Oval barrow and round barrow at Small Fen, 250m north of the junction of Back and Small Fen Drove


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Oval barrow and round barrow at Small Fen, 250m north of the junction of Back and Small Fen Drove
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Cambridgeshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 42123 76923

Reasons for Designation

Round barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. They occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as a focus of burials in later periods. Often superficially similar, although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and a diversity of burial practices. There are over 10,000 surviving examples recorded nationally (many more have already been destroyed), occurring across most of Britain, including the Wessex area where it is often possible to classify them more closely, for example as bowl or bell barrows. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape and their considerable variation in form and longevity as a monument type provide important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisations amongst early prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of protection.

Oval barrows are funerary and ceremonial monuments of the Early to Middle Neolithic periods, with the majority of dated monuments belonging to the later part of the range. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds of roughly elliptical plan, usually delimited by quarry ditches. These ditches can vary from paired "banana-shaped" ditches flanking the mound to "U-shaped" or unbroken oval ditches nearly or wholly encircling it. Along with the long barrows, oval barrows represent the burial places of Britain's early farming communities and, as such, are amongst the oldest field monuments surviving visibly in the present landscape. Where investigated, oval barrows have produced two distinct types of burial rite: communal burials of groups of individuals, including adults and children, laid directly on the ground surface before the barrow was built; and burials of one or two adults interred in a grave pit centrally placed beneath the barrow mound. Certain sites provide evidence for several phases of funerary monument preceding the barrow and, consequently, it is probable that they may have acted as important ritual sites for local communities over a considerable period of time. Similarly, as the filling of the ditches around oval barrows often contains deliberately placed deposits of pottery, flintwork and bone, periodic ceremonial activity may have taken place at the barrow subsequent to its constuction. Oval barrows are very rare nationally, with less than 50 recorded examples in England. As one of the few types of Neolithic structure to survive as earthworks, and due to their rarity, their considerable age and their longevity as a monument type, all oval barrows are considered to be nationally important.

The oval barrow and round barrow at Small Fen, 250m north of the junction of Back and Small Fen Drove, are exceptionally well-preserved, having been protected by overlying deposits of peat and clay and will contain a wealth of archaeological information relating to their construction, the manner and duration of their use and other activities surrounding the site. Waterlogged deposits, preserved in the ditches, will provide evidence on the local prehistoric environment. The barrows are of additional importance as part of a complex, which also contains a long barrow and provides an unusual insight into the development of prehistoric funerary monuments from the Early Neolithic to the Bronze Age.


The monument includes an oval barrow and a round barrow at Small Fen, situated 250m north of the junction of Back and Small Fen Drove. The barrows have been protected by later deposits of marine clay and peat, from which the crowns of the mounds emerge. These have been levelled by ploughing but are visible as sandy soilmarks. The deeper lying remains of the barrows, including encircling ditches from which earth was dug in the construction of the mounds, are preserved underneath the fen deposits. The ditches are thought to contain waterlogged material, covered and sealed by the inundation of marine clay deposits from the Late Neolithic onwards.

The oval barrow is visible on the modern ground surface as a spread of lighter coloured sandy soil mixed with gravel, covering an area with dimensions of approximately 25m north east to south west by 14m north west to south east. Below this, underlying the peat and clay, is an earthen mound, which by comparison with other excavated examples in the region, is thought to be 30m long and 16m wide and surrounded by a ditch up to 4m wide. In between the ditch and the mound is a berm up to 4m wide.

Approximately 70m north east of the oval barrow and protected in the same area is a round barrow, visible as a patch of sandy soil and gravel of approximately 17m in diameter. The underlying mound is thought to measure 20m in diameter with an encircling ditch up to 5m wide.

The barrows are situated on a gravel island along the former course of the River Great Ouse, where it met the Fen edge. This location acted as a focal point for prehistoric activity, leaving a wide range of monuments, including a spread of barrows of various forms. The oval barrow and the round barrow are positioned in line with the axis of a partially excavated long barrow situated 180m to the south west and located about 250m north west of another round barrow, which is the subject of a separate scheduling.

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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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

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