Entrance grave 23m west of Old Rock, Porth Hellick Down, St Mary's
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1011944
Date first listed: 07-Oct-1976
Date of most recent amendment: 17-May-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
Parish: St. Mary's
National Grid Reference: SV 92899 10613
Reasons for Designation
The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west
England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains
from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the
islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English
Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many
unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social
development of early communities.
Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the
islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its
exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change
against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of
archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands'
The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually
expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post-
medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic
location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works
reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the
mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post-
medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard
for the nation's shipping in the western approaches.
The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has
long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of
documentation, including several recent surveys.
Entrance graves are funerary and ritual monuments whose construction and use
dates to the later Neolithic, Early and Middle Bronze Age (c.2500-1000 BC).
They were constructed with a roughly circular mound of heaped rubble and
earth, up to 25m in diameter, whose perimeter may be defined by a kerb of
edge-set slabs or, occasionally, coursed stone. The mound contains a
rectangular chamber built of edge-set slabs or coursed rubble walling, or a
combination of both. The chamber was roofed by further slabs, called
capstones, set across the chamber. The chamber was accessible via a gap in the
mound's kerb or outer edge and often extends back beyond the centre of the
mound. The cairn's mound and chamber may incorporate natural boulders and
outcrops. Excavations in entrance graves have revealed cremated human bone and
funerary urns, usually within the chambers but on occasion within the mound.
Unburnt human bone has also been recovered but is only rarely preserved. Some
chambers have also produced ritual deposits of domestic midden debris,
including dark earth typical of the surface soil found within settlements,
animal bone and artefact fragments. Entrance graves may occur as single
monuments or in small or large groups, often being associated with other cairn
types in cemeteries. They may also occur in close proximity to broadly
contemporary field boundaries. The national distribution of entrance graves is
heavily weighted towards the Isles of Scilly which contain 79 of the 93
surviving examples recorded nationally, the remaining 14 being located in
This entrance grave on Porth Hellick Down has survived substantially intact, despite some disturbance to the funerary chamber by the antiquarian excavation. However that excavation has confirmed the presence of that chamber and has left a good proportion of its deposits intact. The incorporation of natural outcrops into the cairn is a feature found in certain other cairns on the Isles of Scilly but unusual and rare nationally. The presence of this monument within a cemetery containing various cairn types, its proximity to a prehistoric field system on the western slope of the Down, and the disposition of this and the other cairn cemeteries on successive downs along the coast are all factors combining to illustrate well the diversity of funerary practices and the organisation of land use during the Bronze Age.
The monument includes a prehistoric entrance grave incorporating natural
outcrops and situated on the south east crest of Porth Hellick Down, near the
south eastern coast of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly.
The entrance grave survives with a sub-circular mound of heaped rubble, up to 12m in diameter and 0.9m high. The edges of the mound are irregular and ill-defined due to the mound being built onto and against large natural granite outcrops to the east and south east and incorporating several smaller outcrops within the northern half of its fabric. The mound rises to a kerb of four spaced edge-set slabs, up to 0.2m high, defining the north and north east sectors of a central area measuring 5m in diameter. Within this central area, an unrecorded antiquarian excavation has partially revealed a central funerary chamber. Much of the chamber is visible as a sub-rectangular hollow, 2.5m long, SSW-NNE, by 1.5m wide and 0.3m deep; a slab on the ESE face of the hollow remains from former walling stone along the sides, most of which has been removed by the early excavation. The surface remains show an extension of the chamber, unexcavated, for a further 1.5m beyond the SSW end of the antiquarian excavation hollow, indicated by a row of three elongated slabs, up to 1.6m long, 0.9m wide and 0.4m thick, laid side-by-side. These slabs are typical of the covering slabs, called capstones, laid transversely across such funerary chambers and they give a total length of 4m for the chamber in this entrance grave.
This monument forms part of a cairn cemetery containing at least eight other cairns dispersed across the central plateau of Porth Hellick Down. The cairns in this cemetery vary in form but at least six of these are entrance graves, forming one of the largest surviving groupings of this type of monument. A broadly contemporary field system extends along the north west slope of the Down. Other prehistoric cairn cemeteries, including entrance graves, are located on the adjacent coastal downs of Salakee Down to the south west and Normandy Down to the NNE.
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: 15361
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ashbee, P, The chambered Tombs on St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, (1963), 9-18
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
consulted 1994, Waters, A., AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7527, (1988)
consulted 1994, Waters, A., AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7528, (1988)
consulted 1994, Waters, A., AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7528.08, (1988)
Rees, S., AM7 scheduling documentation for CO 1026, 1975, consulted 1994
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9210 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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