Addenda to Beakers and Bronze


Photograph: Historic England Educational Images.

This group of barrows is about a mile to the west of Stonehenge. A Neolithic long barrow is at the top/left (actually, south-west) of the group in the photo (adjacent to the traffic roundabout). The rest are Bronze Age round barrows of various type.

By far the most common type of round barrow is the ‘bowl barrow’ – a roughly circular mound (ranging from about 5 metres to over 40 metres in diameter), the upturned-bowl profile of which provides its name. They may have a surrounding ditch – where there is a ditch, there is no intervening berm (i.e. ledge or platform) – sometimes with an outer bank. At Winterbourne Stoke, along with bowl barrows, can be seen examples of other types of round barrow, sometimes collectively referred to as ‘fancy barrows’:


A ‘saucer barrow’ has a relatively low mound (like an upturned saucer), no berm, a ditch, and can have an outer bank.

In the ‘bell barrow’, the mound is separated from a ditch by a berm. There may also be an outer bank.

The mound of a ‘disc barrow’ is relatively small, separated from a ditch by a wide berm. Once again, there may be an outer bank.

The ‘pond barrow’ (to be pedantic, it isn't really a barrow, since it doesn’t have a mound) is a circular depression surrounded by a banked rim. Though burials are found in them, it is thought that this was not the prime function of pond barrows – they may have had a ritual purpose.


Canon William Greenwell (1820–1918) – to some, famous for his trout fishing fly, Greenwell’s Glory – was an enthusiastic barrow-digger. In 1877 he published his British Barrows:

“The work now offered to the public will be found to contain a record of the examination of above two hundred and thirty sepulchral mounds, belonging to a period before the occupation of Britain by the Romans. A considerable part of many years has been devoted to this examination; and, I trust I may say with confidence, the facts collected during this process have been carefully and minutely observed and accurately recorded.”
British Barrows, Preface

In a footnote, he describes his excavation technique:

“My practice has always been to drive a trench, the width of the barrow as it was originally constituted and before it was enlarged by being ploughed down, from south to north, through and beyond the centre. I have not always thought it necessary to remove the whole of the north and west sides, as they are generally found to be destitute of secondary interments; in very many cases, however, I have turned over the whole mound.”*
British Barrows, Introduction

In 1869–70 Canon Greenwell conducted his “barrow-opening operations” at Rudston, East Riding of Yorkshire. He writes:

