top of page

Excavating a long barrow

In 2022 we moved excavation location in order to investigate the elongated mound identified in the 2019 topographic survey. We wanted to know what it was? When was it made and what was its relationship with other features in the landscape?

There were three likely options, was it a natural geological formation, a pillow mound (a , artificial rabbit warren) (probably late medieval in date)) or a prehistoric monument?

The short answer is a prehistoric long barrow, which has been flattened, possibly during prehistory. There is no evidence of it on any OS maps, which show the other, nearby, barrows still upstanding.

The trench in 2022

Long barrows date from the Neolithic period and typically have 2 parallel ditches either side of an elongated or oval mound, into which human remains were placed. We only excavated a small corner of the monument and found the edge of a mound, an area which could have formed part of the front of the monument, an inner ditch (that would have been used as the quarry for the mound) and a larger outer ditch, which appears to circle the whole monument. Two ditches surrounding a long barrow are unusual although not unknown.

We found some pit-like features along the eastern edge of the mound that could represent the sockets for large stones that might have formed a façade comparable to the one surviving at the Grey Mare and her Colts. We think it is possible that these stones [JR1]were removed during prehistory and used to build the Kingston Russell stone circle, which is now found in the same field. Only further analysis and excavation will tell us that.

Freda was one of our volunteers last summer...


Digging with Past Participate – Summer 2022

Larks chirruping overhead in the unusually hot sunshine, I found myself nose down in the trench, scraping away the soil with my trowel, eyes peeled for anything unusual coming out of the ground. I was enjoying the chat and laughter of my fellow volunteers when a call went up from the trench further over.

Quizzically we lifted our heads like meerkats to see what was occurring. Dave had found a beautifully worked and shaped Neolithic flint scraper. Emboldened by the possibility of success, we redoubled our efforts in our own trench, hoping to find the next one.

At coffee break, we sat under the canvas shade, which was gently flapping in the summer breeze. A Red Kite flew over as we passed Dave’s find around the circle. This was by no means the first worked flint discovered on this dig, and I spent the afternoon happily cleaning all the others we had found, and wondering about the people who had originally worked on them.

This was my third year of digging with Past Participate and once again I appreciated the excellent tuition from Anne, Jim and their fellow specialists, and the variety of experiences I was offered. After my session in the trench, I had spent the second half of the morning using their computer equipment to plot a series of GPS points across the site, and now here I was, scrubbing at the flints, listening to the different birdsong around me, looking out at the magnificent West Dorset scenery, and picking tiny spiderlings off my clothes as they flew through on their journey to life and adventure away from their place of birth. Totally absorbed in the examination and washing of the flints, I had no sense of the passage of time, and was surprised when the other volunteers started drifting back for their afternoon tea break.

With regular updates from Jim and Anne, putting into context the site we were exploring, and their theories about what was emerging from the ground, we all felt a part of something bigger. For me, there was the extra thrill of digging a landscape I had walked across and wondered about for decades, and constantly increasing my understanding of what had happened there over the millennia.

I came to Past Participate as a complete novice, having never dug before in my life, and knowing very little about Archaeology. All my anxieties, about whether I would be of any use to them, or whether I would be able to cope with the physical part of the work with a body that is beginning to issue constant reminders about my age, evaporated during my first experience with them. I have learnt so much and been inspired to find out more. Thanks to their open-handed generosity with their knowledge and experience, and their determination to include anyone who is interested, I feel incredibly fortunate to have stumbled across this opportunity in my retirement years.

Freda Ellis


46 views0 comments


bottom of page