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The Burial Barrows at Thornborough
The burial barrows at Thornborough

At Thornborough may be seen two of the most famous and spectacular Roman ‘barrows’ in England, about which in olden times ‘the Vulgar have several odd Traditions about their being inhabited by Fairies.’ However, the only association with the little people today seems to be a fairy ring of toadstools, set before the westernmost barrow. In 1839 the Duke of Buckingham, from Stowe, had excavations made of one of the mounds, and this revealed evidence of a cremation with, preserved to varying degrees, several ornaments of pottery and bronze. In fact one was a bronze lamp which was quite different from any previously known, and even the wick remained intact. Also found was an ornament of pure gold, elaborately chased with the figure of Cupid, but when this later disappeared there was allegedly some suspicion that the British Museum had acquired possession! All the finds were dated at the late 2nd century, with many being sent to the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Downing Street, Cambridge. Having been robbed at an earlier date, when investigated the second barrow proved more disappointing, but nevertheless both examples are still prominent features of the local landscape, being probably indicative of a settlement that developed at this important crossing of the Ouse tributary. In fact as an indication that the Thornborough settlement would flourish, evidence has been discovered of a temple built on a nearby riverside prominence. Constructed around 265A.D., this was possibly a shrine to a local river god, and in the course of the excavations the site revealed over 300 coins. Most dated from the period 333 to 350A.D, although an unsurprising decline in the quantities was apparent towards the early 5th century, at the time of the Roman withdrawal. Today, the setting provides a picturesque location for picnics, and as well as the barrows the adjacent 14th century stone built packhorse bridge is also well worth a peruse. However, that’s a story for another time.