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Prehistoric cairn group, cists and prehistoric to Roman field system and settlement on Little Arthur, St Martin's

List Entry Summary

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.

Name: Prehistoric cairn group, cists and prehistoric to Roman field system and settlement on Little Arthur, St Martin's

List entry Number: 1015672


The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.


District: Isles of Scilly

District Type: Unitary Authority

Parish: St. Martin's

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 07-Oct-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Jan-1999

Legacy System Information

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 15487

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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.

A variety of prehistoric funerary monuments survives on Scilly, with a combined date range extending from the later Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c.2500-1000 BC). Most are formed as funerary cairns constructed as earth-and-rubble mounds, with flattened tops in the case of platform cairns and entrance graves, often with a kerb of stones or edge-set slabs around the mound, platform surface or both. In round and platform cairns, burials were sometimes accompanied by pottery urns and placed on the old land surface, in small pits or, on occasion, within a box-like structure of slabs called a cist which may also be set into the old ground surface or dug into the body of the cairn. Occasionally, cairns include larger stone-built funerary chambers, built of edge-set slabs, coursed rubble walling or both, and roofed by large covering slabs; the chamber may be closed or, in the case of entrance graves, accessible via a gap in the mound's kerb or outer edge. Cists may also occur as monuments in their own right, lacking evidence for any covering mound. Each of these forms of funerary monument can occur singly, in small groups or in larger cemeteries containing several types. They may also occur in close proximity to prehistoric field systems and linear boundaries, displaying relationships of considerable significance for our understanding of the development of land use, funerary practice and settlement during the prehistoric and later periods. The field systems so associated may be of various forms, irregular or regular, enclosing large or small plots, and may include contemporary settlements of hut circles or house platforms. Such settlements similarly display a diversity of overall pattern and of detailed features, providing valuable insights into the physical and social organisation of the prehistoric landscape.

The prehistoric and later funerary and settlement elements on Little Arthur survive well, including an unusually clear successive relationship between the cairn group and the later field system. The diversity of forms present among the cairns and cists, and the linear arrangement of the cairn group on the island's spine give useful insights into the nature of prehistoric funerary ritual and the important influence of topography on its physical expression. The influence of the underlying landforms is also clearly apparent in the layout of the field system, with its dominant boundary also adopting a course along the spine of the island. The field system's survival is sufficiently extensive to show its pattern of associated settlement and the deep lynchetting of its side-banks will contain important traces of old land surfaces, deposits and features. Although confined to an island by rising sea levels, the funerary and settlement remains on Little Arthur complement those on the nearby islands to preserve valuable evidence for the nature and development of land use in the now largely submerged prehistoric and Roman landscape in the east of the Scilly archipeligo. The unusual presence of prehistoric occupation deposits beneath the inter-tidal bar linking Little and Middle Arthur further enhances that evidence.


