Prehistoric cairn cemetery, field system and settlements on Top Rock Hill, St Martin's


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric cairn cemetery, field system and settlements on Top Rock Hill, St Martin's
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
St. Martin's
National Grid Reference:
SV 92200 16668

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. 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 axes. 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.

Top Rock Hill contains a good survival of prehistoric funerary and settlement remains, sufficiently extensive to demonstrate the relationship between these spheres of activity. The influence of the underlying landforms on their physical layout is evident both in the siting of the cairns by the headland's summit and eastern crest and in the considerable variation in the form of the field system across the headland, reflecting differing types of prehistoric land use and showing the locations favoured for most intensive agricultural activity and settlement. The value of this survival for our understanding of the prehistoric communities in this area is considerably amplified and given a far wider relevance by the quality and dating of the structural, economic and artefactual details revealed during the excavations at the settlement focus behind Little Bay. The excavations were confined to elucidating those features affected by intermittent coastal erosion, but they also confirmed the extension of settlement, midden and field wall remains beyond the excavated area, sealed by deep sand deposits which will favour the good preservation of prehistoric structural remains and their associated deposits.


The monument includes a prehistoric cairn cemetery and field system on the ridge and flanks of Top Rock Hill, the north western headland of St Martin's in the Isles of Scilly. The scheduling also includes prehistoric settlements behind the headland's east coast and a hut circle on its southern plateau. The prehistoric cemetery contains at least four funerary cairns: two are 22m apart on a WNW-ESE axis close to the east of the headland's summit; a third is 45m to the south on the crest of the east coastal slope above Little Bay and the fourth is 125m further south along the same crest. All are platform cairns with sub-circular rubble mounds, 7m-11m across, rising 0.5m-0.8m to flattened upper platforms variously 4m-6m in diameter. The northern cairn on the east slope crest has a central structure, either a small box-like setting called a cist or a larger rectangular chamber, 1m wide internally and defined on three sides by large edge-set slabs; beyond its open north east side is another slab displaced from the structure and now lying on the mound's surface. The northern two cairns east of the summit incorporate bedrock outcrops and boulders along parts of their mounds' perimeters. The prehistoric field system survives extensively over the headland's broad ridge and its west and east flanks. On the west flank it is defined to the south by steep scarps and to the west by later enclosure on the lower slope. Elsewhere, and beyond a heather-covered area around the headland's summit, the field system's exposure is intermittent due partly to areas of dense vegetation and partly to blanketting by later blown sand deposits, forming a variable cover on the eastern slopes and giving deep dunes on the south and south west margins of the headland, defining the known extent of the field system in those sectors. The field system is defined by turf-covered rubble banks, commonly 2m-2.5m wide and 0.1m-0.2m high; some are more substantial, including frequent large slabs about 0.5m high, and those along the contour in the trough north of the Top Rock outcrop form marked steps in the slope, called lynchets, resulting from soil movement on the gradient against and from these boundaries. The field system contains several long boundaries marking major divisions of the headland, together with discrete areas of finer subdivision into field plots and enclosures. The long boundaries include a substantial bank running 110m ESE from the headland summit to the upslope side of the Top Rock outcrop, much of its course emphasising the crest of the deep trough which descends steeply to the north; this bank clips the edge of the WNW of the two northern cairns and passes close to the north of the other cairn. A lower linear boundary runs north-south along the western crest of the ridge, west of the summit, then heads north east towards the Rabbit Rock outcrops. Three areas of plot subdivision are evident on the headland. On the north of the western flank, at least three faint banks, about 45m-90m apart, run east on the upper slope to meet a wavering upslope wall that passes 50m north west of the headland summit at one point. On the north east of the headland, the trough north of Top Rock forms a second area of field plots; a strongly lynchetted bank runs north west from the base of Top Rock and along the trough's southern lower slope, then it turns north along the foot of its western slope. The floor of the trough so defined is subdivided into small plots by banks at about 10m-40m intervals, aligned roughly north west-south east and north east-south west, their visible extent limited to the north and north east by a later dune bank. This trough contains one of the two east coast settlements: in the south western angle of the lower slope lynchets, a semi-circular wall defines