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Belas Knap

Hob Uid: 327811
Location :
Gloucestershire
Tewkesbury
Sudeley
Grid Ref : SP0209025431
Summary : Belas Knap is a Neolithic chambered long barrow situated just below the crest of a prominent ridge (Humblebee How) with panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. It is a type of monument known as a Cotswold Severn Cairn. The long barrow consists of a mound trapezoidal in plan and orientated north-south. It is about 55 metres in length, roughly 20 metres at its widest and between three and four metres tall. Excavation indicated that it was originally longer, wider and taller then current dimensions. At the northern end of the mound is a forecourt, flanked by two projections of mound roughly in the shape of a funnel. This is fronted by a 'false entrance' consisting of two standing stones and a lintel stone. This is thought to have been constructed in association with the forecourt to give the visual effect of an entrance. Four burial chambers are located within the mound, two on the east side, one at the southern end and another on the west side of the barrow. The chambers were originally roofed with slabs of limestone (since replaced with concrete embedded with stone on the under-side) and defined by dry-stone walling. Each had their own separate entrance from the side of the mound.Belas Knap owes much of its present character to a programme of restoration carried out by the Ministry of Works between 1929 and 1931. Prior to this the site was excavated in a series of excavations from 1863 and again in 1928. Under the lintel stone of the 'false entrance' were the remains of five infants and an unusual round-headed adult, a type not normally found in Gloucestershire burials prior to 2200 BC. However dating of the Belas Knap human remains in 2000, placed them all between 4000 and 3700 BC. The south-eastern chamber contained two male and two female skeletons, animal bones and flint artefacts. The north-eastern chamber contained 12 inhumations; the western chamber contained 14 inhumations and the southern chamber a single inhumation.
More information : (SP 02102542) Belas Knap (TI) Long Barrow (AT) (1)

Belas Knap was excavated in 1863-5 "by methods not in advance of its time" and has since been subject to a number of episodes of restoration. The mound is 178ft long and 60ft maximum width, and up to 13.5ft high, and constructed primarily of oolitic slabs. There appear to be no flanking quarry ditches. Orientated north-south, the northern end features a 'forecourt' area defined by hornworks, and a false portal. 4 chambers are known, two entered from the eastern side of the mound, one from the northern side, and the fourth from the southern end. Grinsell suggests that each chamber was originally enclosed by its own small mound, these being incorporated subsequently into the main barrow structure.

During the 1863-5 excavations, the remains of 14 individuals were found in the NW chamber, 12 in the NE, 4 in the SE (together with animal bones, potsherds and some flint flakes), and parts of a human skull in the southern chamber. The excavators also reported finding a circle of flat stones beneath the mound and between the NW and NE chambers. Roman pottery and coins have also been recovered from the mound. (2)

The site is in a generally good condition, although considerable wear is occurring on the horns, and around the side-chambers, due to public access. Resurveyed at 1:2500. See photos. (3)

Additional information on Belas Knap (including some bibliographic sources) is included in general surveys of Gloucestershire archaeology, and in Darvill's survey of the Cotswold-Severn tombs. (4-6).

Belas Knap is visible on aerial photographs.(8)

Belas Knap owe much of its present character to a programme of restoration carried out by the Ministry of Works in the late 1920s. Prior to this Belas Knap was a ruined and desolate site battered and scarred by a series of excavations in the 1860s which were significant to the formation of an early British archaeology theory. In 1863 Joseph Chamberlayne, the owner of the monument, and Lauriston Winterbotham, a Cheltenham doctor, commenced a series of excavations. When lifting a large slab near the south-east corner they uncovered a chamber with the partial remains of four human skeletons, including two complete skulls. Excavation at the northern end revealed the drystone-walling face of the barrow and its stone portal, which on investigation proved not to be the entrance to a chamber but rather a megalithic construction built, perhaps as a kind of ritual arena, into the mound. The removal of the horizontal 'lintel' stone above the portal revealed human remains which proved to be of considerable significance (see below). Walter Lawrence, a local landowner and archaeologist, joined the excavation team on site the following year, when they drove a trench around much of the barrow to reveal two opposing side chambers. The eastern chamber contained the remains of 12 skeletons found in a 'squatting' position on a stone-flagged floor, while the chamber on the west contained the remains of 14 skeletons. In the following June the excavation was completed with the digging of a trench from behind the portal towards the centre of the tomb, which was met by a trench cut from one side chamber to the other. The excavators revealed a circle of stones amongst a mass of ashes, described as the remains of an 'Altar of Sacrifice or Worship, and used at some time for Druidical rites'. (9)

A visitor to the 1863 excavations, John Thurnam, the medical superintendent of the Wiltshire County Asylum closely involved with archaeology and craniology examined 17 skulls from Belas Knap amongst other prehistoric crania from barrow sites. He put forward an axiom that long skulls were found in long barrows and never in association with metallic artefacts, while round skulls were found in round barrows sometimes with metalwork. When the Belas Knap portal's horizontal lintel stone was removed, the remains of five young children and an adult skull were revealed. The single adult skull was clearly not long-headed, but was distinctly round. Interpretation led to the idea that the round skull belonged to a man from a different tribe to the builders of the long barrow, who had been sacrificed in honour of those buried in the chambers. Theories had been developed by Thurnam and George Rolleston of a superior race of `round-headed¿ Bronze Age invaders conquering a weaker race of `narrow headed¿ people with a larger skull form. These theories gained credibility in the late Victorian period and survived into the 20th century before they were essentially dismissed in the 1930s. (9)

