The Cursus, two round barrows situated within its western end, and a long barrow situated at its eastern end
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
- Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
- Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
- Winterbourne Stoke
- National Grid Reference:
- SU 12351 43043
Reasons for Designation
A small number of areas in southern England appear to have acted as foci for
ceremonial and ritual activity during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods.
Two of the best known and the earliest recognised areas are around Avebury and
Stonehenge, now jointly designated as a World Heritage Site.
The area of chalk downland which surrounds Stonehenge contains one of the
densest and most varied groups of Neolithic and Bronze Age field monuments in
Britain. Included within the area are Stonehenge itself, the Stonehenge
cursus, the Durrington Walls henge, and a variety of burial monuments, many
grouped into cemeteries.
The area has been the subject of archaeological research since the 18th
century when Stukeley recorded many of the monuments and partially excavated a
number of the burial mounds. More recently, the collection of artefacts from
the surfaces of ploughed fields has supplemented the evidence for ritual and
burial by revealing the intensity of contemporary settlement and land-use.
In view of the importance of the area, all ceremonial and sepulchral monuments
of this period which retain significant archaeological remains are identified
as nationally important.
A cursus is an elongated rectilinear earthwork, the length of which is normally greater than 250m, with its length 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-60m. The greatest variations in the ground plan occur at the terminals, with a variety of both round-ended and square-ended earthworks recorded. Datable finds from cursus monuments are few. Early Neolithic pottery has been found in the primary silting of some ditches, but there is also evidence of construction in the Late Neolithic. Indications of re-cutting or extending of the ditches at some sites suggests that the monument type was in use over a long period. Cursus monuments have been interpreted in various ways since their initial identification. The name itself is the Latin term for a race track and this is one of the functions suggested by Stukeley in the 18th century. More recently a ritual or ceremonial role has been suggested. Cursus monuments are widely scattered across central and eastern England. 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. There are several examples in northern England. Overall about 40 are known in England, of which this is one of the better known and better preserved. Beyond, but running parallel with, the eastern end of the Cursus is a long barrow, one of at least nine to survive in the Stonehenge area. Long barrows were constructed as earthen or drystone mounds often with flanking ditches and acted as funerary monuments during the Early and Middle Neolithic periods (3400-2400 BC). They represent the burial places of Britain's early farming communities and, as such, are amongst the oldest field monuments surviving visibly in the present landscape. Where investigated, long barrows appear to have been used for communal burial, often with only parts of the human remains having been selected for interment. Certain sites provide evidence for several phases of funerary monument preceding the barrow and it is probable that long barrows acted as important ritual sites for local communities over a considerable period of time. Some 500 long barrows are recorded in England. Later in date than both the Cursus and the long barrow are two round barrows which are positioned within the Cursus at its western end. Of these one is a bowl barrow, the most numerous form of round barrow, and one a bell barrow of which only 250 are known, 30 from the Stonehenge area. Both represent funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, normally ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. Often superficially similar, although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and a variety of burial practices. The burials, either inhumations or cremations, are sometimes accompanied by pottery vessels, tools and personal ornaments.
The monument includes the Cursus, two round barrows situated within its
western end and a long barrow situated at its eastern end.