“The next barrow, the largest of the group ... was 100ft in diameter and 9ft high, and was formed entirely of chalk, with the exception of a layer of dark fatty earth which rested on the natural surface, and was of a thickness varying between 1ft and 2½ft. There was no trace of any hollow in the neighbourhood from whence so large a mass of chalk could have been obtained as that required to form this barrow. The chalk employed must however have been quarried from a considerable depth, for the material over a great part of the mound was of a description that does not occur in the upper chalk beds of the locality. There can be but little doubt that it was obtained close by, and it would therefore seem as if the place from which it had been obtained had been afterwards filled up again. There is no difficulty in understanding how the chalk was excavated, for the remains of the tools were found amongst the material composing the barrow, in the shape of broken tines of red-deer antlers and splinters originating in their breakage...
This barrow produced a large number of burials, all of them, with one exception, appearing to be secondary, and many of them mere insertions. They were all placed at a very slight depth beneath the present surface of the mound.
At a distance of 14ft south-west of the centre was the body of a man, placed 6ft above the natural surface, and laid on his right side, with head to W.N.W., and the hands up to the face. At the crown of the head was a ‘food vessel’, and behind the head a long flint scraper [there follows a description of the food vessel and scraper] ... The body had been inserted in the barrow, which, as has already been observed, was made of chalk, and the hollow in which it was placed had been filled in with earth, but along the back of the body some large flat pieces of chalk were set on edge. Twenty-seven feet west-by-south of the centre, and 4½ft above the surface, was the body of another man, laid on the left side, with the head to N.N.W., the right hand being up to the face and the left on the right arm. [There follows a description of a flint knife placed at the feet] ... Twenty-one feet west-south-west from the centre, and 6ft above the ground-level, was the body of a woman, laid on the right side, with the head to N.W. by N.; the right arm was extended and the hand placed under the knees, the left hand being up to the face. Between the head and knees was a ‘food vessel’. This body was evidently an insertion, and was deposited in a hollow filled in with earth, having a thin chalk flag laid over the knees and the vessel. [There follows a description of the vessel] ... Close to the last body were the remains of a disturbed one, with many pieces of a ‘drinking cup’ [i.e. Beaker], which had probably been associated with it ... Twenty-one feet west-by-south from the centre, and 6ft above the natural surface, was the body of a second woman, laid on the right side, with the head to N. by W.; the hands were crossed in front of where the hips had been, but these, together with the bones of the legs, had been cut away by the introduction of the interment last mentioned. Behind the head was a ‘drinking cup’, 4¼in high, 4in wide at the mouth, and 2½in at the bottom. It is ... ornamented over the whole surface by encircling lines of twisted-thong impressions [this Beaker’s description matches the early, ‘all-over-cord’, one pictured on the Beakers and Bronze page]. Twelve feet south-south-east from the centre, and 6¼ft above the natural surface, was the body of a child, about 3 years old, laid on its right side, with the head to S.S.W.  Seven feet and a-half south-south-east from the centre, and 7ft above the surface, was the body of another child, rather younger than the last, also laid on its right side, with the head to N. by E.  On the same level, 6ft south-east-by-south of the centre, and apparently in the undisturbed chalk of the mound, was still another child, about a year old. Just west of this, but about a foot higher, was part of the skull of another child of about the same age; whilst 4ft east-south-east of the centre, and nearly at the same height as the two children’s bodies just named, were two other children, laid close together, the elder in front of the younger, both on their left sides, and with their heads to N.E. by E., and the hands of both up to their respective faces. Between the face of one and the back of the head of the other were two flint chippings. These bodies also were placed apparently in the undisturbed chalk of the mound. Six feet east of the centre, and at the same level with the last-named children, was yet another child; while 3ft west of it were several disturbed bones of another child. Seven feet and a-half north-north-east from the centre, and at the same distance above the ground-level, was the body of a young woman, the epiphyses of the thigh bones not being united; she was laid on the right side, with the head to S.W. by S., the right hand being under the corresponding thigh, and the left on the chest. Between the face and the knees was a ‘food vessel’. [There follows a description of the food vessel] ... Seven feet north-north-east of the present centre, but no doubt coincident with the original one, and clearly the primary interment, was the body of a child, scarcely a year old, on its left side, with the head to N. by E.  It was placed on the natural surface in a slight hollow, with a direction of west-north-west by east-south-east, 5ft long and 3ft wide, and lined with wood, which towards the east end was charred. Close to the child, also towards the east end of the hollow, were some of the bones of, apparently, a young woman, placed certainly with some regard to their proper order, but by no means presenting such an appearance as would imply that when the interment took place there had been an entire body. The head was on its left side, but there was no lower jaw with it; the other bones were in such a position as to show that it had been intended to lay the body on the right side, but there was no left femur, no vertebræ, and none of the bones of the arms, except the left humerus. The bones still remaining were in such a sound condition as to render it impossible to suppose that those which were wanting had perished by decay, so that there can be no room for doubt that when the child was buried certain parts of the skeleton of another body had been placed in association with it, the bones probably of one removed from some other place of deposit, and possibly those of the mother.
The size of this barrow was such as (presumably at least) to indicate the importance of the person over whose body it had been raised; and yet there seems every reason to conclude that the person in question was a child of very tender years. [There follows conjecture regarding the child's status] ...
At a distance of 15ft north-east of the centre, and 6½ft above the natural surface, was the body of a child, very much decayed; close to the head was a small and perfectly plain vessel [description follows] ... One foot and a-half east of the last was another child, also much decayed; at the head, and probably in front of the face, was a small ‘drinking cup’ [description follows] ... Twenty-one feet and a-half east-by-north from the centre, and 6½ft above the level of the ground, was the body of a man, laid on the back and at full length, with the head to W. by N.  One foot north of the last was another man; and 1½ft to the north of the second was a third man’s body, both of which, like the first, were laid at full length on their backs, and with the head in the same direction; the hands in all three cases being placed on the hips. Two feet north-west of the third man was a fourth, laid on the right side in a contracted position, with the head to S.W., and the hands up to the face. Just beyond the feet of the three extended bodies there was another, the bones of which were too much disturbed by the plough to admit of the position of the body being ascertained. It is not improbable that the three bodies laid at full length, and indeed the other two as well, were those of Angles, placed in the mound many centuries after its construction. In the absence of any associated relics this is of course mere conjecture...
It has already been mentioned that there was a deposit of dark fatty earth upon the level of the ground, extending throughout the whole barrow, and increasing in depth up to the centre, where it attained a thickness of 2½ft. This deposit was full of burnt earth and charcoal in every part; but there was more evidence of burning in that part which immediately overlaid the natural surface. There were also in it a very large number of animal bones, as well as sherds of pottery, principally of plain dark-coloured ware, flint implements, and chippings of the same material. Amongst the implements must be numbered 79 saws; 17 scrapers; 3 leaf-shaped arrow-points; 2 pointed tools (probably for boring); several flint articles of uncertain purpose; a hammer-stone; and a piece of a greenstone axe. Many of the saws are very delicately serrated, some along both edges, and showing by the glaze upon the edge that they had been in use. The number of saws was very surprising, and far exceeded the aggregate of those obtained from all the barrows I have opened; and it is by no means easy to give any reasonable explanation of the phenomenon.”
British Barrows, Number LXVII