Excavations in the early 1980s near Belas Knap, allowed for a wide range of samples to be taken from a similar Neolithic tomb. The results clustered around 3500 BC, and the monument was believed to be in use for perhaps as little as 100 years. However, there is no evidence for so-called `Beaker burials¿ in Gloucestershire any earlier than 2200 BC. This seemed strong evidence that the invading round-headed Bronze Age people did not conquer their long-headed Neolithic predecessors, but that the two groups represented in the different burial modes were separated by hundreds of years. In the 1990s, the archaeologist Neil Brodie re-examined craniological evidence and argued that differences in skull shape, could be caused by cultural practices, diet and a range of climatic or environmental factors. When studying human history, he showed that head shape fluctuates in populations over long periods of time, and that extremes of head types could occur in successive prehistoric populations as a matter of historical chance. In December 2000, Rick Schulting, a researcher from Cardiff University, was keen to establish an absolute date for the skulls from Belas Knap. A series of samples were taken for dating to the Oxford Research Laboratory. The results range from around 4000 to 3700 BC, largely consistent with results from other Cotswold-Severn tombs. However, the date for the round-headed skull placed under the portal stone lies towards the middle of this cluster of dates - more than a millennium earlier than the round-headed skulls found in Beaker graves. This has opened up new debate regarding the burials at Belas Knap. (9)

Belas Knap is a Neolithic chambered long barrow situated just below the crest of a prominent ridge with panoramic views. The long barrow consists of a mound trapezoidal in plan and orientated north-south. At the northern end of the mound is a forecourt, flanked by two projections of mound roughly in the shape of a funnel. This is fronted by a 'false entrance' consisting of two standing stones and a lintel stone. This is thought to have been constructed in association with the forecourt to give the visual effect of an entrance. Four burial chambers are located within the mound, two on the east side, one at the southern end and another on the west side of the barrow. The chambers were originally roofed with slabs of limestone and defined by dry-stone walling. Each had their own separate entrance from the side of the mound. Under the lintel stone of the 'false entrance' were the remains of five infants. The south-eastern chamber contained two male and two female skeletons, animal bones and flint artefacts. The north-eastern chamber contained 12 inhumations; the western chamber contained 14 inhumations and the southern chamber a single inhumation. [10]

Belas Knap is situated just below the crest of a prominent ridge (Humblebee How). The long barrow consists of a mound trapezoidal in plan and orientated north-south. It is about 55 metres in length, roughly 20 metres at its widest and between three and four metres tall. [11]

Description of site including photographs and plans. (12)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1954
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Figs. :
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Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : LV Grinsell (1966) Belas Knap Long Barrow; Ministry of Public Buildings and Works
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Source Number : 11
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : 1:2500, 2007
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Source Number : 12
Source : Heritage Unlocked: Guide to free sites in Bristol, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire
Source details :
Page(s) : 16-18
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Source Number : 3
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 JWS 05-JUL-73
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Source Number : 4
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : A Savile (ed) 1984: Archaeology in Gloucestershire; Bristol & Glos Archaeol Soc/Cheltenham Museum
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Source Number : 5
Source : Prehistoric Gloucestershire
Source details :
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Source Number : 6
Source : The megalithic chambered tombs of the Cotswold - Severn region: an assessment of certain architectural elements and their relation to ritual practice and Neolithic society
Source details :
Page(s) : 5
Figs. :
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Source Number : 7
Source : The English Heritage visitors' handbook 1998-99
Source details :
Page(s) : 69
Figs. :
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Source Number : 8
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : RAF 106G/UK/1347 5325, 5326 01-APR-1946
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Source Number : 9
Source : British archaeology
Source details : Issue 62. February 2002. Accessible online at: http://www.britarch.ac.uk/BA/ba63/feat3.shtml [Accessed 08-MAY-2008]
Page(s) :
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Vol(s) : 63
Source Number : 10
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 24-Mar-94
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Neolithic
Display Date : Neolithic
Monument End Date : -3700
Monument Start Date : -4000
Monument Type : Chambered Long Barrow, Human Remains
Evidence : Find, Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Roman
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Findspot
Evidence : Find

Components and Objects:
Period : Neolithic
Component Monument Type : Chambered Long Barrow, Human Remains
Object Type : ANIMAL REMAINS, VESSEL
Object Material : Pottery
Period : Roman
Component Monument Type : Findspot
Object Type : COIN, VESSEL
Object Material : Pottery

Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : HAW 9388/3
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : HAW 9388/5
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : HAW 9388/2
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Gloucestershire)
External Cross Reference Number : 40
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : GC 4
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 22868
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 239
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : HAW 9435/03
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : HAW 9435/08
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SP 02 NW 9
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 327814
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : BELAS KNAP LONG BARROW, (SUDELEY 1)
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1863-01-01
End Date : 1865-12-31
Associated Activities : BELAS KNAP LONG BARROW, (SUDELEY 1)
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1929-01-01
End Date : 1930-12-31
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SP 02 NW 9
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1973-07-05
End Date : 1973-07-05
Associated Activities : ENGLISH HERITAGE: GLOUCESTERSHIRE NMP (NORTH COTSWOLDS AND FOREST OF DEAN)
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2002-01-01
End Date : 2006-12-31
Associated Activities : BELAS KNAP LONG BARROW
Activity type : MANAGEMENT SURVEY
Start Date : 2004-01-01
End Date : 2004-12-31