Danes Hills square barrow cemetery, 300m south of Adamson Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018603

Date first listed: 02-Dec-1938

Date of most recent amendment: 02-Dec-1998


Ordnance survey map of Danes Hills square barrow cemetery, 300m south of Adamson Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Selby (District Authority)

Parish: Riccall

County: North Yorkshire

District: Selby (District Authority)

Parish: Skipwith

National Grid Reference: SE 64408 37723, SE 64784 37763, SE 64879 37675


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

Reasons for Designation

Square barrows are funerary monuments of the Middle Iron Age, mostly dating from the period between c.500 BC and c.50 BC. The majority of these monuments are found between the River Humber and the southern slopes of the North Yorkshire Moors, but a wider distribution has also been identified, principally through aerial photography, spreading through the river valleys of the Midlands and south Essex. Around 200 square barrow cemeteries have been recorded; in addition, a further 250 sites consisting of single barrows or small groups of barrows have been identified. Square barrows were constructed as earthen mounds surrounded by a ditch and covering one or more bodies. Slight banks around the outer edge of the ditch have been noted in some examples. Despite the term `square', barrows can vary in shape. The majority are truly square, although many have rounded corners and some are more rectangular in plan. A few, however, occurring both in square barrow cemeteries and individually, are actually round in plan, but distinguishable from earlier Bronze Age round barrows by their smaller size. The main burial is normally central and carefully placed in a rectangular or oval grave pit, although burials placed on the ground surface below the mound are also known. A number of different types of burials have been identified, accompanied by grave goods which vary greatly in range and type. The most elaborate include the dismantled parts of a two-wheeled vehicle placed in the grave with the body of the deceased. Some Iron Age barrows have been associated with an unusual burial ritual of `spearing the corpse'. Ploughing and intensive land use since prehistoric times have eroded and levelled most square barrows and very few remain as upstanding monuments, although the ditches and the grave pits, with their contents, will survive beneath the ground surface. The different forms of burial and the variations in the type and range of artefacts placed in the graves provide important information on the beliefs, social organisation and material culture of these Iron Age communities and their development over time. All examples of square barrows which survive as upstanding earthworks, and a significant proportion of the remainder, are considered of national importance and worthy of protection.

The square barrow cemetery on Skipwith Common is of importance for a number of reasons. Firstly it is nationally one of the very few square barrow cemeteries with upstanding earthwork remains. It is also a rare example representing an evolving or transitional funerary tradition mixing the traditions of the Arras Culture to the east (an Iron Age grouping of people in eastern Yorkshire who buried their dead in graves under square ditched barrows orientated with the cardinal compass points) with that of Iron Age people elsewhere (where cremation rather than inhumation was the dominant tradition). The monument's importance is also enhanced by the earthwork survival of four Bronze Age round barrows to the east. Excavations of similar sites in the 1970s and 1980s have shown that square barrow cemeteries were typically densely utilised, sometimes with barrows sharing boundary ditches with their neighbours, and with additional flat graves (a grave without a covering mound or surrounding ditch) placed in spaces between barrows. The 18th and 19th century investigations were small in scale, limited to individual narrow trenches concentrated on the centre of the mounds, and extensive archaeological remains will still survive. Flat graves and secondary burials, typically placed in the ditches, also normally survive.


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


The monument includes the buried and earthwork remains of an Iron Age cemetery located on the north western side of Skipwith Common and extending into Mound Plantation, which is part of the adjoining Riccall Common. The monument is within three areas of protection. The barrows on Skipwith Common are traditionally, but erroneously, believed to be the burial mounds of members of the Norwegian army killed, at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. They have been the subject of several small scale excavations in the past. The earliest was conducted by Dr John Burton in 1754, who recorded the find of a near complete skeleton and part of a second in a large barrow in the south eastern part of the cemetery, one of three destroyed in 1941 during the construction of the airfield. The more complete skeleton was identified as that of a decapitated young man laid out with his skull between his knees facing east. A fragment of textile described as course sacking cloth was found adhering to a thigh bone. In 1849 William Proctor and the Yorkshire Antiquaries Club opened at least ten barrows. These were described as being circular mounds between 0.6m-1.2m high and 6m-12m in diameter, each surrounded by a square ditch around 0.4m deep and 1m wide aligned by the cardinal compass points, that is east-west and north-south. At a depth of around 1m in all of the barrows investigated was a layer of `black sand' 15cm-30cm thick sometimes containing pieces of burnt bone and occasional iron, flint and other fragments. One of the barrows opened was identified as that investigated by Dr Burton. This was described as being 15m in diameter and 1.2m-1.5m high and was described as containing a number of human bones. In 1941, Miss K Hodgeson conducted an unpublished rescue excavation on four barrows due to be destroyed by the construction of the wartime airfield. They were found to be mounds surrounded by ditches square in plan with rounded corners and `V' cut profiles. No central burial pits were identified under the mounds, but ash, charcoal and bones were identified in the excavated layers. The ditches were infilled with alternating thin layers of clean yellow sand and thicker layers of dark mud containing 3rd to 4th century Roman pottery. This ditch infill is now considered to be evidence of Romano-British farming activity in the area and to postdate the construction of the barrow cemetery. In 1994 the area was surveyed by MAP Archaeological Consultants. In spring 1998 Mike Griffiths excavated one square barrow in an open area excavation in the arable field just to the north east of Danes Hills. Although plough damaged, this was shown to have been a mound covering a layer containing large quantities of charcoal, described as `black sand' in 1849, and cremated bone fragments surrounded by a square ditch similar to those described by Hodgeson. The square barrow cemetery survives as three areas of low earthwork mounds. The main area lies to the north west of the parimeter track on the western side of the runway and is labeled Danes Hills on Ordnance Survey maps. Two smaller areas, each containing at least two mounds, lie to the east of the main area, north east and east of the north eastern end of the runway. The barrows survive as earthwork mounds typically 0.2m-0.6m high ranging between 5m in diameter up to 20m in diameter. The ditches around most of the mounds have been largely infilled over the centuries. Depressions marking at least one side ditch can be identified for the majority of the mounds, and in most cases at least two sides can be seen. These ditches, except with one barrow which is orientated at an angle to all of the rest, run north-south and east- west, describing squares around the individual mounds. Early Ordnance Survey maps mark ten barrows within the main area which were not later destroyed by the construction of the World War II airfield. William Proctor's mid-19th century plan marks an additional five barrows and the survey conducted in 1994 identified a minimum of 20 square barrows in the main area. The water tank sited on top of a barrow on the north eastern side of the main area, and the fence line marking the boundary between Mound Plantation and the Common are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number: 30179

Legacy System: RSM


Typescript report, MAP Archaeological Consultancy, Skipwith Common Presentation Survey, (1995)

End of official listing