Race to excavate Golden Cap burial mounds

Archaelogists work to record Bronze Age earthworks before they fall into the sea

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have begun a race against time to excavate three 4,000 year old burial mounds at a Jurassic coast landmark.

The Bronze Age earthworks, on the summit of Golden Cap, near Charmouth, are at risk from coastal erosion.

Experts have started digging at the one nearest the edge of the vertical cliff – the highest point on the coastal path through West Dorset.

So far their work has uncovered evidence of a Napoleonic era watch station built on the summit of Golden Cap in the late 18th Century to watch shipping in the channel.

The builders of the watch station used some stone from the burial mounds to create a flat platform and left behind a few traces of their presence which have been uncovered.

They include the fragments from a large food bowl, some badly eroded coins and buttons.

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Martin Papworth, National Trust archaeologist, said the work will continue to excavate the burial mounds themselves.

Scheduled ancient monuments, their archaeology can only be preserved through full excavation which will record some of the story of the ancient Dorset people who originally built them.

He said: “These burials are important feature of the landscape of Dorset and have a valuable story to tell but the archaeological information contained in the barrow group can only be preserved through excavation and record.

“Total loss of the group through cliff collapse is expected in the next 50 years. The barrows are scheduled monuments and English Heritage have granted permission for the National Trust to excavate the most vulnerable parts of the barrow group.”

Astonishingly, when they were built the mounds would have been well inland. Coastal erosion is estimated to have taken place at the rate of one metre a year so they were originally around two miles from the sea.