Prehistoric field system on Gweal Hill, Bryher
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1015004
Date first listed: 04-Oct-1996
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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)
National Grid Reference: SV 87154 14816
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'
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
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 Gweal Hill survives reasonably well, clearly displaying the character of the prehistoric land division and the strong influences upon it of the natural topography. Despite truncation of its lower edges by rising sea levels, the field system contains a sufficient range of elements to determine its nature and extent. The strong negative lynchet on the field system's upper boundary and its relationship with the broadly contemporary funerary cairns on the summit and northern slope of the hill demonstrates the wider manner in which farming and ritual activities were organised among the prehistoric communities which created this monument.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a prehistoric field system extending around the western
and southern flanks of Gweal Hill on the west coast of Bryher, in the north
west of the Isles of Scilly.
The field system is defined by turf-covered rubble banks, up to 2m wide and
0.25m high, with a single row of closely spaced slabs, mostly edge-set,
projecting along the midline of the banks. The slabs are generally 0.5m-1m
apart and 0.4m-0.5m high, but rising to 0.7m high in some examples. Where the
banks run along the slope they appear as marked steps, called lynchets, in the
slope profile, caused by soil movement on the gradient against the banks'
uphill sides and away from their downhill sides, a process accelerated by
early cultivation. In the south and south east of the monument, the walls of
two relatively recent but abandoned field plots overlie the prehistoric field
walling, whose distinctively spaced large slabs remain visible along the base
of the later walls which otherwise employ mostly smaller slabs.
The field system's boundaries create a single line of plots along the west and
south flanks of the hill; the sides of the plots are defined by at least six
banks, 20m-75m apart, which run directly downslope to be truncated by the
present coastline at their lower ends. The plot sides tend to be almost
parallel, orientated WSW-ENE on the west flank and SSE-NNW on the south flank;
the north west - south east alignment of the monument's easternmost boundary
reflects the change in underlying slope as the field system reaches the east
flank of the hill.
The upper ends of the plots are defined by a lynchetted bank running along the
midslope crossing the upper ends of the side walls generally 35m-50m behind
the present coastline. On the western flank, where its form is least affected
by dense scrub and by later walling built onto it, the lynchetting of this
upper bank includes a particularly marked drop, 0.6m high, on its downslope
side; this is called a negative lynchet and emphasises the considerable soil
movement arising from the prehistoric cultivation in the plot below,
contrasting with the far slighter natural soil creep against the uphill side
from the unenclosed, uncultivated, summit area of the hill. The course of the
lynchetted upper bank is strongly influenced by the location of natural
bedrock outcrops along the midslope, the bank running in almost straight
lengths directly linking one outcrop with the next and producing an overall
zig-zagging course rather than an even line along the contour. This influence
of outcrops on the layout of the upper bank is such that at its northern end,
the bank extends for c.15m beyond its junction with the side wall of the
northernmost plot to terminate on a large outcrop.
Beyond this monument, the summit of Gweal Hill contains a group of three
broadly contemporary funerary cairns from 30m east of the upper field bank on
the western flank. Another smaller cairn is located at the foot of the
northern slope of Gweal Hill, 110m north east of the field system's northern
end. These four cairns 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: 15458
Legacy System: RSM
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7385, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8714 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