Prehistoric entrance grave and round cairn on western Samson Hill, Bryher


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013811

Date first listed: 07-Oct-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 31-Jan-1996


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric entrance grave and round cairn on western Samson Hill, Bryher
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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: Bryher

National Grid Reference: SV 87799 14266


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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' settlement. 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 and round cairns are two examples within the diversity of funerary monument types known from the later Neolithic and Bronze Ages (c.2500-700 BC). They were constructed with roughly circular mounds of heaped rubble and earth, up to 40m in diameter though usually considerably smaller, often with a kerb of edge-set or coursed slabs. On the Isles of Scilly, the mounds often incorporate natural outcrops in their fabric. Both entrance graves and round cairns covered single or multiple burials but their manner of burial differs. In entrance graves, the mound contains a rectangular chamber built of edge-set slabs, coursed rubble or both, and roofed by further slabs set across the chamber, called capstones. The chamber was accessible by a gap in the mound's kerb or outer edge and often extends back beyond the centre of the mound. Excavations 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. In round cairns, by contrast, burials may be placed in small pits or, on occasion, within a small box-like structure called a cist, set into the old ground surface or dug into the body of the cairn. The burials may lack associated grave goods or may be accompanied by funerary urns, beads, knives or other artefacts. Round cairns make up a high proportion of the 387 surviving cairns recorded on the Isles of Scilly and are one of the chief forms of prehistoric funerary monument nationally. Entrance graves are much rarer; their national distribution is heavily weighted towards the Isles of Scilly which contain 79 of the 93 surviving examples recorded nationally, the remaining 14 being located in western Cornwall. Both entrance graves and round cairns provide important information on the diversity of beliefs, burial practices and social organisation among prehistoric communities.

The entrance grave and round cairn in this monument on Samson Hill have survived substantially intact, despite some limited disturbance at the round cairn due to an unrecorded antiquarian excavation. The close physical association between these differing forms of funerary monument is unusual and demonstrates a mutual respect among their builders. The entrance grave also provides a good example of the incorporation of natural outcrops as elements in this class of monument. The wider organisation of prehistoric land use and the subsequent profound changes in landscape context are illustrated by the monument's relationship with the other funerary monuments on Samson Hill and the largely lower-level prehistoric field systems and settlement sites nearby, often in the present inter-tidal zone.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a prehistoric entrance grave and a nearby round cairn situated on the western side of Samson Hill on Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. The entrance grave is located 17m south west of the round cairn and abuts the south west side of a small natural granite outcrop called Top Rock. It survives with a `D-shaped' mound of heaped rubble and earth measuring up to 11m north west-south east, extending to 3.75m south west from the outcrop and rising up to 1.7m high. A line of at least four spaced, edge-set, small slabs form a kerb along the slope of the mound, c.1m within the mound's perimeter. The chamber of the entrance grave is located at the centre of the mound against the natural outcrop, which forms the chamber's north east wall. The other sides of the chamber are formed by four large edge-set slabs, defining a sub-rectangular internal area measuring 4m north west-south east by up to 1.5m north east-south west. The north west end is pointed, formed by the convergence of the south west wall with the outcrop; the entrance is at the south east end, partly blocked by the lowest of the side slabs, considered to be displaced in its present position. No covering slabs are present.

The round cairn is visible as a circular mound of heaped earth and rubble, 19.5m in diameter and up to 1.2m high, situated on a group of low bedrock exposures which break through the surface soil along parts of the cairn's perimeter. The centre of the mound contains an irregular hollow, c.4m in diameter and 0.1m deep, resulting from an unrecorded antiquarian excavation. On the northern edge of the hollow is an edge-set slab 1.3m long, east-west, by 0.4m wide and 0.4m high, considered to be part of a former slab-built funerary structure.

Beyond this monument, another closely-spaced pair of funerary cairns is situated on the eastern summit of Samson Hill, 120m to the east, and a large entrance grave is situated on the southern midslope of the hill, 120m to the SSE, all in close proximity to prominent natural outcrops. Prehistoric field systems and settlement sites are known beyond nearly all sides of Samson Hill, mostly from the present coastal cliff and inter-tidal zone, but also from the south west slope of the hill, extending to within 40m of this monument, and from the low promontory of Heathy Hill to the west.

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: 15424

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7394.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7394.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7396, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7394.03-.04, (1988)
Rees, S E, and Morley, B, AM7 scheduling documentation for CO 1006, 1975, cairn 'a'
Rees, S E, and Morley, B, AM7 scheduling documetation for CO 1006, 1975,
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8714 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing