Round Barrow 120m West of Kirkless Farm
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North Yorkshire County Council
Scarborough Borough Council
Scarborough and Whitby
SE985985 (498504, 493925)
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A Bronze Age round barrow located 120 metres west of Kirkless Farm, in the centre of Harwood Dale. A kerb of stones originally defined the barrow mound, but this has been buried by soil slippage and is no longer visible. A partial excavation carried out in 1949 uncovered a jet pendant and fragments of pottery and calcined bone. Scheduled.
2 ½” map, sheet 44/99, 986939. 100yds NW of Kirkless Farm, Burniston.
Owner of land, Lord Derwent. Tenant, Mr S. Pennock.
Excavated by S&D.A.S. April/July 1949.
Diam 86’ Height 5½’. Flat top with a slight depression at centre.
Note: The following are the notes made for the reporting of this excavation for the Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeological Society and were published in 1956. (W. H. Lamplough)
Excavation of Kirkless Barrow
The excavation of the Kirkless Barrow by the Scarborough and District Archaeological Society was begun in April, 1949, and the work was continued for about four months. I was not responsible for the selection of the site, or for the direction or recording of the excavation, but as the Society six years later has no other record, I have again examined the site and with the aid of contemporary notes and photographs have endeavoured to give an account of the work.
The Society wishes to express its thanks to Lord Derwent for permission to excavate and to Mr S Pennock of Kirkless Farm for his active cooperation and advice.
O.S. 6” map, Yorkshire (North Riding), sheet LXII S.W.
O.S. 2 ½” map, Sheet 44/99
National Grid Reference 44/986939
The barrow is 100yds north-west of Kirkless Farm, Harwood Dale on a slight natural eminence between the 275ft and 300ft contours. The only other barrow in the dale at a similar elevation is on the opposite slope near Thirley Beck Farm and half a mile north of Kirkless. On the moors overlooking the dale are many barrows, but, even if allowance is made for the effects of cultivation, the study of air photographs, and careful examination of the ground suggest that barrows were always much less numerous in the lower parts of the dale.
Before excavation the Kirkless barrow was a symmetrical circular mound with a flat top. There was no sign of previous excavation or disturbance, except a slight depression at the centre. The field in which the barrow is situated is now permanent pasture but has been ploughed. The diameter of the barrow was 86ft and the height 5½ft.
The original plan was that the barrow should be completely excavated by the quadrant method with 3ft baulks left between the quadrants to give sections of the barrow and to facilitate its final restoration. At this time it was not appreciated that such an ambitious operation would have occupied the small band of enthusiasts, who worked on the site, for several years.
Turves were removed along the edges of the four baulks, and then from the whole area of the south-west quadrant. A trench of width 10ft was then made from the western edge and up to the line of the south baulk. About 5ft from the edge of the mound was a line of stones at intervals of about 1½ft and of size ranging from a few inches to 1ft. small trenches were dug in each of the other quadrants, and stones were found in equivalent positions indicating that the whole circle may have been defined in this manner. Measurements were made to determine the exact centre of this circle, and a square of side 12ft which enclosed this point was excavated down to natural subsoil. Trimming of the edges of the original trench had increased its width to about 11ft, but, as the bottom of the trench sloped up above the base of the barrow, a narrow cutting was made at the base of the exposed section for a length of several feet, in order to determine the nature of the subsoil and the original surface on which the mound had been raised. No attempt was made to determine whether the barrow had been surrounded by a ditch.
The core of the mound consisted of a compacted sandy loam. In freshly cut and moist sections were irregular but generally horizontal dark lines up to about 1½ft in length, which appeared to indicate that turves had been used in the original construction. Except where there had been disturbance, presumably by rabbits, the edge of the turf core was clearly defined, and the skirts of the mound were of fine loam without the dark lines. This material must be regarded as part of the construction of the mound, and not attributed to the spread of material from the centre by weathering or other agencies, for the ring of small stones which had been placed on the old surface would have been displaced, if they had been exposed.
