North Devon in 100 Objects 60

60. The Brockenbarrow Urn

This undecorated vessel once held cremated human remains from the second or early first millennium BC. It was recovered in 1906 from a round barrow (earth mound) on Challacombe Down by the Reverend Chanter of Parracombe who restored it and presented it to the North Devon Athenaeum. Dating from the Bronze Age (roughly 2,500 to 500 BC), so-called round barrows are thought to be the burial places of prominent people whose cremated remains were sealed in an urn and placed beneath an earth mound. These barrows, often in groups, are mostly located in high places where they can be seen on the skyline from all around.

The Brockenbarrow urn came from one of a group of three barrows near Brockenbarrow Farm in Challacombe Parish. It was set in a stone-lined cist (a stone ‘box’) and contained bone, bone ash and charcoal (which nowadays could be scientifically dated). It may originally have contained more organic matter – a woven cloth bag perhaps -which would have completely rotted away.

By the standards of his day Chanter was a meticulous excavator. So many round barrows were despoiled in the 18th and 19th centuries by gentleman amateurs and have only a depression in the top to show for their efforts. The Reverend J.F.Chanter, Rector of Parracombe and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, was, in the strictest sense, an amateur, but one with understanding. His gift of the urn to the North Devon Athenaeum is a mark of his enthusiasm for the prehistory of our area.

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