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Bronze Age barrows (butts)

A Bronze Age barrow on Yew Tree Heath
A Bronze Age barrow on Yew Tree Heath

Low, rounded hillocks shown on the map as Tumuli, or if only one is present, Tumulus, are Bronze Age Barrows, or burial mounds. They typically date back to the early-middle Bronze Age around 3,500 years ago, and are usually the last resting places of tribal leaders or other local dignitaries.

Known locally as butts, Bronze Age Barrows in the New Forest are often positioned at the heads of river systems, or on ridges or rises in the ground where they could be seen and revered by other members of the tribe.

Around 200 remain. Virtually all are of a type known as bowl barrows, shaped like an upturned, circular pudding basin, often with shallow surrounding ditch. There are, though, three disc barrows on Setley Plain that have typical relatively small mounds, a quite wide expanse of level ground between mound and surrounding ditch, and an impressively proportioned earthen bank outside the ditch.

Bronze Age Barrows now occur mainly on New Forest heathland, but woodland inclosure planting in relatively recent times no doubt destroyed, or obscures others.

Most now are badly eroded by the weather and trampling by commoners’ stock, so-much-so that not too long ago the Forestry Commission announced that protection would be provided for some. Many, too, have been dug, often in the 19th century, but few have been properly, expertly excavated. Finds have been few, and dating has primarily been via cinerary urns – urns that contained the ashes of those departed.

Bronze Age Barrows are recalled in Butt place names such as Butts Lawn, on the edge of Black Knowl, Brockenhurst; another Butts Lawn near Brick Kiln Inclosure, Lyndhurst; and The Butts, near Ashley Walk.

Bronze Age men, though, also left another, perhaps more impressive, legacy, for they were responsible for the creation of the heathland we see today. Woodland clearance by these early agriculturalists, on what were already poor soils, then cultivation without return of nutrients, created ground that became increasingly impoverished. A limited range of acid-tolerant plants and shrubs took hold, and heathland developed.

References:
Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society, Volume 14 – Hampshire Barrows: L.V. Grinsell
Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society, Volume 54 – The Earthwork Remains of Enclosure in the New Forest: Nicola Smith
The New Forest: Its History and Scenery: John R. Wise

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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley