HAHG Lecture: Walking with the Barrow – Sisters’ Excavations 2016-22

At the February meeting of the Henley Archaeological & Historical Group, one of its members, Susanna Venn, who is retraining as an osteo-archaeologist, described the dig she joined last summer conducted by Bournemouth University. The dig centred on a prehistoric long barrow, Sisters, in the village of Bagendon, just north of Cirencester, in the Cotswolds.

Long barrows are Neolithic monuments often associated with burial rituals. Before the excavation of this barrow, no remains were visible and its location was first suspected by the farmer who noticed an unusual quantity of stones when ploughing. The University carried out a geophysical survey in 2008 and dug the first trench in 2015. It is the first time a long barrow has been excavated in its entirety for 30 years.

The barrow was constructed in several phases. The first phase dated from around 3800BCE (when long barrows first appeared), followed by further phases added to the east and west over the next few centuries (see drone picture). The fourth phase (2400BCE) contained a cist (stone-lined chamber) burial, and the structure was still being used for cremation burials in 1500BCE and even 500BCE.

Finds included water-worn pebbles (brought to the site from a distance), flints, a hand axe (from the Lake District), animal bones, pottery and even a piece of wood. Humble snail shells can tell a story – they show the barrow was built in a wooded pasture environment. Future digging seasons will investigate the inner structure of the barrow.

The next meeting of the Group will be its AGM, at the different venue of the Chantry House, behind St Mary’s Church, at 7.30, on Tuesday 7 March. Short talks will be given by Trustees and staff of the River and Rowing Museum on their future plans and by HAHG members on Grims Dyke and on the footpaths of Henley.



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