands can boast of an endless variety, sometimes consisting of cairns, or heaps of stones, sometimes of huge hills of earth, 130 feet
in height, as at Silbury, Wilts, and covering five acres; while others are only small heaps of soil a few feet high.

The contents of the tumuli differ also. Sometimes the bodies were burnt and the ashes preserved in rude urns; sometimes they were not cremated. Sometimes they were buried in stone cists, or in the hollowed trunk of
trees; sometimes without any covering save that of the earth. In nearlyall cases we find numerous articles buried with the dead, such as personal ornaments, weapons, pottery, and food.

The presence of food in the tumuli testifies to the natural instinct implanted by the Creator in the human heart with regard to a future existence. The idea that the soul of the departed is about to take a long journey is constant and deeply rooted; the rainbow and the milky way have often been supposed to be the paths trod by the departed, who require sustenance for so long a journey. The Aztecs laid a water-bottle beside the bodies to be used on the way to Mictlan, the land of the dead. Bow and arrows, a pair of mocassins with a spare piece of deerskin to patch them if they wear out, and sinews of deer to sew on the patches with, together with a kettle and provisions, are still placed in the graves by the North American Indians. The Laplanders lay beside the corpse flint, steel, and tinder, to supply light for the dark journey. A coin was placed in the mouth of the dead by the Greeks to pay Charon, the ferryman of the Styx, and for a similar purpose in the hand of a deceased Irishman. The Greenlanders bury with a child a dog, for they say a dog will find his way anywhere. In the grave of the Viking warrior were buried his horn and armour in order that he might enter the halls of Valhalla fully equipped.

These and many other examples might be quoted showing the universality of the belief in a future life, a belief that was evidently shared with other nations by the primeval races who inhabited our islands in prehistoric times.

The presence of food and drinking vessels in the tumuli clearly shows this, and also the store of weapons and implements, adzes, hammers, scrapers, and other tools which the barrows have preserved through so many ages.

These barrows are not confined to one period or one race, as their shape denotes. Some are long, measuring 200 to 400 feet in length by 60 or 80 feet wide; others are circular. The former were made by the long-headed (dolichocephalic) race of whom we have already spoken; the latter by the round-headed (brachycephalic), conquerors of their feebler long-skulled forerunners. When we consider the poor tools used by these primitive peoples, we may wonder at the amount of labour they must have expended on the construction of these giant mounds. Picks made of deer's horns and pointed staves enabled them to loosen the earth which was then collected in baskets and thrown on the rising heap. Countless toilers and many years must have been needed to produce such wonderful memorials of their industry.

As our Archaeologists are getting more advanced they are proceeding to dig into these mounds and discover what they contain. First we notice an encircling trench and mound surrounding the barrow, the purpose of
which is supposed to have been to keep the dead person in the tomb, and prevent it from injuring the living. After much digging in the centre of the barrow we find a single stone chamber, entered by a passage underneath the higher and wider end of the mound. Sometimes the chamber is divided into three parts, the
centre one being covered by a dome, formed by the overlapping of the stones in the upper parts of the walls. The passage leading to the centre chamber is also built with large stones erected with much care and skill. The contents of these long barrows are not so interesting, or numerous, as those contained in the round barrows. The skeletons are usually found in irregular positions, and few weapons or ornaments accompany the buried bones. Derbyshire possesses many barrows; wherever in a place-name the suffix _low_ occurs, derived from the Anglo-Saxon_hlow_, signifying a small hill or mound, a barrow is generally to be found. The long barrow is usually about 200 feet in length, 40 feet wide, and 8 to 12 feet high. They run east and west, frequently north-east by south-west, the principal interment being usually at the eastern and higher end. The bodies are often found in a cist or box made of large stones, and several were buried in one mound, generally on the south and east sides, so that they might lie in the sun. This practice may have been connected with sun-worship; and the same idea prevailed in modern times, when the south side of the churchyard was considered thefavoured portion, and criminals and suicides were relegated to the colder north side.

The position of the bodies varied, but usually they were buried in a crouching position, with knees bent and head drawn towards the knees. This was probably the natural position which a man would assume when he
slept without a luxurious bed to lie upon, and with little to cover him, in order to keep himself as warm as possible. Hence when he sank into his last long sleep, his mourning relatives would place him in the same
posture. In the Channel Islands bodies were often placed in a kneeling position.

