Moulton Hills Roman barrows


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019837

Date first listed: 30-Nov-1925

Date of most recent amendment: 06-Oct-2000


Ordnance survey map of Moulton Hills Roman barrows
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire (District Authority)

Parish: Bourn

National Grid Reference: TL 32553 57086, TL 32613 57078


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

Reasons for Designation

Earthen barrows are the most visually spectacular survivals of a wide variety of funerary monuments in Britain dating to the Roman period. Constructed as steep-sided conical mounds, usually of considerable size and occasionally with an encircling bank or ditch, they covered one or more burials, generally believed to be those of high-ranking individuals. The burials were mainly cremations, although inhumations have been recorded, and were often deposited with accompanying grave goods in chambers or cists constructed of wood, tile or stone sealed beneath the barrow mound. Occasionally the mound appears to have been built directly over a funeral pyre. The barrows usually occur singly, although they can be grouped into "cemeteries" of up to ten examples. They are sited in a variety of locations but often occur near Roman roads. A small number of barrows were of particularly elaborate construction, with masonry revetment walls or radial internal walls. Roman barrows are rare nationally, with less than 150 recorded examples, and are generally restricted to lowland England with the majority in East Anglia. The earliest examples date to the first decades of the Roman occupation and occur mainly within this East Anglian concentration. It has been suggested that they are the graves of native British aristocrats who chose to perpetuate aspects of Iron Age burial practice. The majority of the barrows were constructed in the early second century AD but by the end of that century the fashion for barrow building appears to have ended. Occasionally the barrows were re-used when secondary Anglo-Saxon burials were dug into the mound. Many barrows were subjected to cursory investigation by antiquarians in the 19th century and, as little investigation to modern standards has taken place, they remain generally poorly understood. As a rare monument type which exhibits a wide diversity of burial tradition all Roman barrows, unless significantly damaged, are identified as nationally important.

Moulton Hills, which survive as substantial earthworks, are exceptionally well-preserved. As part of a concentration of Roman barrows in East Anglia they provide a unique insight into the social and economic development of south east England in the early days of Roman occupation. The occurrence of two superimposed mounds of Roman and medieval date consecutively is particularly rare. The enlargement and reuse of the mounds during the Middle Ages highlights their continued importance as a local landmark throughout the centuries. As a result of partial excavation at the beginning of the 20th century, the remains are quite well understood, while significant archaeological deposits of over 1800 years of human activity survive intact.


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


The monument includes a group of three Roman barrows, known as Moulton Hills or Arms Hills, located on the crest of a hill overlooking Bourn village, 300m north of the bridge over Bourn Brook and within two areas of protection. The mounds are preserved as substantial earthworks encircled by large ditches, from which earth was dug and used in the construction of the mounds.

The mound of the northernmost barrow measures approximately 23m in diameter and is 3m high. Its ditch is 6m wide, as 1909 excavation results indicate, but is currently visible as a depression of approximately 0.3m deep with a width of 4m on the southern and eastern sides; on the north and the west it has been cut by the present Crow End Track and Broad Way. Partial excavation undertaken in 1909 revealed two superimposed mounds, of Roman and medieval date consecutively. The inner mound contained what is thought to be a late second century AD cremation burial, accompanied by a host of grave goods, including pottery, a bone pin and a loom weight. Early medieval hearths were found on the top and southern lip of the internal mound. The overlying mound is a post- Norman Conquest construction containing Roman and medieval debris, including coins of Edward II (1307-27) and Edward III (1327-77).

The barrow 10m south of the first has a mound covering a circular area of 27m in diameter and is 4m high. Its ditch has a width of 7.5m, according to 1909 excavation results, and today is visible as a depression of 0.5m deep with a width of up to 4.5m, of which the western edge has been truncated by Broad Way. In the centre of the mound, on ground level, a cremation interment was found, accompanied by a mid second century piece of Samian ware, a coin of Marcus Aurelius (AD 140-80), and other grave goods such as an iron knife and bronze pins and buckles. The mound contained medieval pottery and basalt lava millstones. An early medieval hearth was found in the northern lip of the mound.

The third barrow lies on the west of Broad Way on the Caxton Road junction. Its mound is 20m in diameter and 1.5m high. Its ditch survives as a slight depression with a maximum width of 3m, except on the south side, where it has been cut by the two adjoining roads. Originally it was 5m wide, as 1909 excavation results indicate.

Moulton Hills Roman barrows are situated in an area of great archaeological interest. The Roman Ermine Street runs 1.9km west of the barrows and Roman pottery and coins in the immediate vicinity attest to further activity during this period. During the Middle Ages the surrounding fields were ploughed. The function of the barrows during the medieval period, when the mounds were enlarged, remains obscure, although their strategic position overlooking the village suggests that they may have been used as look outs.

The trackway and all fence posts 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: 33350

Legacy System: RSM

End of official listing