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Ogbury Barrows
by [?]

The archaeologists in becoming prints who went with us to the top of Ogbury Barrows sagaciously surmised (with demonstrative parasol) that ‘these mounds must have been made a very long time ago, indeed.’ So in fact they were: but though they stand now so close together, and look so much like sisters and contemporaries, one is ages older than the other, and was already green and grass-grown with immemorial antiquity when the fresh earth of its neighbour tumulus was first thrown up by its side, above the buried urn of some long-forgotten Celtic warrior. Let us begin by considering the oldest first, and then pass on to its younger sister.

Ogbury Long Barrow is a very ancient monument indeed. Not, to be sure, one quarter so ancient as the days of the extremely old master who carved the mammoth on the fragments of his own tusk in the caves of the Dordogne, and concerning whom I have indited a discourse in an earlier portion of this volume: compared with that very antique personage, our long barrow on Ogbury hill-top may in fact be looked upon as almost modern. Still, when one isn’t talking in geological language, ten or twenty thousand years may be fairly considered a very long time as time goes: and I have little doubt that from ten to twenty thousand years have passed since the short, squat chieftain aforesaid was first committed to his final resting-place in Ogbury Long Barrow. Two years since, we local archaeologists–not in becoming prints this time–opened the barrow to see what was inside it. We found, as we expected, the ‘stone vault’ of the popular tradition, proving conclusively that some faint memory of the original interment had clung for all those long years around the grassy pile of that ancient tumulus. Its centre, in fact, was occupied by a sepulchral chamber built of big Sarsen stones from the surrounding hillsides; and in the midst of the house of death thus rudely constructed lay the mouldering skeleton of its original possessor–an old prehistoric Mongoloid chieftain. When I stood for the first moment within that primaeval palace of the dead, never before entered by living man for a hundred centuries, I felt, I must own, something like a burglar, something like a body-snatcher, something like a resurrection man, but most of all like a happy archaeologist.

The big stone hut in which we found ourselves was, in fact, a buried cromlech, covered all over (until we opened it) by the earth of the barrow. Almost every cromlech, wherever found, was once, I believe, the central chamber of just such a long barrow: but in some instances wind and rain have beaten down and washed away the surrounding earth (and then we call it a ‘Druidical monument’), while in others the mound still encloses its original deposit (and then we call it merely a prehistoric tumulus). As a matter of fact, even the Druids themselves are quite modern and commonplace personages compared with the short, squat chieftains of the long barrows. For all the indications we found in the long barrow at Ogbury (as in many others we had opened elsewhere) led us at once to the strange conclusion that our new acquaintance, the skeleton, had once been a living cannibal king of the newer stone-age in Britain.

The only weapons or implements we could discover in the barrow were two neatly chipped flint arrowheads, and a very delicate ground greenstone hatchet, or tomahawk. These were the weapons of the dead chief, laid beside him in the stone chamber where we found his skeleton, for his future use in his underground existence. A piece or two of rude hand-made pottery, no doubt containing food and drink for the ghost, had also been placed close to his side: but they had mouldered away with time and damp, till it was quite impossible to recover more than a few broken and shapeless fragments. There was no trace of metal in any way: whereas if the tribesmen of our friend the skeleton had known at all the art of smelting, we may be sure some bronze axe or spearhead would have taken the place of the flint arrows and the greenstone tomahawk: for savages always bury a man’s best property together with his corpse, while civilised men take care to preserve it with pious care in their own possession, and to fight over it strenuously in the court of probate.