The Cursus is a linear earthwork enclosure surrounded by a bank and outer
ditch, located partly within a shallow east-west combe some 650m north of
Stonehenge. It is aligned approximately east-west, rising to a prominent
position near the 110m contour at its western end, and reaching a similar
height at its eastern end. Both ends are intervisible and both are within
sight of Stonehenge. It is some 2770m in length and varies in width between
110m and 165m. The east end of the Cursus is no longer visible, having been
disturbed by cultivation and forestry. A 19th century illustration shows it
closed just west of a long barrow and this is confirmed by an aerial
photograph. The west end is squarish with rounded corners. Here the bank
survives up to 6.5m wide and 0.4m high, while the outer ditch is only visible
as a slight earthwork, having become infilled by a combination of natural
processes and deliberate levelling. The section of ditch east of Fargo
Plantation however, is well preserved for a distance of 1100m. Partial
excavation east of Fargo Plantation revealed that the ditch was steep-sided
with a flat bottom, measuring 1.8m wide by 0.75m deep and separated from the
bank by a berm c.1.5m wide. Partial excavations at its west end revealed a
wider ditch, up to 2.75m wide by 2m deep, separated from the inner bank by a
berm 2.5m wide. The inner bank was also wider here, up to 10m across, and
there were indications of an outer bank up to 7m wide beyond the ditch. Within
the enclosure there are no indications of internal arrangements except for a
wide, low bank (6m by 0.2m) flanked on the western side by a ditch which
crosses the interior obliquely in the Fargo Plantation section.
Illustrations of 18th and 19th century date show up to four entrance gaps
towards the eastern end. The western end of the monument has been restored by
the National Trust. Partial excavations near the west end have revealed two
concentrations of waste flakes from the bottom of the ditch and a bluestone
fragment on the original chalk surface within the ditch.
The monument also includes a long barrow situated c.25m east of the eastern
end of the Cursus and orientated north-south at right-angles to it. The mound
is 82m long, 15m wide and c.1m high. The central and western section of the
mound is visible as a slight earthwork; the eastern section is difficult to
identify having been reduced in height by cultivation. The ditches which flank
the east and west sides of the mound, and from which material was quarried
during its construction, survive as slight earthworks. Partial excavations
east of the mound revealed a ditch 1.4m wide by 0.7m deep, replaced by a later
ditch 3.8m wide and 2m deep. The ditch fillings contained much worked flint.
Partial excavations of the mound in the 19th century produced animal bones,
one adult burial and two infant burials.
Two round barrows are situated within the western end of the Cursus. The more
westerly has been levelled by the construction of military buildings in
1914-1918 and subsequent agricultural operations. Total excavation in 1958
proved that it was a bell barrow consisting of a central mound c.13m in
diameter, surrounded by a berm c.2m wide and a flat-bottomed ditch c.1m wide,
giving an overall diameter of c.19m. A central cremation in a pit and a child
inhumation were found. The more easterly barrow is situated 120m from the west
end of the Cursus within a clearing in Fargo Plantation. The mound is 27m in
diameter and 1.7m high. The ditch which surrounded it and from which material
was quarried during its construction is now difficult to identify on the
ground having become infilled over the years. It is calculated to be c.3m wide
giving an overall diameter of 33m. Partial excavation in the 19th century
produced a primary inhumation with a bronze dagger and a polished pebble and
two secondary inhumations.
All fence posts are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath these
features is included. The track which crosses the Cursus north of Stonehenge
and south of Durrington Down Farm is included in the scheduling.
Due to factors of scale the map extract may seem to imply that sites SM10244,
SM10404 and SM10405 conjoin with the Cursus (site SM10324), but they are in
fact separate on the ground.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Grinsell, LV, The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume V, (1957), 202
Grinsell, LV, The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume V, (1957), 151
Grinsell, LV, The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume V, (1957), 137
Grinsell, LV, The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume V, (1957), 28
Hoare, R C, Ancient History of Wiltshire, (1812), 164
Hoare, R C, Ancient History of Wiltshire, (1812), 158
Hoare, R C, Ancient History of Wiltshire, (1812), 165
RCHME, , Stonehenge and its Environs, (1979), 13
Richards, J C, The Stonehenge Environs Project, (1990), 93-96
Richards, J C, The Stonehenge Environs Project, (1990), 96-109
Christie, P M, 'Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine' in The Stonehenge Cursus, (), 392-3
Christie, P M, 'Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine' in The Stonehenge Cursus, (), 370-82
Thurnam, J, 'Archaeologia' in On Ancient Barrows, especially those of Wiltshire, , Vol. 42, (1870), 405-21
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