In British Archaeology (Issue 60, August 2001), Howard Williams writes:

“Late in the 3rd millennium BC, a round barrow was raised over a Beaker grave at Hemp Knoll in the chalk downland of southern England, three miles south-west of Avebury in Wiltshire. The burial rite, as revealed by excavation in 1965, illustrates well this complex process of the transformation of the dead person into a new state.
The first act of the rite was to dig a large, deep burial chamber using antler picks. Next, a wickerwork coffin was placed at the centre of the grave, which contained a skeleton placed in a crouched position on his left side. The body was of a 6ft male, aged between 35 and 45.
We know very little about the organic objects placed with the deceased because they did not survive in the chalkland soils. However, by analogy with burials elsewhere, the body was probably clothed and/or wrapped in a shroud. It may have also been bound with twine soon after death into the crouched position revealed by the skeleton.
Associated with the body was an archer’s wristguard made of greenstone. Although it was worn on the left forearm, it had been broken before burial. A bone object – a toggle or belt ring – was recovered beneath the dead man’s right thigh. This was also broken and the severed edge had been subsequently decorated. It may have been sewn onto the clothing or shroud so that its broken decorated edge was on display.
It is possible that the coffin was opened in the grave to allow a highly decorated Beaker to be placed at the foot of the skeleton. This would have allowed mourners to view the corpse for a time in its final resting place.
In addition to the coffin, part of a timber planked structure was identified in one corner of the grave. By analogy with other Beaker graves, it may suggest that a timber mortuary ‘house’ enclosed the coffin. This structure may have allowed the coffin to be viewed or accessed for a period before the grave was finally backfilled and the barrow raised.
Sometime later, further deposits were included as the grave was being filled in. A roe deer antler – perhaps used in the grave digging – was discarded on one side of the burial. On the other, the four feet and skull of an ox were added when the grave was half-filled with chalk blocks.
As with so many Beaker burial sites of this date, the mound was not raised to commemorate a single grave. Before the mound was built, a second grave of a young child was dug next to the coffined male. A small ditched barrow was then thrown up and at least one further burial – the cremated remains of an individual placed within a food vessel – was inserted into the central burial area.
Looking at the full grave-plan, it would be easy to imagine that the corpse was ‘on display’ within its large grave for mourners to see. However, the relationships between structures, objects and the body – so apparent during archaeological excavation – may not have been so clear to the mourners themselves. Much was carefully controlled, and hidden from view.
Management and control of the corpse had started right at the beginning of the funerary sequence, when it was probably washed, clothed, bound into a crouched posture and then perhaps wrapped in a shroud of animal skins and placed in a coffin. Binding and wrapping seems to symbolise containment; or controlling the power of the dead. It certainly signifies a change in the dead person’s state, away from the individual ‘personality’ known in life to a new status of ‘ancestor’.”


