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Monument details

HER Number:TR 15 SE 8
Type of record:Monument
Name:Three Roman stone cist burials; enclosure mound partially surviving


Three Roman barrows surrounded by an enclosing bank which is still visible. Excavation in 1882-3 found the barrows covered stone built cists containing cremations. Roman cinerary urns, probably containing secondary burials were also present. Scheduled.

Grid Reference:TR 1709 5201
Map Sheet:TR15SE

Monument Types

Associated Finds

  • BROOCH (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
Protected Status:Scheduled Monument 1017617: ROMAN CIST BURIALS IN GORSLEY WOOD

Full description

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Three contiguous barrows in Gorsley Wood, a mile WSW of Bishopsbourne station, were excavated by Vine (1) in 1882-3. They contained well- made cists with burnt ashes, bones and fragments of fine glass. The largest barrow (the southernmost) had a pavement of large Roman tiles,bordered by flintstones, slanting down towards the centre of the mound. Elsewhere in the mounds were found three or four cinerary urns (one thought to be Castor ware and another Upchurch), fragments of bronze ornaments (fibulae?), small pieces of iron (nails?), two showing traces of gold, and a glass pin.(2) Listed.(3) Scheduled.(4) (1-4) [TR 17095201] Tumuli [G.S.] [One mound shown] (5) This barrow group comprises a principal mound, some 12.0m in diameter and 1.0m in height, at the centre of which is a large excavation pit containing the remains of a ragstone cist. On the north, and contiguous to it, are two large excavation pits each containing a dressed stone cist, 1.2m by 0.8m internally, one with a capstone beside it. A small bank which surrounds both pits may be the remains of covering mounds. Published survey (25") revised. (6) Additional bibliography. (7)(8) Three stone cists originally covered by low earthen mounds and surrounded by a low enclosing bank. The cists and the northern side of the bank are still visible. Scheduled. (9)

From the National Heritage List For England:

The monument includes a series of three stone cists of the Roman period, each of which was originally covered by a low, circular earthen mound, together with the low enclosing bank and the surrounding area from which earth for the mounds and bank was quarried or scraped up. Partial excavation of these barrows in 1882/3 revealed some of the details of the monument. The three cists are similar in their method of construction: each took the form of a stone box 0.9-1.2m long by 0.7- 0.8m wide made of Kentish ragstone, and each was sunk about 1m below the level of the surrounding ground. Around the cists had been raised earthen mounds which varied in size, the southernmost being 10.5m across and 1.2m high before excavation, the middle example measuring 9m across and 1m high and the northernmost 7.5m across and 0.6m high. On the western side of the southernmost example, a large number of tiles, edged with a row of flint nodules, paved the sloping ground surface leading to the cist. All three mounds were enclosed within a low earthen bank some 5m across and up to 0.5m high, which survives best on the northern side. Amongst the items found during the excavations were poorly cremated human bone, fragments of bronze and a few pieces of glass. Pottery urns were also found which confirmed the Roman date of the barrows. The cists were left exposed after excavation, and are still visible to the present day.

Earthen barrows are the most visually spectacular survivals of a wide variety of funerary monuments in Britain dating to the Roman period. Constructed as steep-sided conical mounds, usually of considerable size and occasionally with an encircling bank or ditch, they covered one or more burials, generally believed to be those of high-ranking individuals. The burials were mainly cremations, although inhumations have been recorded, and were often deposited with accompanying grave goods in chambers or cists constructed of wood, tile or stone sealed beneath the barrow mound. Occasionally the mound appears to have been built directly over a funeral pyre. The barrows usually occur singly, although they can be grouped into "cemeteries" of up to ten examples. They are sited in a variety of locations but often occur near Roman roads. A small number of barrows were of particularly elaborate construction, with masonry revetment walls or radial internal walls. Roman barrows are rare nationally, with less than 150 recorded examples, and are generally restricted to lowland England with the majority in East Anglia. The earliest examples date to the first decades of the Roman occupation and occur mainly within this East Anglian concentration. It has been suggested that they are the graves of native British aristocrats who chose to perpetuate aspects of Iron Age burial practice. The majority of the barrows were constructed in the early second century AD but by the end of that century the fashion for barrow building appears to have ended. Occasionally the barrows were re-used when secondary Anglo-Saxon burials were dug into the mound. Many barrows were subjected to cursory investigation by antiquarians in the 19th century and, as little investigation to modern standards has taken place, they remain generally poorly understood. As a rare monument type which exhibits a wide diversity of burial tradition all Roman barrows, unless significantly damaged, are identified as nationally important.

The group of three barrows in Gorsley Wood have been shown by partial excavations to represent an unique blend of two Roman burial traditions - those of cemetery burials and burials beneath mounds. As such they add to the known diversity of Roman burial rites. Despite the excavation and removal of the principal burials, the barrows retain significant archaeological potential since the excavation was limited in scale. Much evidence still exists in the makeup of and beneath the mounds, in the form of evidence of the environment in which the mounds were constructed and possibly in the form of further cremation burials. (10-11)

<1> Arch Cant 15 1883 311-7 plan (Rev FT Vine) (OS Card Reference). SKE34730.

<2> VCH Kent 3 1932 146-7 (RF Jessup MV Taylor and CFC Hawkes) (OS Card Reference). SKE51031.

<3> Antiquity 10 1936 50 Roman Barrows (GC Dunning and RF Jessup) (OS Card Reference). SKE33289.

<4> AMs Eng and Wales 1961 58 (MOW) (OS Card Reference). SKE33029.

<5> OS 6" 1961 (OS Card Reference). SKE48369.

<6> F1 FGA 26.01.65 (OS Card Reference). SKE42979.

<7> PSA 2nd series 9 1881-1883 163-164 (G Payne) (OS Card Reference). SKE48823.

<8> JBAA 1882 113-114 (FT Vine) (OS Card Reference). SKE44880.

<9> Field report for monument TR 15 SE 8 - January, 1965 (Bibliographic reference). SKE5476.

<10> English Heritage SAMs 26-3-91 (OS Card Reference). SKE41629.

<11> English Heritage, Register of Scheduled Monuments (Scheduling record). SKE16191.

Sources and further reading

Cross-ref. Source description
<1>OS Card Reference: Arch Cant 15 1883 311-7 plan (Rev FT Vine).
<2>OS Card Reference: VCH Kent 3 1932 146-7 (RF Jessup MV Taylor and CFC Hawkes).
<3>OS Card Reference: Antiquity 10 1936 50 Roman Barrows (GC Dunning and RF Jessup).
<4>OS Card Reference: AMs Eng and Wales 1961 58 (MOW).
<5>OS Card Reference: OS 6" 1961.
<6>OS Card Reference: F1 FGA 26.01.65.
<7>OS Card Reference: PSA 2nd series 9 1881-1883 163-164 (G Payne).
<8>OS Card Reference: JBAA 1882 113-114 (FT Vine).
<9>Bibliographic reference: Field report for monument TR 15 SE 8 - January, 1965.
<10>OS Card Reference: English Heritage SAMs 26-3-91.
<11>XYScheduling record: English Heritage. Register of Scheduled Monuments. [Mapped feature: #770 Barrow, ]