Investigation into stone-age barrow found near Midhurst

An investigation is under way into the significance of an early bronze-age barrow which has been revealed on the edge of a sandpit near Midhurst.

The large mound, dating back to around 2000 BC, is set to be toppled as more sand is extracted from the huge pit at Minsted, on land owned by All Souls College, Oxford.

But first West Sussex County Council is working with the operator, the Dudman Group, to establish the importance of the barrow and what it may contain.

Dudmans has had to submit a scheme for an archaeological survey, and must foot the bill for any works connected with it.

Preparatory works included improving the stability of the ground around and under the barrow, vegetation clearance, and enabling vehicle access.

County archaeologist John Mills said the first stage had been to carry out a detailed topographical survey to record the location of the mound.

“The second part has been a metal detector survey, at this stage only marking where any finds are showing up, some of which may then be further investigated.”

The third stage, for which no start date has yet been set, is to dig some small-scale trenches to establish the exact size of the mound, reputed to be a substantial 32 metres in width, according to 1970s records.

Mr Mills said some finds had been located by metal detection, but he cautioned: “They may be no more than old shotgun cartridges because they are near the surface.

“There might be early bronze-age daggers and axes, but they would be in the middle of the mound.”

More invasive work, including excavation of the finds, is programmed under the agreement between the county and the operator, before the barrow is lost to sand quarrying.

Mr Mills said none of the planning conditions licensing the pit had required the historic mound to be preserved. The only alternative was to fully record its location.

But, he added, the last call was with the Dudman Group which was required to pay all the costs involved.

“At the moment we are waiting for the results of the preliminary investigations to see how significant and important this barrow is, and what degree of further excavation and recording it is going to need.

“The operator would need to assess how long this would take and what it would cost, against the value of the minerals underneath. The ball is in their court.”

The barrow is at the end of a line of five in the area, none of which have been excavated to discover what they contain.

A sixth has already been subsumed in the sandpit as it has expanded over the past 30 years.