Find out more about Wick Barrow
What is Wick Barrow?
Wick Barrow is a rare example of a Neolithic round barrow, dating from about 6,000 years ago. It measures about 25 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high. A barrow is a name given to a structure for buying the dead.
Where is Wick Barrow?
Wick Barrow lies close to Hinkley Point nuclear power station ‘B’ on the south side of limestone ridge, overlooking the North and Wick Moors. It is roughly 7.5 miles from Bridgwater in the parish of Stogursey, Somerset.
Has Wick Barrow been excavated?
It was excavated by Harold St George Gray in 1907. The excavation team included members of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society and the Viking Club. The Viking Club were involved because the mound was thought to be Saxon in origin. However their work investigated possible remains from much earlier than that, around 6,000 years ago.
What did Gray discover inside?
The barrow contained a roughly circular, dry stone-walled enclosure, about 10 metres in diameter. An earlier, unrecorded excavation is believed to have removed an original human burial. Roman-British pottery and a coin of Constantine (AD 335-337) were found towards the base of this earlier excavation shaft.
Gray thought the construction of the mound, with an enclosure surrounding a central burial, was similar to others excavated in Norway and Denmark around the late 1700s to the early 1800s.
Did Gray’s 1907 excavation uncover any finds?
The excavators discovered human remains, pottery beakers and flint tools. The majority of the burials found by Gray lay above, but mostly within the area of the walled enclosure. The main burials included three crouched skeletons dating to the late Neolithic, about 4,400 years ago. Skeleton 1 was accompanied by a bell shaped beaker. Skeletons 2 and 3 were accompanied by long necked beakers and flint tools.
What are beakers?
Beaker pots are generally tall, flat based, open mouthed, narrow necked vessels covered with intricate designs impressed into them. These patterns may have started as copies of basketry or wooden vessels.
The beakers were discovered by Gray’s 1907 excavation. The presence of the beakers coincides with changes from communal burial to individual single crouched burials. Beakers are found in the graves of men, women and children, and are often accompanied by arrowheads, wrist-guards and daggers. The larger, finer vessels tend to be found with men. We don’t know why. Perhaps men were considered to be of higher status than women?
We recently commissioned Bill Crumbleholme, potter and experimental archaeologist, to make us some replicas of the Bronze Age beakers from Wick Barrow. Click here to find out more.
What were beakers used for?
Research from a beaker burial in Scotland has indicated that these vessels may have contained an alcoholic, honeyed drink similar to mead.
Where were the beakers made?
The beakers are thought to have been made locally, using local clay.
Why were objects buried with people?
We don’t know why some people were buried with objects (often known as ‘grave goods’). Perhaps people believed that the deceased could take the objects with them on their journey to the next life?
How were the individuals buried?
One of the burials (skeleton 3) lay partially over the top of the enclosure wall, suggesting that the wall was unknown when they were buried. All three burials were situated around the central area which was thought to have held the original burial. The burials were crouched with their legs bent behind their backs. This suggests that the bodies were tied up prior to burial. This seems to have been a common burial practice during this period. Archaeologists think that these three burials are Late Neolithic in date (about 4,400 years ago).
Can archaeologists tell the sex of these individuals?
Skeletons 1 & 2 are thought to be the remains of two men. The main way of establishing sex from the human bones is through examination of the pelvis. The space at the front of this bone is larger in women than men to allow for a baby’s head to pass through. Skulls also help to identify males because the brow ridge is often larger and projects further than males.
How old were these individuals when they died?
Examination of skeletons 1 and 2 showed these individuals were aged between 25-30 years old when they died. Archaeologists can work out the age of death as bones fuse at different rates during an individual’s life until they are in their twenties. It was not possible to age skeleton 3 due to its poor condition.
What else do archaeologists know about these individuals?
Skeleton 1 was recently sent for isotope analysis as part of the Beaker Isotope Project. Unfortunately the poor condition of the bone meant that they were not suitable for analysis.
However better results were obtained from a tooth. Oxygen isotope analysis of dental enamel can help to find out a person’s place of origin. Tooth enamel stores a chemical record of their owner’s childhood living environment, such as local climate and geology. The data revealed that this individual ate a diet high in animal protein and did not travel far during his lifetime. In other words, he was a local man.
Were there any other burials?
Gray discovered the partial remains of five adults and one child to the north west of skeleton 1. One of the pieces of skull had a faint impression of woven fabric. The body may have been wrapped in a cloth before burial. All the bone was in very poor condition. Gray thought that the remains had been removed from an earlier burial place and brought to Wick barrow to be re-buried.
Are the finds on display anywhere?
The beakers are on display in the Museum of Somerset, Taunton. The other finds are stored in the Somerset Heritage Centre, Norton Fitzwarren, Taunton. You can make an appointment to view them for research purposes by calling 01823 278805.
Are the results of the excavations published?
Gray published his results in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological & Natural History Society (Gray 1908).
Is Wick Barrow protected?
Wick Barrow is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and nationally important. During the early 1800’s a tenant farmer tried to level the mound to create more land for farming. Fortunately he only disturbed the north east section of the monument before being stopped!
Why is Wick Barrow known as ‘Pixie’s Mound’?
According to legend a ploughman working nearby, heard the voice of a small child crying in the bushes on the mound. It was actually the voice of a pixie!
The Pixie was complaining that it had broken its peel – a type of flat wooden shovel used for putting loaves into old fashioned baking ovens. When the ploughman went to look, he found a tiny peel with its handle broken. Still thinking that it was a child and that it would eventually return for its toy, he mended the peel and left it where he found it.
When his work was over, he went to see if the toy had been taken. It was gone, but in its place he found a beautiful cake, hot from the pixie’s oven, as his reward. The ploughman and his family had good luck for the rest of their lives, a reward for doing a pixie a good turn.
Illustration by Victor Ambrus