Bartlow Hills

Old print of bartlow HillsThe barrows at Bartlow in Cambridgeshire are the largest surviving Roman burial mounds in Western Europe. When excavated between 1815 and 1840, a rich collection of grave goods, all dated to the late 1st and 2nd century AD, was found. Imported vessels and organic remains such as flower petals and incense evoke the funerary feast and reflect the wealth and status of the people buried here. The dead were cremated and placed into large wooden chests or brick chambers, which appear to have been lit by iron lamps. The mounds were built up from layers of soil and chalk with the largest reaching a height of 15m. The 19th century excavations were published in the journal Archaeologia (1834, 1836, 1840, 1842) but since then this unique site has seen no further archaeological work.

Mound at Bartlow HillsDespite their national, and indeed international, importance, there is therefore no modern detailed plan of these monuments and their surrounding landscape. It is known from antiquarian explorations that a villa was located nearby and further villas are known from within a mile of the site. A substantial rectangular earthwork, possibly enclosing the mounds, is also mentioned in the antiquarian reports. During the cutting of a railway line (which ran between the barrows) inhumation burials were discovered to the north-east of the mounds and to their south there appear to have been other cremated remains. Many unanswered questions remain about the construction of the mounds: no ditches are visible today which, together with the steep sides of the barrows, suggests ancient revetments. These were not identified by the antiquarian excavators who did, however, note that the mounds were made up of distinct layers of chalk and soil.

This project aims to place the Bartlow Hills into their wider cultural context by conducting an extensive survey of the barrows and the surrounding area and by studying the finds made during and since the antiquarian excavation. The work is being carried out by Hella Eckardt & Timothy Astin (both University of Reading) and Sophie Hay (University of Southampton).

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