Over the whole barrow, at a depth of about 9 inches, was a well-defined plough line. Ploughing would cause some spread of the barrow and consequent reduction in height, but a much greater dispersal of the material of the barrow would have resulted, if it had been subjected to regular cultivation.
The base of the barrow was defined by a continuous grey or brown line of maximum thickness two inches. Near the edge of the barrow this line became a mere trace, still, however, sufficiently clear to indicate the surface on which the ring of small stones had been placed. In colour and thickness this line was similar to the short dark lines in the soil above, and may be taken as an indication that the surface on which the barrow was raised had not been cleared of vegetation. The continuity of the turf-line and the absence of root channels in the soil below would suggest that no large tree had grown within the area subjected to examination for a considerable period prior to the construction of the barrow. Immediately below the old surface was a layer of 6 to 9 inches of soil, and below this fine gravel to a depth of at least 2ft.
A thin layer of this gravel was found immediately above the old surface over a roughly circular area of diameter about 6ft and this proved to be the spoil from a pit of diameter 3ft and depth 1½ft which had penetrated the gravel subsoil. The soil filling of this pit was removed with great care, but no find was made. The centre of the pit was about 4ft north-east of the centre of the barrow, and the layer of spoil extended from the centre towards the south-west.
Only minute fragments of charcoal were observed, and there was no other evidence of the use of fire. Many fragments of flint found at all levels in the barrow, but few had the appearance of deliberately struck flakes or bore any indication of usage or secondary flaking.
In the central depression, which was noted before the excavation, were found the much decayed bones of a sheep at a depth of about 2ft. there was no indication of disturbance below this depth.
Positions are marked on the plan and heights measured from the old surface.
1. Small block of jet, length ¾in not shaped or polished. Height 3ft.
2. Piece of calcined bone. Height 1½ft.
3. Fragment of pottery, bright red surface and dark grey interior, very soft, crushed and cast away by finder. Height 1½ft.
4. Sherd of dark grey pottery, thickness 0.2in, undecorated. Height 1ft.
5. A hole in the soil, circular in section of length 4in and width 0.6in was partly filled with a soft, pale yellow, fibrous substance. Height 1ft. this substance is very similar to a sample taken from the inner core of a point of a red deer antler.
6. Jet pendant, found on the surface of the spoil heaps, probably dug from the central area during the final stages of the excavation, rectangular …x…x…in. all edges are slightly rounded and most of the surface is polished. A hole in the centre bears signs of having been made by boring from both sides with a pointed but slightly jagged implement.
Apart from the single fragment of calcined bone, there was no evidence of a cremation, and there is no reason to assume that the soil conditions were such that an inhumation would have left no trace. It is probable that the primary burial had been deposited outside the limits of the excavation. The scraps of pottery and antler give no evidence for dating the construction of the barrow and the jet pendant is the only find worthy of careful consideration. It was crudely fashioned and in the manner in which it had been pierced suggested the use of a flint point. There is abundant evidence for the use of jet in north-east Yorkshire during the Bronze Age, but the closest parallel to the Kirkless pendant was found by Mortimer in a barrow on Painsthorpe Wold (see note 1). This pendant is roughly lozenge-shaped and is pierced near one end. It was associated with an early type of urn.
A curb or ring of stones is a feature of many Bronze Age barrows. Pits under barrows are frequently associated with Food Vessels, but also occur under barrows of the urn period.
On the limited evidence obtained by this excavation, it is reasonable to suggest that the Kirkless Barrow was built in the Middle Bronze Age, and that no subsequent addition or modification was made to its structure during later periods.
It is unfortunate that a more precise conclusion did not reward the expenditure of so great an effort, but nine tenths of the barrow still awaits excavation.
Note 1. Mortimer, (1905), p 126, & fig 312.
Kirkless Barrow: 3 Pottery fragments.
Kirkless. 2 Flints. (DHL: 888)
David H Lamplough, 18 February 2013
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