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


The monument includes a prehistoric cairn group with two nearby funerary cists on Little Arthur, a small uninhabited island in the Eastern Isles of the Isles of Scilly. The monument also includes a prehistoric to Romano-British field system and settlement encompassing most of the island and the adjacent inter-tidal bar to Middle Arthur. The cairn group includes three cairns arranged as a north west-south east line, spaced 4.5m apart along the spine of the small island. Each survives with a mound of heaped earth and rubble, generally turf-covered, with remains of kerbing and a central funerary structure. The largest cairn, central in the row and on the island's summit, is 10.5m in diameter, rising 1.2m to a flattened upper area measuring 5.5m north-south by 5m east-west. It has two kerbs of mostly edge-set slabs 0.5m-0.7m high; the outer kerb follows an eccentric course round the mound's slope, approaching the upper surface on the south east but diverging from it to the north west; the inner kerb marks the perimeter of the flattened top. The upper surface contains a funerary chamber, visible as a hollow 3.5m long, WSW-ENE, by 1.1m wide, with traces of coursed slab side-walls. A slender covering slab lies across the WSW end, with a similar slab displaced on the mound's south western slope. The north western cairn is 7.5m in diameter and 0.8m high; a kerb along the mound's periphery contains at least ten slabs, mostly edge-set and 0.2m-0.3m high, plus several large boulders on the north. On top of the mound, remains of a funerary chamber include two large slabs meeting at right angles to define the chamber's north west end and south west side. The south eastern cairn is 6m in diameter, built out from the slope to a maximum 0.8m high to the south east. A 4.5m diameter kerb of at least eight slabs is centred north west of the mound's centre and interrupted on the WSW where the mound's edge is overlain by a bank of the later field system. Within the kerb, remains of a small funerary chamber include three edge-set slabs, to 0.5m high and 0.6m long, defining the south west, north west and north east of an internal area 0.8m long, north east-south west, by at least 0.65m wide. A fourth edge-set slab projects outwards from the south west of the chamber. Situated approximately 20m east of the south eastern cairn is a small box-like funerary structure called a cist, against a small natural outcrop on the island's south east slope. The cist uses a natural recess defined on the south and west by the outcrop's small bedrock bosses; the north side of the recess is closed, creating the cist, by an edge-set slab 1.1m long, east-west. A second funerary cist is located 90m to the WSW on the upper shore adjacent to the island's south western tip, its details largely masked by modern shore deposits. The island's land area is subdivided by a later prehistoric to Roman period field system, truncated by the present coastal cliff on all sides. The field system has a north west-south east central boundary across the spine of the island. At two points, on the north west and south east slopes, side-banks extend north east and the south west, meeting the central boundary at staggered junctions, the south western banks joining slightly south east of those to the north east. The central boundary is visible as a turf-covered rubble bank, approximately 90m long, generally 1m wide and 0.4m high, with occasional midline edge-set slabs 0.7m high. After over-riding the edge of the south eastern cairn the boundary's course deviates westward to pass just beyond the other two cairns. On the north west, the boundary aligns toward a small outcrop at the tip of the island's low flat northern peninsula where traces of the boundary reappear, though its course is masked over most of that area by a dense spread of cobbles washed ashore. The side-banks on the island's main hill are each visible as substantial steps called lynchets, 2m wide and 1m-1.5m high, their form reflecting soil movement against and from the original boundaries due to early cultivation on the slope. Some stone and small outcrops occur along the lynchets, including that forming the cist on the south east slope. The broadly contemporary settlement includes two house platforms at the foot of the side-banks on the north west slope. Each has an ovoid interior levelled into the slope and lynchet but defined around the north west by a bank approximately 0.75m wide and 5m high, faced by coursed-slab walling. The south western house platform is in the angle of the central boundary with the bank to the south west; its interior measures 3.9m north east-south west by 3.5m north west-south east, its wall interrupted by an entrance 1m wide on the north. Situated 4.5m south of this house platform is a distinctive edge-set slab, 1.2m long and 0.5m high, with two deep hollows in its upper edge and a small hole bored through its northern end, features suggesting its origin as a prehistoric mortar stone. The other house platform is built against the north eastern side-bank near the present coastal cliff; it measures 3m north west- south east by 2.2m north east-south west internally, lacking positive evidence for an entrance. Excavations have confirmed the remains of a third house platform, associated with Iron Age pottery, in the island's south western coastal cliff; further limited excavations have demonstrated the survival of prehistoric occupation deposits with midden and artefactual debris beneath the sand of the bar linking Little and Middle Arthur. Beyond this scheduling, broadly contemporary cairn groups and settlement remains survive on several other islands of the Eastern Isles, including Middle Arthur and Great Arthur which, with Little Arthur, are now joined by inter-tidal bars; further field boundaries and house platforms occur on Little Ganilly nearby to the north. These survivals now separated by the sea were linked by dry land in the landscape contemporary with their construction, when the Eastern Isles formed areas of high ground in the dissected terrain of a single broad peninsula.

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.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ratcliffe, J, The Archaeology of Scilly, (1989)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7214.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7214.03, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215.04, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7650, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7214.01 & .02, (1988)
Parkes,C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7215.02, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map: SV 91 SW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

National Grid Reference: SV 94122 13900


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End of official listing