Moon Owl Observations

February 1st, 2011

Long and Round Barrows: Neolithic Monuments to the Dead

The Neolithic time period was very important for Pagans as it was in this time that people began to settle down, claim boundaries and start farming. By this time the moon was already regarded as the Goddess, but with the farming people began to see the wheat swell and grow with the power of the sun, and with this the sun became regarded as a masculine force- the God. One thing that the Neolithic people are known for is the creation of the long and round barrows, which were grave mounds, dedicated to the dead.

The first to come about was the long barrow, these were either earthen mounds or made of stone. Before a body was placed in a long barrow, it was set on a plank in a ditch so the wild animals could pick the bones clean. The bones would then be gathered and placed in side long barrows. These bones would be considered movable property as the skulls would often be removed at later times for ceremonies. When the bones would be placed in the long barrows, they were not placed at random. The skulls would be in one place, right arms in another, etc.  With the process of moving the bones around, animals picking at them and through time, it is very rare to find a whole skeleton in tact.  Men, women and children would all be buried in long barrows, but a spot in one was a privilege.

Long barrows are in the shape of a rectangle, trapezoid or an oval. They can be anywhere from 20 to 400 metres in length and 10metres or less in width. Most consist of a large wooden room with a number of large supporting posts. Up to 50 skeletons could be placed in a single long barrow. There are still many in good condition all throughout the U.K, but the one that seems to be in the best condition is the Coldrum Long Barrow in the North Kent countryside.

The round barrow became really popular in the Bronze Age. The circle, as most know has a lot of symbolism in it. The round barrow represents a path with no end, and the well known cycle of death and rebirth. The preparation of round barrows required that the soil would be well ploughed beforehand. There were also rich and poor barrows, depending on the contents of the grave goods (pots, jewellery, etc). Unlike the long barrow, once sealed, the round barrows would not be re-opened. It was quite common however that a second burial would be added to the mound, in fact most barrow cemeteries consisted of members of the same family. If the body was to be burned, the urn would be placed inside of the barrow along with the grave goods.

Long and round barrows helped to unite communities  and many are connected to ceremonial pathways such as Ley/serpent lines. At these grave mounds, offerings would be made as this was a time period where people really started to believe in reincarnation. The mound represented the womb and it was a way to give the body back to the Goddess. Even after all this time red ochre is still seen, as this was placed to symbolize the blood in rebirth. There are several types of each barrow and if you want to see one, the best place to look would be England.  The Neolithic time is well known in the Pagan religion, and the long and round barrows are just one thing that was brought about in this time.


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