Prehistoric chambered cairns and boundaries on Middle Arthur, St Martin's


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015673

Date first listed: 07-Oct-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Jan-1999


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric chambered cairns and boundaries on Middle Arthur, St Martin's
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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: St. Martin's

National Grid Reference: SV 93992 13819


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. Occasionally, cairns include large 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. 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 chambered cairns and their adjacent prehistoric boundaries on Middle Arthur survive well, displaying clearly their methods of construction. The excavation at the southern cairn was limited to the chamber and was well-recorded, proving informative on the nature and date of funerary practices involved. The chamber in the southern cairn is also of unusual form and plan. The marked differences between these two nearby cairns and their siting along the island's spine give useful insights into the nature and diversity of prehistoric funerary ritual and the important influence of topography on its expression. The accommodation of funerary and ritual land use within prehistoric land allotment is shown by the linear boundaries, these again demonstrating the influence of the underlying landforms on the organisation of prehistoric land use. Although confined to an island by rising sea levels, the funerary and land division remains on Middle 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 landscape in the east of the Scilly archipeligo. The unusual presence of prehistoric occupation deposits beneath the inter-tidal bar linking Middle and Little Arthur further enhances that evidence.


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


The monument includes two prehistoric chambered cairns and two adjacent linear boundaries on Middle Arthur, a small uninhabited island in the Eastern Isles of the Isles of Scilly. The prehistoric chambered cairns are spaced appproximately 25m apart on a north-south axis, situated on successive small steps along the spine of the island as it descends from a massive outcrop dominating the island's southern end. The southern cairn has a small ovoid mound, 4m long north-south by 3.4m east-west and defined by a kerb of contiguous, mostly edge-set slabs up to 0.45m high; turf-covered traces of a peripheral slope extend approximately 0.75m beyond the kerb. Within the kerb a flattened surface surrounds a large funerary chamber which occupies most of the cairn's interior. The chamber is sunk into the surface and is boat-shaped, 2.1m long, north-south, by up to 1.2m wide internally. Its bulging sides are walled by end-set slabs, to 0.75m high, and it is closed on the south by a large edge-set slab, 1m high, across the chamber's long axis. The chamber's pointed northern end is walled by a mix of edge-set and coursed slabs and is covered by a large slab, 1.6m long by 1.1m wide, laid flat across the side walls. Excavations in 1953 revealed parts of a Bronze Age urn in the south east of the chamber accompanied by burnt bone and flint. The northern cairn, on slightly lower ground, has an oval mound 6.7m north west-south east by 6.5m north east-south west, built across a slope crest and averaging 0.9m high. Three edge-set slabs of a low peripheral kerb are visible, two adjacent on the north east and one on the south east. The funerary chamber includes four covering slabs laid side-to-side and up to 1.9m long, north east-south west, embedded in the mound's upper surface. They are slightly dislodged from their original positions, exposing beneath them the chamber's silted interior and side walls; the south west side wall is most clearly visible, including edge-set slabs with some coursed slabs at its south east end. The interior hollow is 0.5m deep and, together with the visible side-walling, indicates a rectangular chamber approximately 4m long, north west-south east, by 1.3m wide internally. The prehistoric boundaries run along the west of a natural terrace containing the southern chambered cairn. The western boundary extends over at least 18m along the terrace's western crest with the steep scarp beyond; it links the basal slabs of the island's main outcrop on the south with a small rocky knoll 5.5m north west of the chambered cairn on the north. It survives as a wall of contiguous and closely spaced edge-set slabs, generally 0.5m high, with some smaller rubble visible in the turf along their bases. Over a 5m length near this boundary's midpoint, its course is mirrored from 1m to the east by a second boundary, a line of lower edge-set slabs, spaced 1m apart, whose course diverges slightly from the main boundary wall at the south. Beyond this scheduling, prehistoric cairn groups and settlement remains survive on several other islands of the Eastern Isles, including Little Arthur and Great Arthur which are now joined to Middle Arthur by inter-tidal bars; further settlement remains 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. Clear evidence of the subsequent submergence is provided by a buried soil containing prehistoric occupation remains along the inter-tidal bar linking Middle Arthur with Little Arthur.

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: 15488

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7224.01, (1988)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7224.02, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map: SV 91 SW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 91 SW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing