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The Hindwell Cursus

The Hindwell Cursus lies in the Walton Basin of eastern Radnorshire, in an area rich in prehistoric archaeology. The presence of an unusually large cursus to the north-west of Hindwell Farm has been postulated since the mid 1990s, although the significance and scale of the monument has only become apparent in recent years. It was first photographed by J K S St Joseph in 1967 when cropmarks revealed two parallel ditches around 64m apart to the south of the Four Stones stone circle extending for no more than 80m. The cropmarks were recorded again in 1995 at which time it was thought that the ditches might be part of a water meadow, although a subsequent review of cropmark evidence in this area led to the tentative suggestion that they might be part of a cursus.

 CPAT 95-17-17

Right: The two parallel ditches showing as cropmarks to the south of the Four Stones stone circle in 1995. CPAT 95-17-17

A re-examination of existing cropmark evidence for the Hindwell area in 2008 identified a number of lengths of linear ditches further to the east which followed the same alignment as those near Four Stones and appeared to extend the known limits of the cursus for at least 800m, and potentially for an additional 800m to the east-north-east as far as SO 26546155, beyond the Knobley Brook. This indicated that the round barrow at Hindwell Ash (SO 25706112) lay within the cursus. Excavations in 1992/3 had identified several enigmatic pre-barrow features dated to c. 2200-1985 cal. BC, with some evidence for structural activity and loosely associated with late Neolithic pottery. It also became apparent that a detailed geophysical survey undertaken in 1998 to investigate the Hindwell Palisaded Enclosure had coincidentally identified faint traces of the linear ditches, although these anomalies were too slight to warrant attention at the time.

In an attempt to identify a westward extension beyond the 1995 cropmarks a magnetometer survey was undertaken by CPAT in September 2008 to the south-west of Four Stones. This identified the northern ditch, extending the cursus by around 315m, although the southern ditch was not readily apparent. Trial excavations were then conducted near Four Stones, providing evidence for the form and dating of both ditches: an initial phase in 2009 investigated the southern ditch and a second phase in 2010 examined the northern ditch. The results demonstrated the impressive size of the monument, with the southern ditch measuring 3.9m across and 1.8m deep and the northern ditch 3.8m across and up to 1.45m deep, both with steeply sloping sides and a flat base. The pattern of silting in both excavated ditch sections suggested that an accompanying bank may have been on the interior.

Further discoveries were made in 2011 when the near drought conditions in the spring led to the discovery of a well-defined, square terminal at the eastern end of the cursus (SO 27056183) by Toby Driver of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW). This intensified the search for the western end which by now was thought to lie beyond the Summergil Brook, following the identification of what appeared to be a 100m-long section of the northern ditch at Crossway (SO 23676016). This was confirmed in May of that year when trial excavations identified both ditches in an adjacent field, closer to the brook. Further magnetometry was then conducted several months later, in the fields surrounding Harpton Court. Although the results were generally disappointing, the survey has tentatively identified a terminus at the western end (SO 22875974).

 CPAT Hindwell Cursus

Left: Plan showing the known extent of the Hindwell Cursus CPAT

The evidence now suggests that the cursus could have a total length of 4.66km, crossing the full width of the Walton Basin from the eastern slopes of the Smatcher east-north-east to the base of Evenjobb Hill. The plan is still far from complete, however, with around 1100m (24%) of both ditches having been confirmed to date. In common with other cursus monuments, there is some variation in the distance between the ditches, which are 63m apart at the eastern terminal, and between 54m and 74m apart elsewhere, enclosing an area of around 27ha, making this the second largest prehistoric monument in Wales, exceeded only by the Hindwell Palisaded Enclosure. The cursus is aligned on a bearing of 63 degrees east of grid north, although there are no known monuments, or obvious topographical features which might form the focus for either end.

Only a single full section has been excavated across either ditch, near Four Stones, although the results have demonstrated the impressive size of the monument. The southern ditch measured 3.9m across and 1.8m deep and the northern ditch 3.8m across and up to 1.45m deep. The pattern of silting in both ditches suggested that the accompanying bank may have been on the interior. The excavations have provided five radiocarbon dates which suggest a date of construction in the period after 3950-3520 cal. BC. A note of caution must be introduced, however, since although two of the dates were from primary fills (SUERC-24619 and SUERC-34209) the provenance of the charcoal must be considered to be uncertain, a fact which is reinforced by a Mesolithic date obtained from an upper fill (SUERC-34213).

Although there may be some uncertainty regarding the date of construction the most recent excavation has helped to clarify the place of the cursus in the general sequence of Neolithic monuments in the Walton area. The intersection of the northern cursus ditch with the Hindwell Palisaded Enclosure was investigated in September 2011, confirming that the cursus ditch had become completely infilled, whether deliberately or otherwise, by the time the palisade was constructed around 28702470 cal. BC, providing a terminus ante quem for the cursus. This chronology, whilst imprecise, is fully compatible with the dating evidence for cursus monuments elsewhere in Britain which it is suggested began in 39153545 cal. BC and possibly continued into the third millennium BC.

 CPAT 2790-0083

Right: The excavated section of the southern ditch of the Hindwell Cursus CPAT 2790-0083

The size of the ditches, at up to 3.9m wide by 1.8m deep places the Hindwell cursus amongst the largest cursus ditches so far identified. By comparison, the Rudston A cursus (Yorkshire) has a maximum ditch width of 4m, while the Greater Stonehenge Cursus (Wiltshire) measures around 3.3m by 1.5m towards the western terminal, although elsewhere it is far more slight at around 2.5m by 0.45m, conforming to the generally accepted pattern of cursus ditches becoming more substantial closer to the terminals.

The potential length of the Hindwell cursus appears to place it amongst the largest in Britain, along with sites such as the Dorset Cursus (the associated Gussage and Pentridge cursuses), the greater Stonehenge cursus, in Wiltshire, the Stanwell cursus, in Middlesex, and the Rudston A and D cursuses, in East Yorkshire. Indeed, if the tentative identification of the south-eastern end of the Hindwell cursus is correct, this would make it potentially the second or third largest cursus known in Britain.

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