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Friday, 11 May 2012

On Tumuli

Any look at a map of the South Downs Way National Trail will draw your attention to curious humps known as 'tumulli'. These are the burial bounds of the late Neolithic period. Common across the south and in the Celtic lands they are not seen frequently in other parts of England. The ones in Downland frequently have dips in the centre where enthusiastic but less than diligent 18th and 19th century proto-archaeologists dug hard into them in search of riches and treasures rather than evidence and understanding.

At Chanctonbury and above Firle, as elsewhere, these mounds are either side of the ancient trackway, much in the same way as the Romans buried their dead outside the city astride the main roads into the urban environment many centuries later.

No-one knows why these sites were chosen, but one evening, when the summer sun is setting over the black shadowy hulk of the Isle of Wight, far in the distance, lay down and rest your head against a mound near Chanctonbury Ring, watch the buzzards soar into the twilight and listen to light summer breeze rustling the grass around your head. Look out across the Low Weald. Where else would you chose to rest for eternity?

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