Prehistoric barrow cemetery and cross dyke in Five Hill Field, 290m south west of Heath Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020396

Date first listed: 11-Feb-2002


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric barrow cemetery and cross dyke in Five Hill Field, 290m south west of Heath Farm
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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: Melbourn

National Grid Reference: TL 38276 41473


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

Reasons for Designation

Round barrow cemeteries date to the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). They comprise closely-spaced groups of up to 30 round barrows - rubble or earthen mounds covering single or multiple burials. Most cemeteries developed over a considerable period of time, often many centuries, and in some cases acted as a focus for burials as late as the early medieval period. They exhibit considerable diversity of burial rite, plan and form, frequently including several different types of round barrow, occasionally associated with earlier long barrows. Where large scale investigation has been undertaken around them, contemporary or later "flat" burials between the barrow mounds have often been revealed. Round barrow cemeteries occur across most of lowland Britain, with a marked concentration in Wessex. In some cases, they are clustered around other important contemporary monuments such as henges. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape, whilst their diversity and their longevity as a monument type provide important information on the variety of beliefs and social organisation amongst early prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving or partly-surviving examples are considered worthy of protection.

Square barrows are funerary monuments of the Middle Iron Age, most examples dating from the period between c.500 BC and c.50 BC. The majority of these monuments are found in the area 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, which may be square or rectangular, 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. 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 burial 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. 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 to be of national importance and worthy of protection.

Cross dykes are substantial linear earthworks typically between 0.2km and 1km long and comprising one or more ditches arranged beside and parallel to one or more banks. They generally occur in upland situations, running across ridges and spurs. They are recognised as earthworks or as cropmarks on aerial photographs, or as a combination of both. The evidence of excavation and analogy with associated monuments demonstrates that their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been reused later. Current information favours the view that they were used as territorial boundary markers, probably demarcating land allotment within communities, although they may also have been used as trackways, cattle droveways or defensive earthworks. Cross dykes are one of the few monument types which illustrate how land was divided up in the prehistoric period. They are of considerable importance for any analysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age. Very few have survived to the present day and hence all well-preserved examples are considered to be of national importance.

Five Hill Field round barrow cemetery contains some of the few surviving examples of a formerly extensive barrow cemetery now largely destroyed by ploughing. The standing and buried deposits will contain a wealth of archaeological evidence relating to the barrows' construction, the manner and duration of their use, and the landscape in which they were set. As the cemetery contained Bronze Age and Iron Age remains, these deposits will provide information on the development of the site over a considerable timespan, while the combination of barrows and the cross dyke provides an unusual insight into its spatial organisation. The continued use of the cross dyke as a field boundary and the reuse of the barrow mounds probably during the Anglo-Saxon period highlights their importance as a local landmark throughout the centuries.


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


The monument includes Five Hill Field barrow cemetery and a cross dyke, situated 290m south west of Heath Farm. It occupies a prominent position on a steep hill overlooking the course of the prehistoric Icknield Way, which ran across the chalk uplands of north Hertfordshire and south Cambridgeshire. The cemetery forms part of an extensive pattern of burial mounds scattered along this important prehistoric route. Some 1300m to the north east, for example, lies Goffers Knoll tumulus, which is the subject of a separate scheduling.

Five Hill Field cemetery includes five Bronze Age round barrows, as well as an Iron Age square barrow. Four of these barrows are no longer visible above ground, as their mounds have been reduced by ploughing, yet buried remains of all six barrows survive. Their surrounding ditches, from which earth was dug in the construction of the mounds, have become infilled over the years. However, they still remain visible as cropmarks (areas of enhanced growth resulting from the higher moisture content of buried archaeological features), which have been recorded by aerial photographs.

In 1847 RC Neville noted five barrow mounds as well as a prehistoric earthwork bank, or cross dyke, which probably functioned as a boundary marker. The dyke runs north east to south west, parallel with the Royston to Newmarket Road (A505), and forms the north western edge of the barrow cemetery. It was recorded by Neville in 1847 as standing up to 2.5m high and about 200m long with a maximum width of 13m. A drawing published in Neville's report (Sepulchra Exposita) suggests that its south western terminal had a rounded shape, while the north eastern end was more pointed. The drawing also shows a footpath from Heath Farm running across the earthwork within a central hollow. The cross dyke is no longer visible above ground, yet its buried remains are preserved, showing clearly as a dark coloured cropmark on aerial photographs.

Neville investigated parts of the three tallest barrows, including the barrow immediately south east of the cross dyke. He noted that its mound stood 1.3m high with a 20m diameter. It is now no longer visible above ground, yet its encircling ditch shows clearly on aerial photographs and is thought to measure about 5m wide. At the heart of the barrow, dug into the prehistoric ground surface, Neville discovered a pit filled with burnt animal and human remains, mixed together. Other finds included the base of a small vase, part of a red deer antler, charcoal and a second century AD brass coin of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, which appears to suggest some incursion into the barrow in the Roman period.

Immediately to the south is a further barrow which is neither visible above ground nor documented by Neville. Its encircling ditch, however, can be seen on aerial photographs and its dimensions are similar to the smaller barrows in this cemetery; the mound being about 18m in diameter, surrounded by a 4m wide ditch.

To the south lies a further round barrow and a later Iron Age square barrow, whose mounds had already been reduced significantly by the time of Neville's visit and by now can no longer be seen above ground. In 1847 the mound of the round barrow stood 0.8m high with a diameter of 18m, while the square barrow's mound measured 1m high and 15m in width. Neville did not excavate these two barrows but mentions that the farmer had recovered pottery fragments from the ploughed mounds. Aerial photographs reveal that the 4m wide encircling ditch of the round barrow merges on the south east side with the square ditch of the Iron Age barrow. This square ditch measures approximately 30m north west to south east and 20m north east to south west and is 4m wide.

Aerial photographs also reveal that a small ditch connects this pair with another barrow to the south west. This was the tallest barrow in the cemetery in 1847, when the mound stood 3m high with a diameter of 18m. It now survives as a slight earthwork, 0.3m high, while its encircling ditch is visible as a cropmark and is thought to measure 4m wide. Neville excavated part of the mound and encountered three cinerary vases, a small pierced cup (possibly used for incense), and charcoal throughout. In the more superficial layers were found a bronze double buckle and two skeletons, thought to be secondary burials of the Anglo-Saxon period.

Immediately to the south west is a further round barrow, whose mound measured 24m in diameter and 1.6m high in 1847. Its present height is 0.2m while its buried encircling ditch is thought to measure 5m wide. Within this barrow Neville found the horn of a fallow deer and a heap of snail shells, as well an iron pike head and six skeletons, which are likely to be secondary burials, similar in date to those found in its north eastern neighbour.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 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: 33374

Legacy System: RSM

End of official listing