Round barrow cemetery on Oakley Down.
Reasons for Designation
Cranborne Chase is an area of chalkland well known for its high number, density and diversity of archaeological remains. These include a rare combination of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites, comprising one of the largest concentrations of burial monuments in England, the largest known cursus (a linear ritual monument) and a significant number and range of henge monuments (Late Neolithic ceremonial centres). Other important remains include a variety of enclosures, settlements, field systems and linear boundaries which date throughout prehistory and into the Romano-British and medieval periods. This high level of survival of archaeological remains is due largely to the later history of the Chase. Cranborne Chase formed a Royal Hunting Ground from at least Norman times, and much of the archaeological survival within the area resulted from associated laws controlling land-use which applied until 1830. The unique archaeological character of the Chase has attracted much attention over the years, notably during the later 19th century, by the pioneering work on the Chase of General Pitt-Rivers, Sir Richard Colt Hoare and Edward Cunnington, often regarded as the fathers of British archaeology. Archaeological investigations have continued throughout the 20th century and to the present day.
Round barrow cemeteries date to the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). They comprise closely spaced groups of up to 30 round barrows - rubble or earthen mounds covering single or multiple burials - or ring ditches, visible only from the air due to levelling of the mounds by cultivation in the historic and modern periods. Most cemeteries developed over a considerable period of time, often many centuries, and in some cases acted as a focus for burials as late as the early medieval period. They exhibit considerable diversity of burial rite, plan and form, frequently including several different types of round barrow.
On Cranborne Chase, round barrow cemeteries are associated with earlier features such as long barrows, the Dorset Cursus, and henge monuments. Where excavation has taken place around the barrows, contemporary or later flat burials between the barrow mounds have often been revealed. Round barrow cemeteries occur across most of lowland Britain, with a marked concentration in Wessex, of which that on Cranborne Chase is significant. They are particularly representative of their period, whilst their diversity and their longevity as a monument class provide important information on the variety of beliefs and social organisation amongst early prehistoric communities. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape and constitute a significant component of the archaeology of Cranborne Chase.
Disc barrows are Bronze Age burial monuments. They belong to the Early Bronze Age, with most examples dating to the period 1400-1200 BC. They occur either in isolation, or in round barrow cemeteries. Disc barrows were constructed as a circular or oval area of level ground defined by a bank and internal ditch and containing one or more central or eccentrically located small, low mounds covering burials, usually in pits. Earthwork remains that survive are usually very slight, and thus highly vulnerable to damage. The burials, normally cremations, are frequently accompanied by pottery vessels, tools and personal ornaments. It has been suggested that disc barrows were normally used for the burial of women, although this remains unproven. However, it is likely that the individuals were of high status. Disc barrows are rare nationally, with about 250 examples identified, many occurring within Wessex and at least 12 examples known on Cranborne Chase. Their richness in terms of grave goods provides important evidence for chronological and cultural links amongst prehistoric communities over a wide area of southern England, as well as providing an insight into their beliefs and social organisation. Saucer barrows are funerary monuments of the Early Bronze Age, most examples dating to between 1800 and l200 BC. They occur either in isolation or in barrow cemeteries (closely-spaced groups of round barrows). They were constructed as a circular area of level ground defined by a bank and internal ditch and largely occupied by a single low, squat mound covering one or more burials, usually in a pit. The burials, either inhumations or cremations, are sometimes accompanied by pottery vessels, tools and personal ornaments.
Saucer barrows are one of the rarest recognised forms of round barrow, with about 60 known examples nationally, most of which are in Wessex. The presence of grave goods within the barrows provides important evidence for chronological and cultural links amongst prehistoric communities over a wide area of southern England as well as providing an insight into their beliefs and social organisation. As a rare and fragile form of round barrow, all identified saucer barrows would normally be considered to be of national importance.
Bowl barrows, the most numerous form of round barrow, are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. They occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as a focus for burials in later periods. Often superficially similar, although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and a diversity of burial practices. Over 10,000 bowl barrows are known to survive nationally, of which a cluster of at least 395 examples has been identified on Cranborne Chase. Some of these have been levelled by ploughing but remain visible from the air as ring ditches. Buried remains will nevertheless survive at these sites, both within the ditch fills and associated with the central burial pit. Bowl barrows are particularly representative of their period, whilst their considerable variation of form and longevity as a monument type will provide important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation amongst early prehistoric communities. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape and constitute a significant component of the archaeology of Cranborne Chase.
Although much is already known about the round barrow cemetery on Oakley Down it will contain further archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, development, the relative chronologies of individual barrows, territorial significance, social organisation, longevity, diverse ritual and funerary practices, re-use and the overall landscape context of the cemetery and its constituent parts through time.
This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 15 December 2015. The record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.
The monument, which falls into 26 separate areas, includes a round barrow cemetery situated on the summits of two east facing spurs which slope gently towards a dry valley to the east with the majority of barrows lying between the lines of the modern A354 road and the Ackling Dyke Roman road. The barrow cemetery contains at least six disc barrows, a saucer barrow, three oval mounds and 16 bowl barrows. The disc barrows survive as circular platforms from 12m up to 29m in diameter with up to two mounds either centrally or eccentrically placed on the platform, all surrounded by a ditch and outer bank. The mounds are up to 11m in diameter and 1m high. The ditches are up to 5.5m wide and 0.7m deep and the outer banks up to 5m wide and 0.4m high. One is slightly cut by a Roman road. The saucer barrow survives as a low circular mound measuring 18m in diameter, surrounded by a shallow 4.5m wide ditch and a low 4.5m wide outer bank. The three oval mounds measure from 20m up to 29m long, 10m up to 12m wide and 0.8m up to 1.3m high. The bowl barrows survive as circular mounds surrounded by buried quarry ditches from which the construction material was derived. These vary in size from 11m up to 26m in diameter and from 0.3m up to 3.4m high. At least four have visible surrounding ditches measuring between 3.5m and 5.6m wide and up to 0.4m deep. Five of the disc barrows, two of the oval mounds and 12 of the bowl barrows were excavated by Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington at the beginning of the 19th century. These excavations revealed wide diversity in primary burial rites from inhumations to cremations in urns or cists, some with additional grave goods and many showed secondary burials again with differing funerary rites including one Saxon inhumation. A partial excavation in 1970 showed one bowl barrow had a posthole close to its edge interpreted as a support for a cremation pyre, it lay beyond the ditch of the barrow and close to a pit filled with ash.
Further archaeological remains survive in the vicinity, some are the subject of separate schedulings but others are not included because they have not been formally assessed.