Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery at Bransgore, Hampshire

Plan of the barrow cemetery excavated at Bransgore
Plan of the barrow cemetery excavated at Bransgore

In 2015 CA Andover undertook an excavation at Heatherstone Grange, to the north-west of Bransgore village (just west of the New Forest) during redevelopment of the former radar station at RAF Sopley. Our investigations hoped to find evidence for a dispersed Bronze Age barrow cemetery, known from 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps but presumed to have been largely removed when RAF Sopley was built in 1940, and which remained in use during WWII and the early part of the Cold War. Remarkably, the remains of four Bronze Age barrows and an extensive cremation cemetery were uncovered, including a collection of well-preserved bucket urns.

The barrows were represented by truncated ring ditches, which varied in size between 6.5m and 20m in diameter. Their ditches produced very little dateable material but were probably of Early Bronze Age date, as a few of the associated cremation burials produced Early Bronze Age pottery and radiocarbon dates. However, a majority of the cremation burials dated to the Middle Bronze Age, and therefore were secondary to the barrows.

A Middle Bronze Age bucket urn under excavation, also associated with Barrow 1.1
A Middle Bronze Age bucket urn under excavation, associated with Barrow 1
A Middle Bronze Age barrel urn under excavation, associated with Barrow 1.1
A Middle Bronze Age barrel urn under excavation, also associated with Barrow 1

Area A included Barrow 1, which held 40 secondary pits including 34 cremation-related deposits of Middle Bronze Age date, and Barrow 2, which had five inserted pits, including three cremation graves, one of which dated to the Early Bronze Age and featured an accessory cup. A number of pits (not all associated with cremation burials) contained well-preserved urns of the regional Deverel-Rimbury tradition, which produced radiocarbon dates closely clustered around 1300 BC.

Barrow 3, in Area E, to the south, enclosed five pits, including one associated with a beaker vessel, and was surrounded by two concentric timber circles, possible primary or precursor structures to the barrow’s ring ditch.

Barrow 4, in Area H to the north of Area E, was the largest of the four but enclosed only two pits with charcoal-rich fills, one with a single Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age potsherd, and the other burnt and worked flint.  Once fully exposed on site, the urns from Area A were wrapped in bandages in site, block-lifted and removed to the office.

An Early Bronze Age beaker vessel, associated with Barrow 3
An Early Bronze Age beaker vessel, associated with Barrow 3

Detailed analysis of this site has enabled us to further our understanding of Bronze Age funerary practices in south-west Hampshire. The cremation cemetery inserted into Barrow 1 represents a substantial addition to the regional record of Middle Bronze Age cremation burials and demonstrates important affinities with the contemporary cemeteries of the Stour Valley to the west, and sites on Cranborne Chase, to the northwest. The barrows themselves for the most part appear to follow a Wessex tradition and form.

A detailed account of our discoveries at Heatherstone Grange, Bransgore, has been published in Hampshire Studies for 2018 (volume 73).

Richard Greatorex

preparing for block-lifting on site
Preparing for block-lifting on site
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