A mound of earth that covers a burial. Sometimes burials were dug into the original ground surface, but some are found placed in the mound itself.
The term ‘Barrow’ can be used for British burial mounds of any period. However ‘Round barrows’ date to either the Early Bronze Age or the Anglo-Saxon period before the conversion to Christianity, such as the famous cemetery at Sutton Hoo. ‘Long barrows’ are usually Neolithic.
The deliberate construction of a mound over a burial is often interpreted as a mark of status or rank.
During the 18th and 19th centuries barrow digging became a popular pastime among antiquarians.
A range of different barrow types have been identified and characterise the Early Bronze Age of southern England.
- BELL BARROW – A small mound surrounded by a flat area (berm) and ditch
- DISC BARROW – A wide flat area exists between the round barrow and its ditch
- SAUCER BARROW – Has a broad low mound
- POND BARROW – Has no mound at all, but a circular concave depression in the ground ringed by a bank
In the Later Bronze Age cremation became the main type of burial rite, and many barrows contain secondary cremations deposited in barrow mounds, in either cloth or burial urns.
There are two fine Bronze Age bell barrows on Horsell Common, near Woking. John Aubrey’s ‘History of Surrey’, 1718, notes that: ‘On the heath in this Parish are two round Hills or Barrows, supposed to have been the Burial-Place for Men slain in Battles.’
- Find out more about Leslie Grinsell, who recorded over 10,000 barrows from across the south east of England in his career, and whose information on Surrey’s barrows is a major resource for the Bronze Age in the county.