Introducing: The Round Mounds Project

Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds (‘The Round Mounds Project’ for short) is a three-year research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Reading and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).

The Project, led by Dr Jim Leary, seeks to unlock the history of monumental mounds in the English landscape. Neolithic round mounds, such as Silbury Hill – the largest prehistoric mound in Europe, are among the rarest and lest well understood monuments in Britain. Recent work by Jim Leary at the medieval Marlborough Castle motte, Wiltshire, has shown it to be a Neolithic round mound which was reused in the medieval period, and raises the possibility that other castle mottes may have prehistoric origins. This research project therefore seeks to uncover prehistoric mounds that were adapted for medieval defence or have been misidentified as later mottes – a previously unrecognized phenomenon that could re-write our understanding of both the Neolithic and Norman periods.

Castle Hill, Thetford.

Castle Hill, Thetford.

The Leverhulme grant will fund a programme of archaeological investigation utilising a range of techniques: coring, analytical earthwork survey, scientific dating, and detailed environmental reconstruction. 20 mounds from across England will be investigated to understand the date of construction, sequence of development and environmental context of these monuments.

Our first season of fieldwork will take place from September-November 2015. Check back here for updates as the work progresses.

14 thoughts on “Introducing: The Round Mounds Project

  1. Pingback: Holy mounds, sacred springs. Prehistoric mounds and their landscapes. | The Round Mounds Project

  2. A fascinating subject. Just walking the landscape, without the archaeological skills but with open eyes, we had long since come to the conclusion that older sites had been reused by the Normans in much the same way as earlier pre-Christian sites had been ‘adopted’ by the church following Bishop Mellitus’ instructions from Gregory I. What easier way to stamp authority on a landscape and a people than to appropriate its sacred sites?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, absolutely. It does make a lot of sense that significant sites would get re-used. There are loads of examples of ancient monuments having ‘second lives’ in later periods: there is a great deal of later activity centred around Silbury Hill, you sometimes get Saxon burials cut into Bronze Age barrows, and this same process goes on today in the reuse of early 20th century industrial buildings as art galleries…

      I guess we’ll soon see if our hunch about mottes/round mounds turns out to be right!


    • Yes, indeed, the motte on the Hill of Slane would be an interesting site to look at. Unfortunately our project is just considering mottes in England at the moment, but who knows, if we show that more of them are older than we think then perhaps the methodology could be rolled out further afield …


  3. Very interesting idea. Caerau hillfort in Cardiff (see CAER Heritage Project) has a ‘medieval’ ringwork at it’s eastern end next to the ruined St Mary’s church. Recent excavations show evidence of use/occupation from 4,000 BC. Might I suggest it for study?


    • Caerau Hillfort is a fabulous earthwork site! Our project is specifically interested in the identification of late Neolithic mounds however, which means we have focused on motte and bailey castles rather than ringworks. It is interesing that the CAER Heritage Project has found evidence for an early Neolithic enclosure towards the western end of the site, and it is a great example of how particular places were re-used over time.


  4. St Michaels hill near Montacute in somerset and sits very close to Ham hill hill fort, it has been proven to have been far more ancient and sacred and pre dates the norman Motte that was built on top of it.
    Are you planning to include this site?


  5. Pingback: The Mount, Lewes: ancient monument, medieval fortification… or garden feature? | The Round Mounds Project

  6. Pingback: Introducing: The Round Mounds Project | sideshowtog

  7. Pingback: Forbury Mound, Reading – one final mystery mound… | The Round Mounds Project

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