Cursus

From Academic Kids

Cursus was a name given by early British archaeologists such as William Stukeley to the large parallel lengths of banks with external ditches which they thought were early athletics tracks. Cursus monuments are now understood to be Neolithic structures and may have been of ceremonial function.

They range in length from 50 metres to almost 10 kilometres and the distance between the parallel earthworks can be up to 100 metres wide. Banks at the terminal ends enclosed the cursus. More than a hundred examples are known and the discipline of aerial archaeology is the most effective method of identifying such large features following thousands of years of weathering and plough damage.

Contemporary internal features are rare and it has been traditionally thought that the cursuses were used as processional routes. They are often aligned on and respect the position of pre-existing long barrows and bank barrows and appear to ignore difficulties in terrain. The Dorset Cursus, the longest known example, crosses a river and three valleys along its course across Cranborne Chase. It has been conjectured that they were used in rituals connected with ancestor worship, that they follow astronomical alignments or that they served as buffer zones between ceremonial and occupation landscapes. More recent studies have reassessed the original interpretation and argued that they were in fact used for ceremonial competitions. Finds of arrowheads at the terminal ends suggest archery and hunting were important to the builders and that the length of the cursus may have because it was a proving ground for young men involving a journey to adulthood. Anthropological parallels exist for this interpretation.

Examples include the four cursuses at Rudston in Yorkshire, that at Fornham All Saints in Suffolk and the Cleaven Dyke in Perthshire.

Compare with the later Avenue.

External link

Cursus- solving the 6,000 year old puzzle (http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba69/feat1.shtml)

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