Burnt Mounds in the East Midlands
Beamish, Matt, Ripper, Susan, Antiquity
Within the last decade the emphasis of burnt mound research has been refocused on the prehistoric landscapes in which they are set in an attempt to evade just the perennial enigma of `function'. In the East Midlands, gravel quarrying in the major river valleys has provided an opportunity to examine large areas that have hitherto been masked by alluvium and the resulting wealth of archaeological information has included five burnt mound sites.
The first site was located on a palaeochannel of the river Soar in Birstall, Leicestershire, and contained the usual attributes of a burnt mound; a shallow crescent-shaped mound of fire-cracked stone and charcoal, two hearths and a trough. The trough was circular, lined with tangentially split oak planks and the sides were supported by woven wattle-work in the form of a basket (FIGURE 1). Immediately adjacent to the mound two parallel rows of oak posts extended across the palaeochannel -- perhaps the remains of a bridge or jetty. Animal bones were recovered from the palaeochannel silts including a decapitated horse skull and the remains of butchered cattle and aurochs. Elsewhere from the same channel deposits human bones were also recovered, representing the remains of at least two adult males. One skull, dated to cal BC 1040-810 (OxA-6831), had a series of sharp cut marks on the posterior of the atlas vertebrae. The cuts had not healed, indicating that they were inflicted at the time of or following death and suggest some form of either de-fleshing or decapitation.
[FIGURE 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
The second burnt mound was located on a palaeochannel of the river Trent at Castle Donington, Leicestershire, and included an oval mound, two hearths, sundry pits and an unlined trough. Cattle teeth were found in the trough and a few fragments of domestic animal bone were again found in the adjacent palaeochannel, with one cattle femur showing scrape marks associated with skinning bone. A hundred metres downstream a second burnt mound was also located and, within a 400-m radius, further excavations also produced Bronze Age flint scatters, pits, a post-built roundhouse and a small ring ditch.
The fourth burnt mound at Willington, Derbyshire, on the edge of a silted palaeochannel, had clearly been re-used. …