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
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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'
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
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
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:
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