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Megaliths, Mênhirs and Stone Circles of East Dorset

Ashmore Down Long Barrow

Bronze Age Long Barrow, Shaftesbury

Grid reference ST916196


Map showing Ashmore Down Long Barrow

A long barrow situated on the Shaftesbury side of Cranborne Chase, to the east of Melbury Wood near Donhead St. Mary. It is aligned NW-SE.

Badbury Rings

Iron Age Hill Fort, Wimborne

Grid reference ST964030


Map showing Badbury Rings

Badbury Rings, Wimborne. Copyright image.
Copyright © J Champion

The Badbury rings are actually an Iron Age hill-fort. It sits atop a chalk knoll, commanding views in all directions. The site is thought to be the settlement of Vindocladia from the ancient histories. Its earthworks indicate at least two phases of construction, with the first phase being the construction of the two inner ramparts and ditches. The ramparts enclosing an oval of about 7 hectares (17 acres). The inner rampart, stands 3 metres above the interior and up to 7.5 metres above the bottom of the nearby ditch.

Banbury Hill Hillfort

Iron Age Hill Fort, Sturminster Newton

Grid reference ST790119


Map showing Banbury Hill Hillfort

Banbury Hill Hillfort is the remains of an Iron Age hillfort. It consists of a bank 15 meters wide and 0.5 meters high with an external ditch 8 meters wide and 1.5 meters deep enclosing a roughly circular area of 1.2 hectares (3 acres). There is an entrance on the western side. Unfortunately ploughing and quarrying in the past has rather reduced its original shape and structure.

Bestwall Quarry Settlement

Bronze Age Settlement, Wareham

Grid reference SY930877


Map showing Bestwall Quarry Settlement

Excavations at Bestwall has produced evidence of early Mesolithic activity dating to around 9000 BC. So far this is the earliest known use of the land. The first 'site' comprised an area of flint knapping. At the same site typical Neolithic flint tools (4000-2000 BC) consisting of worked arrowheads and scrapers have been found. Flint working continued throughout the Bronze Age (2000-800 BC). To date eight Bronze Age houses have been located. Field boundaries in the form of ditches divided up the land and crops of barley, wheat and Celtic beans were grown. The excavation at Bestwall has produced the largest assemblage of Middle Bronze Age pottery in this country. Three Middle Bronze Age cremations have been identified, a man, a woman and an infant, were all interred in plain urns. Pottery production continued during the Iron Age. A settlement area, dating to about 200 BC, has been identified. Enclosure ditches surrounded a round house and large amounts of pottery and a complete quern stone suggest that this was still an agricultural based society. Many thanks to the Bestwall Quarry Archaeology Project for information and photographs. An excavation begun 12 years ago by a lone amateur which has turned into one of the biggest and most important archaeological sites in the country has been awarded the first part of a grant that could be worth over £160,000 from a fund providing benefits to the community from the quarry industry. The Bestwall Archaeological Project has uncovered more than 7,000 years of history at a 55 hectare quarry to the east of Wareham, Dorset. The quarry includes one of the largest areas of Middle Bronze Age landscape ever to be excavated and the most substantial ranges of Bronze Age pottery yet discovered in Britain. Also among the finds are Bronze Age ceremonial jewellery and an enormous Roman coin hoard. Now English Heritage, who helps administer the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, has allocated money to enable publication of the amazing results of the excavations which are due to finish later this year and which are set to add substantially to our knowledge about our distant past. Amateur volunteers from all over Dorset have carried out most of the excavation, led by Wareham historian Lilian Ladle who was asked to undertake archaeological excavations at the site prior to commercial gravel extraction. The project is seen as a shining example of how amateurs and professionals can work together to produce work of the highest standard. Buzz Busby, Assistant Ancient Monument Inspector with English Heritage's South West Region, who is overseeing the latest part of the project on behalf of the ALSF, said: "We are delighted to support this nationally important excavation through the ALSF. The project is extremely unusual as projects of this size are generally only carried out by professional archaeological units. Thanks to the support of the quarry owners and professional archaeologists, this truly outstanding research has been undertaken by local amateurs." Among the nationally important finds are rare domestic assemblages of beaker pottery from the Early Bronze Age, a feasting site with ritually placed copper alloy bracelets and ceremonial pottery drinking sets from the Middle Bronze Age and extensive evidence of pottery production from the Late Bronze Age. Altogether more than a twelve thousand pieces of Bronze Age pottery have been discovered, A vivid picture of the Bronze Age Dorset, previously only visible as burial mounds, has now emerged. On the shores of Poole Harbour generations of prehistoric farmers living in large, well-constructed round houses grew wheat, tended flocks of sheep and enjoyed a good lifestyle. There was plenty to eat and, on occasions, great feasts took place. They made their own pottery, developed trade networks, spun wool and wove it into cloth and adorned themselves with attractive, high-class jewellery.