Food vessels are generally coarser and thicker than Beakers. To the modern eye they tend to have the look of ornamental plant-pots. They usually have, narrow, flat bottoms, but the one illustrated right – 5½ inches high and about 6 inches across – from Weaverthorpe, in North Yorkshire, has four feet. Canon William Greenwell discovered it in a barrow:

“It was 54ft in diameter, 4ft high, though a good deal ploughed down, and made of earth, with an admixture of some chalk... Fifteen feet south of the centre, and about 1ft above the natural surface, was a body, probably that of a man about 20 to 25 years of age, lying on the right side, with the head to W., the left hand crossed over and clasping the right, and both up to the face. Above the knees was a very peculiar vase which must be classed amongst the ‘food vessels’. It has four feet set upon a round bottom ... Amongst the material of the mound were many flint chippings; five round scrapers, and one oval, left-handed one; a most symmetrically-formed and beautifully flaked willow-leaf-shaped arrow-point of flint ... the half of a spindle-whorl, of baked clay ... some charcoal, several fragments of pottery, and many broken bones belonging to four oxen and three goats or sheep, all of them adults.
In this barrow there were twelve unburnt bodies, half of which were those of children, and probably one burnt one, in all thirteen; and so far as could be judged from the appearance of the mound, there did not seem to have been any disturbance occasioned by the insertion of secondary interments, all of these as it would appear having been placed on the then existing surface of the barrow, to which, as each new burial took place, fresh additions of earth were made.”
British Barrows (1877), Number XLIII

Canon Greenwell unearthed the collared urns illustrated right from a barrow at Cold Kirby, North Yorkshire:

“It was 44ft in diameter, 5ft high, and was formed of earth and clay with a few stones intermingled. Three feet east-south-east of the centre, and having its mouth placed but 1ft below the surface of the barrow, was a cinerary urn standing upright. It was filled to the top with a deposit of the burnt bones of a person of full age but of small size. The urn [on the left] is 12in high, 9in wide at the mouth, and 4in at the bottom ... At the centre of the mound and just beneath its surface were a few stones placed together for the protection of a second cinerary urn, whose top was met with 2ft below them. The urn [on the right], which stood upright, was carefully packed round with clay and charcoal in large pieces. It was deposited about 1ft above the natural surface, the intervening space having been filled in with well-worked clay. The bones which it contained, those of a young person of average size, were so completely burnt that they occupied a space of only a few inches at the bottom of the urn, which is however no less than 16in high, 12½in wide at the mouth, 16in at the bottom of the overhanging rim, and 4½in at the bottom... Amongst the material of the barrow were found scattered here and there numerous chippings of flint, a round flint scraper, and various sherds of pottery.”
British Barrows, Number CXXVIII


More prosaically known as Upton Lovell G2e, this bowl barrow, some eleven miles to the west of Stonehenge, was excavated by William Cunnington and his patron, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, at the beginning of the 19th century.

