Earthworks on Gussage Down


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Dorset (Unitary Authority)
Gussage St. Michael
Dorset (Unitary Authority)
Sixpenny Handley
National Grid Reference:
ST 98947 14927, ST 98953 14395, ST 99216 13725, ST 99277 13839, ST 99551 13458


An extensive multi period landscape including a large settlement enclosure with two banjo enclosures, three bowl barrows and parts of linear boundaries, a prehistoric field system and a cursus on Gussage Hill.

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.

Banjo enclosure is the term used by archaeologists for a distinctive type of prehistoric settlement. They were mostly constructed and used during the Middle Iron Age (400-100 BC), although some remained in use up to the time of the Roman Conquest (AD 43). Typical banjo enclosures have an oval or sub- rectangular central area, rarely greater than 0.4ha in size, encircled by a broad, steep-sided ditch and an external bank. There is characteristically a single entrance, approached by an avenue up to 90m long formed by out-turnings of the enclosure's ditch. The entrance to the avenue sometimes has further `antennae' ditches, giving a funnel-like appearance; or it may be connected to a transverse linear ditch. The enclosures resemble banjos when viewed in plan, hence their name. Excavated banjo enclosures have been found to contain evidence of habitation, evidence for wooden structures provided by post holes and drainage gullies, and storage and refuse pits. These features, together with the ditches, generally contain abundant artefacts, and can provide environmental evidence illustrating the landscape in which the monument was set, and the economy of its inhabitants. The enclosures are often associated with other types of Iron Age monuments, including other enclosures, field systems, trackways and other unenclosed settlement forms. Together, these monument types provide information concerning the diversity of social organisation and farming practices amongst prehistoric communities. Over 200 examples are recorded nationally, the majority of which are located in Wessex and around the upper Thames Valley, and particular concentrations have been noted on the chalk downland of Hampshire, elsewhere they are very rare.

Bowl barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age, most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. Often superficially similar, although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and a diversity of burial practices, at least 395 examples have been identified on Cranborne Chase.

Linear boundaries are substantial earthwork features comprising single or multiple ditches and banks which extend over distances varying from less than 1km to over 10km. The evidence of excavation and study of associated monuments demonstrate that their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been reused later. The scale of many linear boundaries has been taken to indicate that they were constructed by large social groups and were used to mark important boundaries in the landscape, their impressive scale displaying the corporate prestige of their builders. They would have been powerful symbols, often with religious associations, used to define and order the territorial holdings of the groups responsible for their construction. Linear earthworks occur quite widely across parts of Cranborne Chase and together, these are of considerable importance for the analysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age.

A cursus is an elongated rectilinear earthwork, the length of which is normally greater than 250m and more than ten times its width. The sides are usually defined by a bank and external ditch, but occasionally by a line of closely set pits. The two long sides run roughly parallel and may incorporate earlier monuments of other classes. Access to the interior was restricted to a small number of entranceways, usually near the ends of the long sides. Cursus monuments vary enormously in length, from 250m at the lower end of the range up to 5.6km in the case of the Dorset Cursus. The width is normally in the range 20m to 60m. Early Neolithic pottery has been found in the primary fill of some ditches, but there is also evidence of construction in the Late Neolithic period. Some show re-cutting or extension of the ditches and the distribution of monuments of later periods often respect cursus monuments, demonstrating their continued recognition through time. Cursus monuments have been interpreted in various ways. The name itself is the Latin term for race track and this was one of the functions suggested by Stukeley in the 18th century. More recently a ritual or ceremonial role has been suggested. Only 40 or so examples are recorded nationally and all are considered to be nationally important.

The prolonged use of the area for settlement, agricultural, ritual or religious reasons indicates the archaeological and environmental potential for the multi period landscape including a large settlement enclosure with two banjo enclosures, three bowl barrows and parts of linear boundaries, a prehistoric field system and a cursus on Gussage Hill within its landscape context.


See Details.


This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 17 December 2015. This 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 five separate areas of protection, includes a multi period landscape with a large settlement enclosure incorporating two banjo enclosures, three bowl barrows and parts of extensive systems of linear boundaries and fields together with a section of the Dorset Cursus all situated on the prominent slopes of Gussage Hill and Gussage Down. The features of the multi period landscape survive differentially as a series of earthworks defined by banks and ditches or as entirely buried features visible on aerial photographs. The northern part is defined by a series of extensive sinuous linear boundary banks which survive as up to three closely parallel banks with medial ditches. These are partly cut by a road. To the north of these ditches is a bowl barrow which was excavated in 1970 and found to contain a cremation pyre with fragments of human bone and some late Iron Age or early Romano-British pottery. The circular barrow mound measures approximately 9m in diameter and 0.5m high and was surrounded by a roughly square enclosure beyond the outer buried quarry ditch. To the south of the main lines of dykes is an elongated settlement enclosure defined by a bank and ditch which abuts the linear dykes and incorporates two banjo enclosures with funnelled entrances to the east. Within this enclosure and between the two banjo enclosures layers of dark occupation debris containing Iron Age and Romano-British pottery have been identified. Pits are visible on aerial photographs within and around the banjo enclosures. Colt Hoare dug in several places and found Roman pottery, brick flues and even ‘stuccoed walls painted’. To the south east it abuts the northern side of the Dorset Cursus. In this area the cursus changes course twice within a distance of 200m as it crosses Gussage Hill and incorporates a long barrow (scheduled separately). The cursus survives as low earthworks partly overlain by the settlement enclosure. To the north of the settlement and running across the cursus are a series of rectangular enclosures defined by ditches representing part of the associated field system. To the south is a system of linear banks and ditches and cropmarks for a complex of further enclosures. The banks and ditches run towards the south east for approximately 500m with a small triangular enclosure on the north east facing side. There is a bowl barrow in this area and the circular mound is up to 15m in diameter and 1.8m high. At the southern end of the triangular enclosure the ditches turn abruptly to the south west and encounter further linear ditches and banks which start at the south western side of the settlement enclosure and run in a roughly southerly direction across the cursus and parallel to two long barrows (scheduled separately). This creates a second roughly triangular enclosed area which contains another bowl barrow. The low circular barrow mound measures approximately 7m in diameter. Finds from around the settlement and associated field system have included Neolithic and Mesolithic material indicating the prolonged importance of the hill throughout prehistory.

Further archaeological remains survive in the vicinity, some are scheduled separately but others are not included because they have not been formally assessed.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
DO 192
Legacy System:


PastScape Monument Nos:-210005, 130759, 210004, 871900, 890546, 210020, 1307203 and 210017


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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