Bindon Hill

Iron Age Hill Fort, Wareham

Grid reference SY835803


Map showing Bindon Hill

Bindon Hill is a Hillfort/promontory fort in Dorset. The linear defensive earthwork follows the crest of an E-W ridge for nearly 2.5km, isolating about 1.6 square kilometres of coastal shelf from the mainland. The western boundary is defined by Lulworth Cove and a cross bank across the western end of the ridge at Grid Ref. SY826801. The eastern end of the earthwork terminates at the steep cliffs of Mupe Bay (SY847802). There is a single in-turned entrance through the bank and ditch at grid ref SY830802. The western cross bank was never finished and, like the unfinished hillfort at Ladle Hill in Hampshire, it provides evidence of Iron Age builders' construction methods. Lulworth Cove would have been an important harbour for early Iron Age settlers/invaders arriving from the continent, and it is suggested that the defensive earthworks of Bindon Hill were a hurried beach-head fortification to secure control of the cove. Access: There is a large pay and display car park next to Lulworth Cove heritage centre, and Bindon Hill can be climbed via footpaths from the cove. It is vitally important to note that Bindon Hill is part of the MOD's Lulworth Range and the public have no right of access when firing is taking place. When the range walks are open you must keep to the marked paths because they are the only places guaranteed to be cleared of explosives! Check the Defence Estates Website for details of opening times.

Bokerley Dyke

Bronze Age Earthwork, Blandford Forum

Grid reference SU035190


Map showing Bokerley Dyke

Bokerley Dyke, Blandford Forum. Copyright image.
Copyright © J Champion

This earthwork together with Grim's Ditch defines the Hampshire/Dorset border for many miles. It is thought to have originated in the Bronze Age or Early Iron Age and was an important political and cultural boundary which divided areas showing markedly different patterns of land division. The dyke underwent changes through the centuries as it was adapted to suit the needs of later inhabitants; such as the more defensive requirements of the later Iron Age and Roman periods. Access: Parking is at the nature reserve car park at grid ref SU037201.

Buzbury Rings

Neolithic Settlement, Blandford Forum

Grid reference ST919060


Map showing Buzbury Rings

Situated to the southeast of Blandford Forum. The Buzbury Rings lie just to the west of the B3082 Wimborne to Blandford road which cuts through its eastern section. Adjacent to Ashley Wood Golf Club. The earthworks lie on private land so permission should be gained to visit.

Deverel Round Barrow

Bronze Age Barrow, Blandford Forum

Grid reference SY820990


Map showing Deverel Round Barrow

Deverel Round Barrow lies to the southwest of Blanford Forum near the hamlet of Millborne St. Andrew. The nearest town is Bere Regis about 3 miles away to the southeast. The site lies in a clump of trees and exhibits over 20 sarsen stones around the barrow. Local folklore states it to be some sort of court for the druids where they 'met as judges and arbiters for public and private judgements, took cognizance of murders, inheritances, and boundaries, and decreed rewards and punishments'.

Ferny Barrows

Bronze Age Barrow, Wareham

Grid reference SY866817


Map showing Ferny Barrows

Ferny Barrows are a pair of bowl barrows north of Boat Knoll. Access: The area around the barrows is not open to the general public as it is part of the MoD's East Holme range.

Gussage St Michael Cursus

Neolithic Cursus, Shaftesbury

Grid reference SU015156


Map showing Gussage St Michael Cursus

The Dorset Cursus actually comprises two cursuses laid out end to end: the southwest Gussage Cursus terminating on Bottlebush Down and the northeastern section known as the Pentridge Cursus. The only published excavations were undertaken in 1982 by Barrett et al, who sought to interpret the cursus within a study of the prehistoric landscape of Cranborne Chase.

Hambledon Hill

Iron Age Hill Fort, Blandford Forum

Grid reference ST84511270


Map showing Hambledon Hill

Hambledon Hill is a prehistoric hill fort in Dorset, situated in the Blackmore Vale five miles north of Blandford Forum. The hill is a chalk outcrop, on the south western corner of Cranborne Chase, separated from the Dorset Downs by the River Stour.

Its earliest occupation was in the Neolithic when a pair of causewayed enclosures were dug at the top of the hill, one smaller than the other. They were linked by a bank and ditch running north west-south east. Two long barrows, one 68 metres in length, also stood within the complex and a third enclosure is now known to underlie later earthworks. In all, the area of activity covered more than 1 km². Excavations in the 1970s and 1980s by Roger Mercer produced large quantities of Neolithic material. Environmental analysis indicated the site was occupied whilst the area was still wooded with forest clearances coming later, in the Bronze Age.

Hengistbury Head Hillfort

Iron Age Hill Fort, Christchurch

Grid reference SZ163911


Map showing Hengistbury Head Hillfort

Hengistbury Head Hillfort exhibits a very long period of habitation. It exhibits a range of archaeology from the Paelolithic, through the Mesolithic and into the Bronze Age. The remains of thirteen Bronze Age barrows exist on this Iron Age Hillfort. The usefulness of the fort was drastically reduced after the Roman Invasion.

Hod Hill Hillfort

Iron Age Hill Fort, Blandford Forum

Grid reference ST856106


Map showing Hod Hill Hillfort

Hod Hill is the largest hillfort in Dorset. It dates from the Iron Age and its impressive ramparts enclose an area of about 22 hectares. It is however not so well known as Maiden Castle. In the southeast corner of the hillfort lie the remains of hut circles and boundaries of the iron-age settlement. The site was captured by the Roman army in AD43, who later constructed their own fort in the north-west corner of the original hillfort. This corner is the highest part of the hill and benefits from the natural defence provided by the steep escarpment on the west side that drops down to the River Stour. Access: Hod Hill is National Trust property and is open to the general public at all times. There is a small car park in the valley to the northeast of the fort, alongside the minor road from the A350 to Child Okeford.

Knowlton Rings

Neolithic Henge, Wimborne Minster

Grid reference SU024103


Map showing Knowlton Rings

Knowlton Rings, Wimborne Minster. Copyright image.
Copyright © J Champion

Otherwise known as the Knowlton Circles or Church Henge. The site lies in the parish of Woodlands in East Dorset. It is situated approximately 2 miles south of Cranborne and about 6 miles north of Wimborne.

The most prominent site in the complex is the Church Henge which still survives as a substantial earthwork, and at which there is limited parking.

The Knowlton Rings consist of 4 earthworks: the North Circle, Church Circle, Southern Circle, and the 'Old Churchyard'. In addition to these sites, to the east of the Church Circle is the Great Barrow, the largest round barrow in Dorset, and almost certainly directly related to the henges. Within a one mile radius of these earthworks there are also a large number of barrows and ring-ditches with particular foci to the SSW and NE of the henges. The Central and Southern Circle are usually thought of as being classic henges, while the North Circle was regarded by Harding and Lee (1987) as a 'possible henge'. The status of the 'Old Churchyard' is also uncertain although documentary research suggests that it pre-dates the medieval period. Access: Signposted off the B3078 from Wimborne to Cranborne.

