Prehistoric field system on the south west flank of Samson Hill, Bryher


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014988

Date first listed: 04-Oct-1996


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric field system on the south west flank of 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 87766 14198


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. Regular field systems are one of several methods of field layout known to have been employed in the Isles of Scilly from the Bronze Age to the Roman period (c.2000 BC - AD 400); closer dating within that period may be provided by the visible relationships of the field boundaries to other classes of monument with a shorter known time-span of use, or by their relationship with an earlier recorded sea level. They comprise a collection of field plots defined by boundaries laid out in a consistent manner, along two dominant axes at approximate right angles to each other. This results in rectilinear fields which may vary in their size and length:width ratio both within and between individual field systems. The fields are bounded by rubble walls or banks, often incorporating edge- or end- set slabs called orthostats. Within its total area, a regular field system may be subdivided into blocks differing in the orientations of their dominant axes. Regular field systems may be associated with broadly contemporary settlement sites such as stone hut circles. Some regular field systems on the Isles of Scilly contain a distinctive association, rarely encountered elsewhere, whereby certain of their field boundaries directly incorporate or link cairns, entrance graves and cists in some groups of prehistoric funerary monuments. Although no precise figure is available, regular field systems form one of the three principal forms of prehistoric field system, along with irregular field systems and some groups of prehistoric linear boundaries, which survive in over 70 areas of the Isles of Scilly. They provide significant insights into the physical and social organisation of past landscapes and they provide evidence for the wider contemporary context within which other nationally important monuments were constructed.

The prehistoric field system on Samson Hill survives well, clearly displaying the character of its walling and the nature and extent of the prehistoric land division. Its context in its contemporary landscape is well illustrated by the nearby field system and settlement sites at Heathy Hill, Great Porth and eastern Samson Hill, giving an unusually broad view of prehistoric land allotment across a wide altitude range extending into now-submerged levels. The proximity of this field system to the cairns and entrance graves on Samson Hill demonstrates the organisation of land use and the relationship between farming, funerary and ritual activities among the prehistoric communities that used this monument.


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


The monument includes a prehistoric field system extending across a midslope hollow on the south west flank of Samson Hill, on southern Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. The field system is defined by rubble and slab-built walls up to 0.5m high, most of which incorporate spaced edge-set slabs, called orthostats, along their midline, rising to 0.9m high. Where the walls run along the contour they appear as stepped banks, called lynchets, caused by soil movement on the gradient against the banks' uphill sides and away from their downhill sides, a process accelerated by early cultivation. The walls' orthostats generally remain visible along the lynchets but the lynchet formation has left them appearing as a facing along the downslope sides. The field system is defined to the south east by a wall descending the steep slope north east - south west, visible over 40m running almost directly downslope with a slight stagger near the centre of its course; its alignment is extended beyond this monument to the present coast by the line of a relatively recent field wall. The surface of the midslope hollow north west from this wall is subdivided by a series of at least three lynchetted prehistoric walls, 10m-20m apart, running south east - north west along the contour and ending at a ridge of rocky outcrops which runs down the hillside defining the north west limit of the field system and the natural hollow containing it. Beyond this monument, further prehistoric field system and settlement remains survive at a lower altitude, from 290m to the WNW on Heathy Hill, and in the adjacent inter-tidal zone of Great Porth. Coastal erosion has revealed another prehistoric settlement site at the eastern foot of Samson Hill, 290m to the ENE. The summit dome of Samson Hill contains a group of broadly contemporary funerary cairns and an entrance grave, from 30m to the north, and another large entrance grave is located amid the rock outcrops of Works Carn, 50m to the south east on the hill's southern midslope. The field system and settlement remains, cairns and entrance grave are the subjects of separate schedulings.

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: 15462

Legacy System: RSM


Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7395, (1988)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, Scilly SMR entries PRN 7307.01 & 7682, (1991)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8714 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing