A Return to Ancient Burial Traditions: Want to Be Buried in a Barrow?
Humanity has buried their dead in a variety of ways, down the ages. In the distant past the dead were often buried in barrows. It has been many millennia since one of these burial sites has been built in England. However, a 21 st century replica of a barrow is planned in Oxfordshire, England to house the ashes of the deceased.
Heritage Daily reports that a “barrow is a prehistoric monument dating to the early Neolithic period”. A barrow burial mound was made by creating a stone structure such as a stone coffin or a chamber, which was covered over by sods of earth and debris. “They are rectangular or trapezoidal tumuli or earth mounds traditionally interpreted as collective tombs” according to Heritage Daily. They are found all over to the world and are also known as Kurgans or Tumulus. Barrows are particularly common in Europe and the Asian Steppes and this may be a result of the influence of the ancient Indo-Europeans.
A tumulus is a mound of earth or earth and stones raised over a tomb or one or more graves. The Tumulus du Trou de Billemont, Belgium. (Varech / Public Domain)
England has many famous barrows, which are often local landmarks, such as those at West Kennet and Belas Knap. Many settlements and districts are named after these burial mounds, for example the town of Barrow-upon-Furness. However, none is believed to have been built since at least the early Bronze Age, because of changing religious and social customs. This is all about to change because of the plans to set up one of these ancient burial sites in rural England.
Entrance to the West Kennet Long Barrow. (Dickbauch / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Graveyards Running Out of Space
In recent decades there has been a rapid increase in the number of cremations in England, now almost three-quarters of all those who die are cremated. This is in part due to the shortage of land in traditional cemeteries. However, there has been no real increase in the storage area for people’s ashes after they are dead, and this can be very distressing for their family and friends. There is now a growing demand for appropriate places where ashes can be stored.
This has persuaded two English entrepreneurs to go back to the distant past for a solution to this problem. They have decided to set up a modern barrow to hold the ashes of the dead. This is not some hair-brained scheme and it is expected to be opened by the summer of 2019. It is now possible to reserve a place in the modern burial mound. Planning permission for the structure has already been granted and it will be built on farmland near Banbury in the English County of Oxfordshire.
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The northern end of the site, showing the intricate false entrance at Belas Knap. (QuagSwag / Public Domain)
A Recreation of an Ancient Prehistoric Burial Mound
The entrepreneurs are planning to build a replica of a Neolithic era barrow. It will be a circular barrow and there will be three interconnecting chambers that will be able to hold up to five urns. According to the Oxford Mail the proposed tumulus will be “created from traditional stonewalling techniques by skilled craftsmen and then be covered in soil to make it look like barrows created 5000 years ago”.
The reconstruction is going to be called the mid-England Barrow. One of the owners Sarah Smart believes that the tumulus can provide a solution to the growing problem of overcrowding in cemeteries. It can help families to find a suitable resting place for the ashes of those who have passed away.
Smart is quoted in the Oxford Mail as saying that the “family can visit as often as they wish and be satisfied that their loved one is resting in a beautiful rural location”. If the project is successful it is expected that similar burial sites will be built in England and also internationally. The new barrow will, it is hoped, be a local landmark, just as the Stone and Bronze Age tumuli have.
Top image: Inside the planned mid-England Barrow. Copyright: Sacred Stones Ltd
By Ed Whelan