Burnt mounds

A burnt mound is an accumulation of fire-crazed stones, ash and charcoal, usually next to a river or lake, with hearths and/or some form of trough or basin capable of holding water either under the mound or adjacent to it. The size of the mound varies greatly from small examples under 0.5m high and less than 10m across to larger sites which exceed 3m in height and 35m across. They are interpreted as sauna baths or as cooking sites.


Currently available dates suggest that the tradition of building and using burnt mounds spans most of the Early to Late Bronze Age, a period of perhaps 1000 years. Burnt mounds are not usually accompanied by artefacts so dating is usually based on radiocarbon tests of charcoal or other scientific tests.


The use of burnt mounds might extend into later periods based on evidence from sites located in Ireland and Scotland. Thermoluminescence dates for seven sites in the Orkneys range between 1300 and 100 BC. In Ireland early written accounts of the use of troughs for cooking purposes have been cited as evidence that burnt mounds were common as late as the 16th century AD. Radiocarbon dates and pollen cores of burnt mounds known in Ireland have produced a series of dates between the Middle Bronze Age and earlier Iron Age, which does not support this suggestion.


Several burnt mound are known from Buckinghamshire. Two later Bronze Age examples were found and excavated in Chalfont St Giles next to the River Chess and three Early to Middle Bronze Age examples were found at Little Marlow near the Thames. Burnt mounds have also been found in the excavations for the Eton Rowing Course and the Maidenhead to Windsor and Eton Flood Alleviation Scheme.