The custom of burning the body seems to have been adopted later by the same long-headed race who used the long barrows, and prevailed more in the north of England, in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and Scotland, than in the south. The cremation was sometimes not very thoroughly performed. The bodies were placed together, wood being piled about them, and over the heap the mound was raised. Then the fire was lighted, which naturally only partly consumed the bodies. We find also, mingled with bones of men and women, the bones of animals, which were probably the remains of funeral feasts.

As we have said the round-headed race introduced the circular barrow, and cremation was their usual, though not exclusive, practice. These people were much stronger and bigger men than their predecessors, their powerful jaws and projecting chins showing much more power of will than the softer narrow-faced dolichocephalic race. However, in the round barrows we also find the bodies of the latter, and we gather that they were not exterminated or driven out by their conquerors, but mingled with them, intermarried, until at length the type of the long-skulled race prevailed, and the Celt of later times possessed the features of the race he had formerly subdued. At least such seems to be the teaching of the barrows.

The Celt became acquainted with the use of bronze, and his tomb was enriched with a store of the relics of the life and art of theworkmanship of the time. As cremation was the usual practice, it was no longer necessary to have a chamber which the dead might inhabit; the size of the sleeping-place of the dead was reduced, and a cist was constructed for the receptacle of the urn in which the remains were placed. The mound also was reduced in size and looked much less imposing than the huge barrows of the Stone Age; but its contents were much more important.

The ashes we find frequently contained in a rude urn of black pottery with some ornamentation. Then we discover pins made of bones, which were evidently used to fasten the dress. The people therefore were evidently not naked, woad-dyed savages; moreover we find bits of woollen fabric and charred cloth, and in Denmark people belonging to this same early race were buried in a cap, shirt, leggings, and boots, a fairly complete wardrobe. They also loved to adorn themselves, and had buttons of jet, and stone and bone ornaments. Besides flint implements we find adzes and hatchets and chisels, axe-hammers constructed with a hole in them for the insertion of a handle, grain rubbers, wheat stones, and hammer stones. The mounds also disclose a great variety of flint implements, hatchets, scrapers, both round and long, knife-daggers, knives, saws, drills, fabricators or flaking tools, sling stones, hammer stones, polishers, arrow-points, either leaf-shaped, triangular, or barbed, and heads of darts and javelins. A very curious object is sometimes found, a
stone wrist guard, for the purpose of protecting the wrist from the bow string.

These barrows and their contents bear evidences to the artistic workmanship of the prehistoric dwellers in our villages. Their tombs show that these people did not confine themselves to the fabrication of
objects of utility, but that they loved to adorn themselves with personal ornaments, which required much art and skill in the manufacture. Necklaces of beads pleased their fancy, and these they made of jet, or shells, the teeth of deer, and the vertebrae of fish. Moreover they loved ear-rings, which were sometimes made of the teeth ofpigs. Objects of gold, bronze, glass, ivory, amber, clay, and bone were also used as ornaments.

If we examine the pottery in the barrows we find that a vessel of earthenware was usually placed at the back of the head of the body when it was not cremated. There were also cinerary urns, cups, usually called incense cups, which were certainly not used for incense, whatever may have been their purpose, food and drinking vessels. This pottery was not sun-dried, but burnt in a fire, though not made in a kiln, and the form
of the vessels shows that the makers were ignorant of the use of a potter's wheel. The ornamentation consisted of a series of straight lines made by a sharp-pointed instrument and by impressions of the finger nails or string, often revealing much skill and artistic workmanship.

From a study of the barrows we may learn much about the early inhabitants of our island, who lived and worked and died on the same spots where we now are spending our days. We can see them hunting in the wild woodlands, rearing cows and sheep and goats, and cultivating their crops of corn. We can still trace on the hillsides some curious terraces fashioned by them for the growing of their grain, and discover querns, or hand millstones, and stones for bruising the corn. The bones of young oxen a few days old, discovered in the mounds, show that they knew the use of milk, and how to get a good supply. A rude spindle-whorl shows
that they knew how to weave stuffs for their clothing, and the numerous buttons, fasteners, and belts prove that the clothes were fitted to the wearer, and not mere shapeless sacks.

The barrows also bear evidence to the existence of some organised condition of society. In the early savage state of human existence the family is the only community; but as man progressed towards civilisation, he learnt how to combine with his fellows for mutual defence and support. We gather from our examination of the tombs of these early races that they had attained to this degree of progress. There were chiefs of tribes and families who were buried with more honour than that bestowed upon the humbler folk. Many families were buried in one mound, showing that the tribal state had been reached, while the many humbler graves denote the condition of servitude and dependence in which a large number of the race lived. All this, and
much more, may be learnt from a careful study of the tombs of these prehistoric people.

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