The grape cup (diameter approx. 85mm) from the Golden Barrow.
“On the northern banks of the river Wily is a barrow, which from the nature and richness of its contents we have denominated the GOLDEN BARROW. It was opened for the first time in the year 1803. At the depth of two feet we found a little pile of burned human bones placed in a shallow bason-like cist, and at the distance of one foot from the bones was a considerable quantity of ashes intermixed with small fragments of burned bones. About two feet from the pile of bones, the following articles were discovered.  1. Thirteen gold beads made in the form of a drum, having two ends to screw off, and perforated in two places on the sides for the purpose of stringing.  2. A thin plate of the same metal, six inches in length, and nearly three in width, richly wrought, and perforated at the four corners.  3. Another ornament in form of a cone, decorated with circles and zigzags, and fitted closely to a piece of dark wood, like ebony, on which the marks of the pattern still appear impressed; the bottom part of this article is also perforated. The above are all of pure but thin gold, neatly worked, and highly burnished. The large flat plate must have been, like the cone, strengthened by a strip of wood behind; and the whole, by their several perforations, are strongly marked as forming the decorative accoutrements of some distinguished British chieftain. Besides the above, were two small articles in gold, resembling little boxes, about an inch in diameter, with a top, in the form of a cone, to take off. I cannot conjecture to what purpose these were appropriated, as they bear no sign of perforation... Besides the above precious articles of gold, we discovered some large plates of amber ... and above a thousand beads of the same substance, and of different sizes; also a curious little cup, studded over with projecting knobs [known as a ‘grape cup’] ... Such was the result of our researches in the year 1803; but not being completely satisfied, and still thinking that the primary interment had escaped our vigilance, I was anxious that a further trial should be made, which took place in July, 1807, and was attended with success; for, on the same level, and within a few inches of the very spot where the golden trinkets and the amber beads had been found, we discovered two cups, the one placed within the other. The largest of these was covered with a profusion of zigzag ornaments, but on taking out, was unfortunately broken to pieces; the smaller one [a miniature Collared Urn], containing about a pint, is quite plain, and in good preservation. [A small bronze dagger and a bronze awl were also found] ... Still pursuing our excavations to the floor of the barrow, we there found an oblong cist, about eighteen inches deep, which contained a simple interment of burned bones, unaccompanied with either arms or trinkets. This was certainly the primary funereal deposit; but, however rich in materials, or elegant in form, the articles found nearer the surface of the barrow may be deemed, their high antiquity cannot be disputed; for although the grape cup exceeds in beauty and novelty of design any we have as yet discovered, the other two cups of unbaked clay, and rude workmanship, bespeak the uncivilized æra to which the construction of this sepulchral mound may be justly attributed.”
Sir Richard Colt Hoare The History of Ancient Wiltshire, Pt 1 (1812), ‘Station IV. Wily.’

There is no longer any visible trace of the Golden Barrow.

Bronze flanged axe-head (159mm x 67mm), with cloth imprint visible on the blade, from Bush Barrow.

A large (today, 40-odd metres in diameter and over 3 metres high), un-ditched, bowl barrow, in the Normanton Down group of barrows, about half a mile to the south of Stonehenge. Bush Barrow (also known as Wilsford G5) was excavated in 1808 by William Cunnington and Sir Richard Colt Hoare. Beneath the mound was the skeleton of a man, described as “stout and tall”, laying, “from south to north”, on the original ground surface. He was accompanied by two bronze daggers (one of which disintegrated when disturbed), a copper dagger (the wooden handle of which had been inlaid with tiny gold pins*) that probably came from Brittany, possibly another bronze dagger (near the man’s head were found fragments of bronze and wood and bronze rivets), a bronze axe-head (its corrosion bears an imprint of cloth, in which it was, presumably, wrapped), a decorative stone mace-head (there are carved bone bands, which probably adorned the mace’s shaft), and three items of gold-sheet: a small diamond-shaped ‘lozenge’ (possibly another item of decoration from the mace’s shaft), a large (18cm x 15cm) ‘lozenge’ (it had been placed on the man’s chest and had had a wooden backing – its purpose is not clear), and a belt-hook (over 7cm square, it too had had a wooden backing).

Finds from both the Golden Barrow and Bush Barrow can be seen at the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.


In 1835, the vicar of Mold, the Reverend Charles Butler Clough, wrote a letter regarding: “the discovery of a golden Corselet near this town, which I understand is now purchased for the British Museum.”*  So, it was originally thought that the unearthed item was a chieftain’s corselet, i.e. a piece of body armour, though it was appreciated that it was too fragile to be anything but ornamental. By 1904 opinion had changed – a British Museum Guide describing it as “a peytrel”, i.e. a horse’s chest ornament. It was only in the early 1950s that it was identified as a cape*. Anyway, returning to the Reverend Clough’s letter:

