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1 On 1st April 2015 the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England changed its common name from to Historic England. We are now re-branding all our documents. Although this document refers to, it is still the Commission's current advice and guidance and will in due course be re-branded as Historic England. Please see our website for up to date contact information, and further advice. We welcome feedback to help improve this document, which will be periodically revised. Please comments to We are the government's expert advisory service for England's historic environment. We give constructive advice to local authorities, owners and the public. We champion historic places helping people to understand, value and care for them, now and for the future. HistoricEngland.org.uk/advice

2 Introductions to Heritage Assets Burnt Mounds May 2011

3 Fig. 1. The roughly kidney-shaped burnt mound at Titlington Mount, Northumberland, seen from the north. The stream lies amongst the bracken on the right hand side of the mound. INTRODUCTION In the UK and Ireland, enigmatic mounds of burnt stones have been recorded adjacent to streams in a wide range of landscape settings from the fens of East Anglia, the southern chalklands of Hampshire to the uplands of Northumberland and Cumbria. Where excavated, burnt mounds have proven to be mostly Bronze Age in date (roughly BC), although earlier and later examples are known. They can be found singly or in linear groups ranged along a watercourse, the latter perhaps representing a succession of such sites. Burnt mounds are occasionally discovered amongst settlements in the Northern Isles and Ireland, but in England they rarely have this association, although they can occur alongside what may be roughly contemporary rock art as at Barningham Moor in County Durham. DESCRIPTION The classic burnt mound comprises a kidney-shaped mound of burnt stones lying near to a watercourse (see Figure 1). The burnt stone mound will frequently be masked by turf, although at times they can be found eroding from a stream bank with the burnt stones exposed (Figure 2). The mound often lies slumped over or next to a pit or trough which has been made water-tight like the withy-lined example at Swales Fen in Suffolk; others have been clay-lined (Figure 3). A hearth for heating stones is often found close to the trough (Figure 4). The accumulated mound of burnt stones will comprise heat-shattered burnt stones, fractured into irregular shapes, interspersed with deposits of charcoal-rich soils from the hearths. Occasionally, as in the West Midlands or at Titlington Mount in Northumberland, stake-built structures have been discovered near the hearth or pit, possibly representing wind-breaks or some form of temporary shelter (Figure 5). Excavations have shown that the mounds of burnt stones often lie adjacent to, or overlie, a water trough which was fed by the adjacent water source. The purpose of these sites remains obscure, but has polarised into two basic theories: firstly that these sites represent saunas, or secondly they are cooking sites. These enigmatic sites clearly represent good evidence for communal activity, despite retaining an air of mystery. There is some variation in the shapes of burnt mounds, and in the West Midlands, for instance, they are most commonly oval in form. Even in a single group there can be variation: at Jenny s Lantern in Northumberland, a group of four burnt mounds are ranged along a tributary of the Spital Burn over a distance of some 400m and comprise two kidney-shaped mounds with maximum dimensions of 15.5m, a sub-circular mound up to 5.0m in diameter, and an amorphous, almost levelled mound of burnt stones no more than 3.5m wide which is now mostly identifiable by the burnt stones eroding into the side of a stream (Figure 2). The maximum height of the upstanding mounds in this group is 1.1m. The distribution of burnt mounds in England continues to increase as new discoveries are made. Currently such mounds can be found from Northumberland and Cumbria in the north, to Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Birmingham in the West Midlands and Leicestershire in the East Midlands. 2

4 Fig. 2. A burnt mound at Jenny s Lantern, Northumberland, being gradually eroded by a stream. The compact burnt stones and charcoal-rich soils can be seen below the turf. Fig. 3. The water trough at Titlington Mount burnt mound, Northumberland. The near side of the trough has now been eroded by the changing course of the adjacent stream. In East Anglia burnt mounds have been discovered in Norfolk and Suffolk, and further south in Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. They have also been discovered in unexpected places such as Phoenix Wharf close to Tower Bridge on the Thames. In some areas, such as parts of East Anglia where there was a lack of easily available stone, rocks were probably brought to the mound sites from elsewhere. Burnt mounds are a type of archaeological site which might be expected to be found in most areas of England. CHRONOLOGY Some burnt mounds have their origins in the Late Neolithic period, as at Watermead in Leicestershire, although most date to the Bronze Age (that is BC), with the majority falling in the Middle to Late Bronze Age periods (roughly BC). Some burnt mounds have also been discovered in Iron Age contexts (800BC-AD43), and in Ireland there are some written references that suggest that these or similar sites were also used during the historic period, although the radiocarbon dates from excavated burnt mounds do demonstrate the majority are prehistoric. DEVELOPMENT OF THE ASSET TYPE AS REVEALED BY INVESTIGATION Excavations have revealed the principal features of burnt mounds as the mound itself (effectively a dump of burnt stones interspersed with deposits of charcoal; many of the stones will have become too fractured for further use), a hearth for heating these stones, and a water-tight trough or pit within close proximity to a source of water. The heated stones were clearly dropped into the trough to heat the water thus leading to their fracturing over time. This evidence has thus led to two conflicting interpretations: firstly that they were specialised sites for cooking food by boiling in water, and experimental archaeology has shown this to be possible; alternatively, it has been suggested that burnt mounds may be some form of sweat lodge or sauna used for ceremonial purposes for ritual purification as can be found in Native American archaeology. More recently, Irish archaeologists have even suggested that they could have been used for brewing beer. The fact that excavations have largely been inconclusive regarding the function of burnt mounds means that no definitive statement can yet be made regarding their purpose. The cooking hypothesis is problematic in that very few sites have produced evidence for food debris (organics or animal bones), therefore if food was being cooked at these sites then the initial preparation (that is, butchery, cereal preparation, etc) was undertaken off-site to account for the lack of evidence. The raw food (deer, wild boar, etc) would then have had to be cooked at the mound in a way that left behind little evidence, including consuming the food elsewhere which may not be a problem as these sites are commonly found at a distance from settlements. Thus if food was prepared at these mounds it may have been taken to the home settlement for consumption, perhaps as part of a special event. If burnt mounds were a communal site used by scattered agricultural communities, such a scenario may well be appropriate. Alternatively, it has been suggested that these sites were used by bands of mobile hunters who left behind little settlement evidence and whose dogs may have disposed of much of the food debris or other passing carnivorous wild animals. The sauna hypothesis, however, could be borne out by the lack of evidence for food preparation or settlement debris at the mounds. The close proximity to water may also lend weight to this interpretation. However, although there is good evidence for semi-permanent settlements adjacent to burnt mounds in the Northern Isles, such evidence is largely lacking in England, although some sites might have hosted temporary shelters similar in size to the Native American sweat lodges. 3

