Aston Cursus, Aston-on-Trent, Derbyshire

Cursus Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SK 417 285 to SK 424 296

Also Known as:

  1. Aston-upon-Trent Cursus

Archaeology & History

Aerial photo of the cursus (courtesy Antiquity journal)

Aerial photo of the cursus (courtesy Antiquity journal)

Once to be seen running from the edges of Weston Grange northeast by the canal around Acrelane Bridge, this important mile-long neolithic monument beyond the southern outskirts of Derby has been damaged along much of its length due to the carefree approach of modern industrialists.  Found just over 6 miles east of the Potlock or Twyford Cursus, this site was described by J.K. St. Joseph (1964; 1966) in Antiquity journal following an aerial survey of the region on August 7, 1962 — from whence the photograph here was taken, which shows the dead straight monument stretching southwest across the fields.  The photo also gives a good idea as to how massive this prehistoric monument actually was!  In Mr St. Joseph’s second short essay on this aligned site he told:

Aston Cursus (from Antiquity, 1966)

“The cursus at Aston upon Trent lies at a distance of half a mile from the left bank of the Trent, on gravel overlying New Red Sandstone, at a height of about 120ft O.D., some five miles southeast of Derby.  No traces are visible on the surface, but photographs taken over the last few years enable the side-ditches of the cursus to be traced for a length of some 4500ft on a north-east to south-west alignment across six fields: the ditches are parallel and some 325ft apart.  Though the entire length has not yet been recorded, the south-west end must lie near the farm of Weston Grange, while the north-east end is a little to the east of the road from Aston upon Trent to Shardlow.  The north-western side ditch is interrupted towards the south-west end by two narrow gaps, 500ft apart.

“…Two ring-ditches lying within the cursus perhaps mark ploughed-out barrows.  In diameter they measure some 120ft; one of them is defined by a double ditch.  There are at least three small ring-ditches, of which one is intersected by the north-west ditch of the cursus.  Five small square enclosures lying within the cursus towards its north-east end are less easy to explain.  They are not unlike the square ditched enclosures recorded on the Yorkshire Wolds, and there identified as square barrows.   About halfway along the length of the cursus a single ditch encloses an irregular area interrupted at two points for an entrance.  One end of this area and the north-west ditch of the cursus overlap.  Thereabouts, too, the cursus is crossed by elements of a system of linear ditches, which seem to be agricultural divisions of a kind often interpreted in the Middle Thames valley as of Iron Age or Roman date.  A similar date is likely enough here, but the question is best left open until some examples have been tested by excavation.  Lastly, the “pit-alignment” which extends for some distance towards the (River) Trent is seen to cross the whole width of the cursus, as does a double-line of pits nearer the north-east end…”

More than forty years later and the site is described on English Heritage’s website – at www.pastscape.org.uk, where a few additional aspects of the site are described:

“A cursus monument at Aston Upon Trent, orientated roughly southwest-northeast and located on the gravels of the trent valley, circa 1 kilometre northwest of the present course of the river.   The cursus appears to be a regular rectangle, the long sides parallel and circa 100 metres apart. The southwest terminal is straight, and meets both sides at right angles. The northeast terminal has not been recorded as a cropmark, but may well have lain in an area which has been quarried away. If so, the cursus would have originally been a little over 1.5 kilometres in length.

“The cursus ditch was sectioned in the mid-1960s by D. Reaney, though no finds were made. The recorded stratigraphy suggested an internal bank.  Further small-scale excavation occurred in 1986 at a point where the cursus ditch appeared to intersect with a ring ditch (SK 42 NW 59), towards the cursus’ south-western end. The cursus ditch appeared to run into and cut the ring ditch, and was therefore later in date. The slightness of the ring ditch and the nature of its fill suggests that there is unlikely to have been a mound of any substantial nature in its interior. Finds were few, and none from primary contexts. They comprised a thumb nail scraper, another worked flint, and a few sherds of pottery, identifiable as Grimston and Beaker ware.

“Adjacent to the ring ditch is another, not excavated, but also contained within the cursus. In 1995, an existing field drain alongside Acre Lane (in the area circa SK 4244 2968) was enlarged as part of work associated with construction of the Derby Southern Bypass.

“The sides of the drain were recorded archaeologically. The western cursus ditch was not present, suggesting the existence of a gap or causeway. The eastern cursus ditch, though not visible on air photographs at this point, was located. Pollen samples were collected, and a fragment of waterlogged wood is to be used for radiocarbon dating.”

The site has since been found to be at least 1700 metres (5610 yards) long, with its northeastern end, or terminus, still undiscovered.   It was described by Loveday (2006) as being, “overlain at its mid-point by a tangle of fields and trackways of presumed Iron Age date.”  One prehistoric track crosses the cursus at a right-angle then turns 90° just as it crosses the dead straight alignment, running parallel with the cursus ditch for some 300 yards. (see illustration below)

References:

  1. Gibson, A.M. & Loveday, Roy, ‘Excavations at the Cursus Monument on Aston-upon-Trent, Derbyshire,’ in A.M. Gibson’s Midlands Prehistory, BAR 204: Oxford 1989.
  2. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  3. St. Joseph, J.K., “Air Reconnaissance: Recent Results, 6,” in Antiquity, volume XL, no.157, March 1966.

Aston Cursus, with overlying Iron Age tracks & fields (after Loveday 2003)

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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About megalithix

Occultist, prehistorian and independent archaeological researcher, specializing in prehistoric rock art, Neolithic, Bronze Age & Iron Age sites, and the animistic cosmologies of pre-Christian & traditional cultures.
This entry was posted in Brigantia (Northern England), Cursus Monuments, Derbyshire and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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