a small hut circle built against the north of the trough's southern lynchet. A possible second hut circle with a curving rear wall occurs about 60m to the south east on the slope above the southern lynchet. The third area of plot subdivision occupies the headland's plateau south of the summit. In the north of this area is a rectangular enclosure, 37m long WNW-ESE, defined by large banks up to 0.8m high. The south of the enclosure is defined by a massive bank of blown sand, 12m wide and 2.5m high in places, which runs 175m WNW-ESE across the plateau and down the eastern upper slope; on the plateau's western crest the bank is angled to the SSW, extending a further 40m. Although its size reflects enhancement by post-prehistoric blown sand, its right-angled western end and its alignment in parallel with the enclosure's long axis to its north indicate its influence by an underlying early boundary. South of this sand-enhanced bank are many exposures of early field banks between areas of obscuring vegetation, some confirming a pattern of large rectilinear field plots recorded there on late 19th century Ordnance Survey maps when more open vegetation allowed an extensive view of the boundaries. The dominant axes of these plots are north east-south west and north west-south east with sides roughly 40m-100m apart. One north east-south west boundary passes 2m north of the southern cairn on the east slope crest, 15m to the WSW of which it is abutted on the south east by a hut circle, 6m in diameter internally, defined by a bank with a large inner facing slab on the east. A second prehistoric settlement on the east coast extends along the present coastline behind the northern half of Little Bay south from Top Rock. It includes at least six sub-circular buildings with earth walls faced by slabs and rubble, defining interiors 3.5m-6m across. Surviving walling of the northernmost building is exposed in the upper cliff 25m south east of Top Rock. The other five buildings occur from 50m to the SSW, revealed along 55m of the coastline on an old land surface blanketted beneath several metres of later sand deposits. Much information on these southern buildings derives from limited excavations between the 1950s and 1980s, revealing a round house and possible annexe at the north of the group and at the south, a cluster of three houses whose entrances face into a small rectangular courtyard. A fourth small building is an annexe linked by a narrow passage to a house in the southern cluster. The houses' structural detail and deposits show several phases of development and modification dated by radiocarbon analysis as spanning the later second and early first millennia BC, according with the types of pottery recovered. Internal features include successive occupation surfaces, some on clay floors, with hearths, post-holes, clay- and slab-lined hollows and drains; at least one house interior is subdivided by short radial walls ending at pillar slabs fronting a hearth. From one house a prehistoric field wall runs WNW into the unexcavated dune cover on the slope; in the angle between the field and house walls is a large midden of occupation debris containing abundant bone from sheep, cattle and a range of fish species. Beyond this scheduling, prehistoric field systems survive extensively to the south east along the north slope and spine of St Martin's and a prehistoric cairn cemetery and field system extends over Tinkler's Hill, the neighbouring upland area to the south west on the island.

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)
Borlase, W, Observations on Ancient and Present State of the Isles of Scilly, (1756)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Russell, V, Isles of Scilly Survey, (1980)
Neal, D S, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Excavations on a Settlement at Little Bay, Isles of Scilly, , Vol. 22, (1983), 47-80
Neal, D S, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Excavations on a Settlement at Little Bay, Isles of Scilly, , Vol. 22, (1983), 47-80
Neal, D S, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Excavations on a Settlement at Little Bay, Isles of Scilly, , Vol. 22, (1983), 47-80
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7141 (part), (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7188, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7197, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7198, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7198.02, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7198.04, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7199, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7200, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7204, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 91 NW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 11 Source Date: 1889 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Both 1889 and 1908 editions
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 11 Source Date: 1889 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Both 1889 and 1908 editions
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9216 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 6": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map; SV 91 NW Source Date: 1963 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 6": 1 mile Map; SV 91 NW Source Date: 1963 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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