By Sandy Gerrard
Amongst the simplest monuments to schedule are individual barrows. They survive as a discreet mound with a surrounding ditch. Indeed it sometimes feels as if the legislation is tailored to make their designation easy. It is therefore perhaps surprising to note that even the scheduling of a single barrow is not without its problems. Indeed an examination of a recent example reveals a number of entirely avoidable mistakes and contradictions.
The scheduled bowl barrow 550m south-east of Dairy Farm highlights that even the straight-forward can be made confusing. The barrow was first scheduled in 1997, but is now being re-scheduled in 2012. The reason for this double handling is not given, but the most likely explanation is that it was plotted in the wrong location in the first place. A number of aspects concerning this new revamped scheduling are worth considering.
In the Reasons for Designation section much is made of the ditch fills and the features below the mound, but the survival of the mound itself is not seen as a reason for protecting the site. This seems curious given the type of site. Even more bizarre however is the statement that the site “will contribute valuable information regarding” amongst other things “the distribution of settlement in the area”. Not sure how a single barrow can help enhance our understanding of an entirely different group of monuments. In the diversity section much is made of other nearby sites which are also protected, but concludes that they are separated from some of the others by “an existing gravel quarry.” The presence of the gravel quarry is obviously a sound reason for offering this site protection, but I am not sure how well this fits within the diversity section. A very odd juxtaposition of ideas. When considering the period criteria, the documentation bravely states “Bowl barrows are funerary monuments“, but elsewhere within the same report it says “Many, but not all, covered single or multiple burials or had burials inserted into them”. So are they funerary monuments or not? This last statement also curiously implies that only barrows with no primary burials had burials inserted into them at a later date.(On a really pedantic note, within the documentation section of the report this single barrow is suddenly transformed as if by magic into “The monuments”.)
The next section notes that bowl barrows “are funerary or ceremonial monuments”. This statement implies that barrows with burials somehow did not have a ceremonial function. I wonder what evidence EH has uncovered to support this particular position? The report then goes on to say that barrows were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds and are commonly surrounded by a ring-ditch. This is an incredible simplification as obviously many mounds are composed of both earth and rubble. I also believe that rubble mounds are generally thought of as cairns. Describing the ditch surrounding a barrow as a ring-ditch is unhelpful and confusing. Ring-ditch is not an appropriate term where the mound is said to survive. However, despite saying that the barrow mound survives elsewhere in the documentation later on the report says the “survival and precise location have been established more recently by magnetometer survey”. This might suggest that the site should indeed be thought of as a ring-ditch rather than a barrow. This is all very confusing when the identity of the monument keeps morphing from one thing into another. The next bit is if anything even more baffling – “Important evidence of earlier activity is often preserved beneath barrow mounds, which may be preceded by a lengthy sequence of construction and use.” Wonder what that means?
The report notes that “aerial photography and geophysical survey allow for the accurate plotting and measurement of the barrow” but then goes on to spoil things by noting that “the diameter of which measures about 12m from the outer edge of the ditch.” Seems odd to me that such an accurate measurement should result in only an approximation. Furthermore, the dimensions are expressed in such a clumsy way that the size of the barrow remains a mystery because we have not been told the width of the ditch.
The scheduling is provided with a 10m buffer zone which means “the scheduled area forms a circle measuring 32m in diameter.” This very generous “buffer zone” means that more than 85% of the scheduled area contains no known archaeological remains and the nationally important archaeology is limited to less than 15% of the total area. Some might argue that this is somewhat generous and others that a 85% buffer should be applied to all future schedulings.
Bottom line though is that this scheduling, in common with others that have been looked at in recent weeks, is riddled with mistakes and contradictions.
[For other articles in the series put Scheduling in the search box]