The conundrum of Coldrum Long Barrow in Kent

An old photograph of an archaeologist standing beside the entrance to the Coldrum Long Barrow chamber

Since the early 1800s people have been investigating Coldrum Long Barrow in Kent. But with the stones no longer in their original positions, people couldn't agree what was there.

In the late-nineteenth century, Benjamin Harrison believed it was a stone circle like Stonehenge (although much smaller). Others thought they could see a processional route to Kits Coty House, another of the Medway Megaliths. However, Flinders Petrie said that it was a rectangular enclosure around a chamber. 

This argument continued between many different scholars into the mid-twentieth century, when it was finally decided that is was a rectangular long barrow.

 

But how can you confuse a circle with a rectangle?

Discover the long barrow for yourself and see how it was mistakenly thought to be a stone circle
Dedication plaque to archaeologist Benjamin Harrison mistakenly naming it as Coldrum Stone Circle

During the Medieval period, places like Coldrum were considered un-Christian. As such, people did what they could to remove the traces of them. Here it meant removing some of the stones (possibly for building material), and levelling the ground so the mound was no longer visible. Later on when chalk was needed, the eastern side of the area was quarried away. With the stones no longer in their original place, it wasn't clear what shape it was.

 

Meet the ancestors

During the Neolithic period, people were only just beginning to farm the land and domesticate animals such as sheep, cattle and pigs. It was a revolutionary time in history, and in this area, they were some of the early pioneers. The field system around the area was already in place before Coldrum Long Barrow was built.

Within the burial chamber, a number of bones were discovered. In fact the bones from more than 22 men, women and children were found, ranging in age from a new-born baby to the elderly. Studies by the Royal College of Surgeons show they were likely to be close family members. 

The thing to remember is that a long barrow isn't a graveyard, but a communal tomb. As was custom in many areas, the bodies were laid to rest elsewhere, and the bones were placed here years later. There were 2 phases of burial, the first phase was between 3985 - 3855 BC, with the second phase about 200 years later.

 

What did the longbarrow look like?

Discover the reality behind this artistic idea of the long barrow
An artist's idea of how the long barrow may have looked when built

The monument is made up of three elements:

  • a rectangular mound, which is aligned east to west
  • a rectangular burial chamber at the eastern end, which may have been divided into two compartments and capped with a stone slab or headstone
  • sarsen stones (blocks of sandstone) surrounding four sides, one of which seems to have been used for sharpening the tools.

 

What happens now?

Coldrum Long Barrow has been under the protection of the National Trust since 1926, bought in memory of local Archaeologist Benjamin Harrison. The site has national importance, and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Everything we do at this site is to protect the remains that are here, and to preserve them for future generations.