Nettlecombe Tout

Iron Age Hill Fort, Puddletown

Grid reference ST737032


Map showing Nettlecombe Tout

Nettlecombe Tout is an Iron Age fort. It is protected by very steep hillsides to the north-west and north-east, and the spur is cut across at the south-east by a bank and ditch. The original entrance is thought to be at the south-west end of the rampart, and it is possible that the fortifications were never finished. Access: Nettlecombe Tout lies half a kilometre to the east of the Dorsetshire Gap. The area is criss-crossed with footpaths and bridleways, and the most direct access is along the bridleway from the hamlet of Folly to the Dorsetshire Gap.

Nine Barrow Down Barrow Cemetery

Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery, Swanage

Grid reference SY995816


Map showing Nine Barrow Down Barrow Cemetery

A Linear Barrow Cemetery of round barrows and a long barrow on the Purbeck Ridgeway. The long barrow is harder to discern. The barrows are very impressive, and clearly visible for many miles around.

Pentridge Cursus

Neolithic Cursus, Shaftesbury

Grid reference SU040192


Map showing Pentridge Cursus

The Dorset Cursus actually comprises two cursuses laid out end to end: the southwest Gussage Cursus terminating on Bottlebush Down and the northeastern section known as the Pentridge Cursus. The only published excavations were undertaken in 1982 by Barrett et al, who sought to interpret the cursus within a study of the prehistoric landscape of Cranborne Chase.

Pimperne Long Barrow

Bronze Age Long Barrow, Blandford Forum

Grid reference ST917105


Map showing Pimperne Long Barrow

The longest long barrow in Dorset. It measures 106 metres long by 27m wide. The barrow formerly had parallel ditches running alongside but these have long since silted up and are no longer visible. It is the westernmost long barrow of the Cranborne Chase group (although there are long barrows on top of Hambledon Hill, 7km to the west) and separate from the Dorset Cursus cluster. Access: Pimperne Long Barrow lies alongside a public bridleway, about 300m north of the A354 where it crests the ridge. There are laybys on both sides of the road, on the Pimperne side of the ridge.

Rempstone Stone Circle

Neolithic Stone circle, Corfe

Grid reference SY994821


Map showing Rempstone Stone Circle

Rempstone Stone Circle, Corfe. Copyright image.
Copyright © J Champion

Rempstone Stone Circle lies on the Purbeck Hills. The circle now shows little of its former structure and associated stone avenues. Very likely to have once been a major site in this part of South Dorset. Other monuments nearby include: The Giant's Grave at 013811; Giant's Trencher at 014811; Fishing Barrow at 020822; Puckstone at 022832 and The Agglestone at 024827.

Studland Stone Row

Neolithic Stone Row, Poole

Grid reference SZ026853


Map showing Studland Stone Row

This is in a beautiful setting, on the nature reserve on Studland Heath. A stone row of at least 6 stones, but most very difficult to find.

The Dorset Cursus

Neolithic Cursus, Blandford Forum

Grid reference SU017160


Map showing The Dorset Cursus

The Dorset Cursus is a long pair of parallel lengths of banks with external ditches roughly 6.25 miles (10 kilometres) long running approximately southwest-northeast between Thickthorn Down and Martin Down. The track or course (cursus) follows a slightly sinuous course across the chalk downland, crossing a river and several valleys.

The Dorset Cursus actually comprises two cursuses laid out end to end: the southwest Gussage Cursus terminating on Bottlebush Down and the northeastern section known as the Pentridge Cursus. The only published excavations were undertaken in 1982 by Barrett et al, who sought to interpret the cursus within a study of the prehistoric landscape of Cranborne Chase.

Wyke Down Henges

Neolithic Henge, Blandford Forum

Grid reference SU006152


Map showing Wyke Down Henges

The Wyke Down Henges uninspiringly called Wyke Down 1 and Wyke Down 2, were first excavated in 1983-4 and 1996. Discovered through aerial photography, they were initially thought to be ring ditches with no apparent causeways leading to them. Further analysis through 'geophys' of neighbouring mounds now suggest they are all of Neolithic date. Items found include red deer antler, animal bone, flint workings and a some carved chalk.

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