5 Fig. 4. The earliest hearth at the burnt mound at Titlington Mount, Northumberland. Several later hearths lay above this one on the old ground surface or on stabilised surfaces within the mound of burnt stones. Fig. 5. The stake-built structure at Titlington Mount, Northumberland, constructed between the hearth (see Figure 4) and a setting of flat stones seen in the foreground. This feature might represent a wind-break or some form of frame to hold things relevant to the purpose of the mound, whether for cooking or other reasons. Ethnographic parallels tend to be the strongest support for this interpretation, but as with the use of any such analogy, one has to decide upon how close the social and technological fit of the proposed parallel is to the prehistoric community or site under study. was constructed in a location which was already known to be culturally important, and may have been designed to commemorate this fact by the local communities. Although as yet the true nature of burnt mounds still eludes us, they are an integral and important part of the Bronze Age and later landscape. ASSOCIATIONS Although some of the burnt mounds discovered in the Northern Isles are associated with settlements, in England they are mostly solitary sites which has led to the suggestion that they were used for special activities undertaken at a distance from contemporary settlements, or visited by mobile groups as part of a seasonal round where different areas and resources were exploited at various times of the year. Such a scenario could be envisaged in the West Midlands where on the southern side of Birmingham burnt mounds occur at intervals of 1-2km. However, at Jenny s Lantern in Northumberland, four burnt mounds are ranged along the same small burn over a distance of only 400m, which might suggest here that we may be seeing a succession of sites which had been used, abandoned and rebuilt elsewhere by the same group. On Barningham Moor in County Durham, burnt mounds have been recorded on open moorland close to a concentration of rock art sites and a stone circle, which could imply that here they had formed part of a broadly contemporary ritualised landscape. The rock art and the stone circle have clearly marked this landscape as culturally important, and the burnt mounds, whether as cooking sites or ceremonial saunas, would give visitors the opportunity to interact with this landscape through feasting or following ritualised purification in a sauna. A burnt mound was also discovered within the Bronze Age enclosure at South Lodge Camp near Shaftesbury, Dorset, but appears to be earlier than the enclosure, so may represent part of an earlier unenclosed phase that pre-dated the enclosure. This might suggest that the South Lodge enclosure FURTHER READING Two of the most accessible overviews of burnt mounds are presented in the following sets of conference proceedings: V Buckley (ed), Burnt Offerings: International Contributions to Burnt Mound Archaeology (1990), and M A Hodder and L H Barfield (eds), and Hot Stone Technology: Papers from the Second International Burnt Mound Conference, Sandwell, 12th-14th October 1990 (1991). Sadly, no more recent national overview of these sites has been published. A typical regional case study this of burnt mounds in Cumbria - can be found in J Hodgson, in the Lake District, Cumbria, pages in C Burgess, P Topping and F Lynch (eds), Beyond Stonehenge: Essays on the Bronze Age in Honour of Colin Burgess (2007). Two excavation reports provide something of the evidence for the structure, associations and dating evidence for burnt mounds in East Anglia and Northumberland: E Martin, Swales Fen, Suffolk: a Bronze Age Cooking Pit?, Antiquity 62 (1988), 358-9; and P Topping, The Excavation of at Titlington Mount, North Northumberland, , Northern Archaeology 15/16 (1998), The debates surrounding the function of burnt mounds can be followed in the papers M A Hodder and L H Barfield, Burnt mounds as Saunas, and the Prehistory of Bathing, Antiquity 61 (1987), 370 9; and M J O Kelly, Excavations and Experiments in Ancient Irish Cooking-places,Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 18 (1954), Finally, the ethnography of sweat lodges - as background for the sauna hypothesis can be found in J Bruchac, The Native American Sweat Lodge: History and Legends (1993). 4

6 CREDITS Author: Pete Topping Cover: A large, well-preserved burnt mound on Bridget Hill, Weardale All figures: Pete Topping If you would like this document in a different format, please contact our Customer Services department: Telephone: Fax: Textphone:

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