Western end of Dorset Cursus
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1002785
Date first listed: 24-Apr-1958
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: East Dorset (District Authority)
Parish: Gussage St. Michael
National Grid Reference: ST 96976 12405
South-west terminal of the Dorset Cursus 760m south east of Thickthorn Farm.
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. 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. The greatest variations in the ground plan occur at the terminals, with a variety of both round ended and square ended examples recorded. Dateable finds from cursus monuments are few. 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. There are indications re-cutting or extending of the ditches at some sites and the distribution of monuments of later periods often respects cursus monuments demonstrating their continued recognition through time. Taken together, these features indicate construction and use over a long period of time. Cursus monuments have been interpreted in various ways since their initial identification. 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. Of the 40 or so examples recorded nationally, most are widely scattered across central and eastern England, though the distribution extends to northern counties. The majority lie on the flat, well drained gravel terraces of major river valleys, but a number are known on the chalk downlands of Dorset and Wiltshire. As one of the few known classes of Neolithic monument, and due to their comparative rarity, their considerable age and their longevity as a monument type, all cursus monuments are considered to be nationally important. The south west terminal of the Dorset Cursus 760m south east of Thickthorn Farm survives well and will contain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, date, function, longevity, re-use, interrelationship with surrounding monuments and overall landscape context.
This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 22 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.
This monument includes the south west terminal of the Dorset Cursus situated on the summit of a prominent narrow ridge on Thickthorn Down. The terminal survives as an L-shaped bank and ditch with the long side aligned roughly north west to south east for approximately 60m until it turns to the east for some 25m. The ditch lies to the east until the turn where it is to the south of the bank. To the north west is a slight kink to the east. The bank measures approximately 3.5m wide and 1.6m high and the ditch is up to 2m wide and 0.2m deep. The corners where the turns occur have noticeably higher banks and are rounded. Atkinson in 1954 suggested the ditch and bank were originally separated by a narrow berm. Excavations elsewhere on the cursus by Barrett, Bradley and Green in 1982 and 1984 showed the northern ditch to have been steep sided and flat bottomed up to 3m wide at the top and 2m wide at the base and had been dug 1.2m deep into the chalk and suggested the accompanying bank may have been revetted. The south eastern ditch was shallower and may have been re-cut at least twice. Early Neolithic pottery was recovered, along with flint knapping debris, animal bone and an antler pick. They suggested the Dorset Cursus had been built in stages and was not necessarily in an open environment. The cursus terminal has close links with the long barrows to the south east and a dyke to the north west, these are scheduled separately.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: DO 295
Legacy System: RSM - OCN
PastScape Monument No:-890546
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