“The spot where it was found is a small gravel bank, of which there are several at a little distance from the river Alun, in the vale of Mold. This spot is about a quarter of a mile from the town of Mold, the road from which place to Chester is cut through part of the bank, within eight or ten yards of the site of the interesting remains... A short time before the discovery of the Corselet, workmen had been employed in raising gravel from the side of the road, and had made a considerable pit for some yards into the adjoining field. A new tenant, Mr John Langford, having taken the field, and the pit being unsightly, and relinquished by the surveyor of the road, he employed persons to fill the hole by shovelling down the top of the bank. While so employed, they observed that the whole of the materials with which they were filling the gravel pit, appeared to consist of larger stones than the material of the gravel below, and among them were several very large round stones. About four feet from the top of the bank, and without doubt upon the original surface, they perceived the Corselet. It lay as it would have been worn, with the breast upwards, the back parts doubled behind, and contained within it a considerable number of small bones, vertebræ, &c. but none of them longer than from two to three inches. The scull [sic], of no unusual size, lay at the upper end, but no bones of the extremities were noticed. These bones had no symptoms of fire upon them. The Corselet was very resplendent. Upon it, in rows, lay a quantity of beads, some of which I saw, but cannot now procure one. They were evidently made of some kind of resin, as they broke bright and clear, and burned well, with the smell of that substance. There were also remains of coarse cloth or serge, which from its appearing connected with or inclosing the beads, formed, I should suppose, their covering, and was fastened round the edges or upon parts of the Corselet as a braiding. Some small holes in the edge of the gold, create an idea that this braiding was fastened on through them. There were also several pieces of copper, upon which the gold had been rivetted with small nails, and which had served as a stiffening or inner case of the armour... But while the chieftain’s bones were thus committed to the ground, unconsumed and apparelled as in life, it was not so with his followers; from two to three yards from the spot where he lay an urn was found, but unfortunately was broken to pieces by the workmen, and more than a wheelbarrow full of the remnants of burnt bones and ashes with it. Some small pieces of these bones have been examined by an experienced surgeon, who has no doubt of their being human... Some of the largest of the stones which had been heaped together, were from eight to ten hundred pounds, or more in weight; one or two of these were within two or three feet of the Corselet...
I must add in conclusion, that I regret to say, that the Corselet suffered considerable mutilation. Mr Langford, upon its discovery, having no idea of its value, threw it into a hedge, and told the workmen to bring it with them when they returned home to dinner. In the mean time several persons broke small pieces off it, and after I saw it, one piece of gold, apparently a shoulder strap, which was entire (or piece passing over the shoulder from the front to the back of the arm) was taken away; two small pieces, of what I believe to have been (from its similarity to what I had seen) the other shoulder strap, with several small pieces of copper upon which the gold was fixed, are still in Mr Langford’s possession; several rings and breast pins have been made out of the pieces carried away.”
In Prehistoric Avebury (Second Edition, 2002), Historian and archaeologist Aubrey Burl comments:
“Canon Greenwell ... a clergyman whose methods have led archaeologists to wish that he had used his knees more often in prayer and less frequently in excavation.”
Chapter 6
“So very minute, indeed, were these pins, that our labourers had thrown out thousands of them with their shovel, and scattered them in every direction, before, by the necessary aid of a magnifying glass, we could discover what they were; but fortunately enough remained attached to the wood to enable us to develop the pattern.”
Sir Richard Colt Hoare The History of Ancient Wiltshire Pt 1 (1812), ‘Station V. Amesbury.’
Rev. Clough wrote this letter to John Gage, Director of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Gage quotes it in a letter that he wrote to Sir Henry Ellis, Secretary of the Society and Principal Librarian of the British Museum, which was published in Archaeologia Vol. 26 (1836): ‘A Letter from JOHN GAGE, Esq. F.R.S., Director, to Sir HENRY ELLIS, K.H., F.R.S., Secretary, accompanying a Gold British Corselet exhibited to the Society, and since purchased by the Trustees of the British Museum’.
T.G.E. Powell ‘The Gold Ornament from Mold, Flintshire, North Wales’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society Vol. 19 (1953).