Meshing the Bell Barrows at Godlingston

It was a good day on Wednesday. Two Bell Barrows and a Bowl Barrow on Godlingston Heath got meshed. I have known them a long time and they have not looked their best but they shone on Wednesday. They are now in the conservation condition that these nationally significant Bronze Age burial mounds deserve.

Crossing the border and driving down through the Dorset countryside to Purbeck, I felt elated. Good Bell Barrows are rare things and those that are known have often been damaged by ploughing.

3 bell barrows and a bowl barrow built over 4,000 years ago overlooking Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island

3 bell barrows and a bowl barrow built over 4,000 years ago overlooking Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island

The Godlingston barrows lie in a beautiful position, on a slope overlooking Poole Harbour. The heather and gorse landscape looks 21st century BC, little intrudes from the 21st century AD (if you ignore the golf course and ice cream van in the lay-by).

They are Bell Barrows because they have an outer quarry ditch, a raised level platform (berm) within and a large mound at the centre. In plan they were thought to look like an old fashioned bell, hence the name. They are usually larger than ordinary burial mounds and concentrated in Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire (a Wessex thing).

Each barrow was a burial place for one or more significant people. At the centre of the mound lies the grave of someone, accompanied by special objects, perhaps a bow and a sheath of arrows, a bronze dagger, pottery vessels and perhaps a necklace or mace of office.

The Trust inherited a tenancy which prevented access for many years. During that time the land was left to become overgrown with gorse and bracken and rabbits using the mounds to dig burrows.

A view from the central barrow back towards the north bell barrow. A smaller bowl barrow was later built across its ditch.

A view from the central barrow back towards the north bell barrow. A smaller bowl barrow was later built across its ditch.

The Bronze Age people and their culture are long gone. Their barrows are all the information we have about them. Anything we are likely to know about these ancient British people lie locked in their monuments. Science gives us new ways of finding out every year and digging up a site can only take place once. Once it is dug it is gone so if it happens it must be done archaeologically, recording the clues in each layer of soil as we dig deeper.

Rabbits are not good archaeologists and so it is better for them to dig their homes somewhere else.

Resistivity meter in the foreground and magnetometer in the background

Resistivity meter in the foreground and magnetometer in the background

Now Godlingston is back in hand and managed under a higher level stewardship agreement. We used to surround sites with rabbit proof fences to keep them out but we now mesh vulnerable sites with wire. This armour plates them and quickly becomes hidden under grass and heather. We carry out geophysical surveys of the whole site first as once the mesh is in place such surveys cannot take place.

English Heritage and Natural England agreed the method of the work and provided funding and Paul the Ranger arranged for the Trevor the contractor and his team to do the meshing. He had a great brush cutter that gave the barrows a hair cut and then the mesh was laid and pinned in place.

The barrows were given a hair cut with this handy machine to prepare the surface for meshing

The barrows were given a hair cut with this handy machine to prepare the surface for meshing

They now look very impressive. There is one mound which has been very badly dug into and this will need careful archaeological excavation and reprofiling next June before it can be meshed.

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