Three prehistoric cairns on Gweal Hill, Bryher


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Three prehistoric cairns on Gweal Hill, Bryher
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SV 87158 14916

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. Round cairns are funerary monuments of Bronze Age date (c.2000-700 BC). They were constructed as mounds of earth and stone rubble, up to 40m in external diameter, though usually considerably smaller, covering single or multiple burials. A kerb of edge-set stones sometimes bounds the edge of the mound. Burials were placed in small pits, or on occasion within a box-like structure of stone slabs called a cist, set into the old ground surface or dug into the body of the cairn. Round cairns can occur as isolated monuments, in small groups or in larger cemeteries. Round cairns form a high proportion of the 387 surviving cairns recorded on the Isles of Scilly. Their considerable variation in form and longevity as a monument type provides important information on the diversity of beliefs, burial practices and social organisation in the Bronze Age and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of preservation.

The three cairns on Gweal Hill have survived substantially intact; despite the evidence of unrecorded antiquarian activity, each cairn retains clear evidence for its original structural form. The double kerbs at two of the cairns are unusual features, particularly so in the case of the elaborated double kerb at the south western cairn. Their summit setting illustrates a favoured location for the larger and more complex cairns, while their proximity to the cairn at the northern foot of the hill highlights their context in a more diverse range of prehistoric funerary and ritual traditions. Their relationship with the broadly contemporary field system around the slopes of the hill demonstrates the manner in which farming and ritual activity was organised during the prehistoric period.


The monument includes a linear group of three prehistoric round cairns situated 10m apart in a curved line on the summit of Gweal Hill on the west coast of Bryher, in the north west of the Isles of Scilly. The north eastern cairn in the group survives with a circular mound of heaped rubble, 6.5m in diameter and rising 0.4m high. Around its north eastern periphery, 1m within the mound's edge, is a kerb of at least three small spaced slabs projecting to 0.1m high through the turf. Across the centre of the mound, two parallel rows of large slabs, up to 0.4m high, define the sides of a funerary chamber whose hollowed interior measures 2.7m long, north west - south east, by up to 1.2m wide. The side slabs are closely-spaced and mostly edge-set, up to 1.1m long; three slabs are visible along the north east side and two along the south west, with smaller rubble visible at their bases. No end slabs or covering slabs are visible. The central cairn also has a circular mound of heaped rubble, 6m in diameter and up to 0.5m high, with an outer kerb of small stones, to 0.1m high, spaced 0.5m-0.75m apart along its western periphery. Within this is an inner kerb, 3.3m in diameter, comprising spaced slabs, 0.7m-0.9m apart but with a 2m wide gap on the north; the largest slab in the inner kerb, on the north west, is 0.7m long and 0.2m high. The mound's central surface within the inner kerb is slightly hollowed, to 0.1m deep, with the edges of buried slabs visible in the turf on the WNW and south east sides, considered to be the remains of a funerary box-like structure, called a cist, which has been subject to an unrecorded antiquarian excavation. On the northern edge of the mound is a large flat slab, 1.3m long, 1.1m wide and 0.15m thick, considered to be a displaced covering slab from the cist. The south western cairn is built around a small natural granite outcrop on the southern crest of the hill's summit and which protrudes from the cairn surface slightly SSE of the mound centre. The cairn has a heaped rubble mound 11m in diameter and up to 1m high. At the centre a funerary cist is built against the natural outcrop which forms its south east side; the other three sides comprise large edge-set slabs, defining a sub-rectangular internal area measuring 1.1m north east - south west by 0.6m north west - south east and 0.4m deep. The cist is contained within two kerbs of edge-set slabs which are interrupted over the southern sector of the mound. The outer kerb runs generally 1m within the mound's perimeter, with at least eight spaced slabs of varying sizes up to 1.3m long and 0.25m high. The inner kerb has at least six spaced slabs, up to 0.75m long and 0.3m high, on a course passing 1.25m north east of the cist, then converging on the line of the outer kerb to meet it at the west and south east sides. On the north east a setting of three low slabs runs radially across the mound linking the kerbs at their point of maximum separation, accompanied shortly before reaching the outer kerb by two more slabs to their north, giving the effect of an inturned entrance to a partly disrupted route through the kerbs to the cist. Beyond this monument, a further small kerbed cairn is located at the foot of the northern slope of Gweal Hill, 135m to the north, and a prehistoric field system extends around the western and southern slopes of the hill from 30m to the west. This cairn and the prehistoric field system 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.

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Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Morley, B & Rees, S E, AM7 scheduling documentation for SI 1007, 1975,
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7384, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7384.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7384.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7384.03, (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.

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