Adam’s Grave is a Neolithic chambered long barrow dating from the first half of the 4th Millennium BC and so is at least 5,500 years old. ‘Along the northern escarpment of Pewsey Vale, the focus of many chance finds of Neolithic axes, only Adam’s Grave is prominently visible.’ (Field, 2006).
Adam’s Grave was so named many years ago before people had any concept of the great depth of time man has inhabited the region. They knew it was an old burial mound and aptly named it after the first person they believed to have walked the earth. Archbishop James Ussher (1581 – 1656) calculated, from the generations listed in the bible, that God created the world in 4004BC, starting on 22nd October to be exact, Adam being brought to life on the sixth day of His work. Curiously that date for this tomb isn’t that far out. The Neolithic period began in the UK some time around 4000BC and this Early Neolithic Long Barrow dates from a short time after that, perhaps around 3,600BC. However, I would say it is very unlikely that it’s first inhabitant was called Adam!
Situated on top of the chalk escarpment overlooking the Pewsey Vale, Adam’s Grave commands stunning views south across to Salisbury Plain. However since it is a burial chamber it was perhaps the view of IT that was more important to the builders. Visible from all the surrounding area it would have served as a permanent reminder of the ancestral past for the people that inhabited the vale. When first built it was perhaps also a territorial marker for anyone approaching from the south, a symbol on the ridge that someone already had ownership of this land.
As with so many of the other chalkland monuments of this time, the long barrow was capped in chalk and would have gleamed white much as the local carved white horses do today. As Martin Green says in his terrific book ‘A Landscape Revealed’: ‘Their original appearance must have been exceptionally striking. Cresting the hill their gleaming white form would have provided a clear statement to those who viewed them of the resident community’s rights to the land.’ (Green, 2000 p.54)
Adam’s Grave lies a few hundred metres west along the ridge from the contemporary causewayed enclosure at Knap Hill so they probably had a close connection at the time. It was excavated by John Thurnam who also also excavated West Kennet Long Barrow and Amesbury G42 at the end of the Cursus in the Stonehenge landscape. Thurnam was Medical Superintendent of the Devizes Asylum in the 1860s and he recovered some human remains for study as part of his research into the skull shapes of our ancestors. However the long barrow has not been subjected to modern excavation methods and no doubt has much more to disclose.
As you can see in this aerial photograph (taken by me from a 2 seater aircraft piloted by Tony Hughes of the Wiltshire Microlight Centre) the material required to build the mound including the chalk to finally cover it was quarried from two massive ditches running either side of it. This is consistent with the design of all the long barrows in Wiltshire but in most cases, as for instance at West Kennet, the ditches have long since silted up and, if anything at all has survived thousands of years of the plough, only the mound survives. The flip side of this however is that the ditch silt has often protected the archaeology beneath, as it is the bottom of the ditch that is contemporary with the mound construction, giving modern archaeologists plenty of material for research should they excavate.
The area around Adam’s Grave was also the alleged site of a battle in AD 556 between the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons and, more certainly, of a battle in AD 715 between the West Saxons and the Mercians.
The photograph above is of Oldbury Tours’ local white horse on Cherhill hill. Again, it is not that old, having been cut in 1780, although it is the second oldest in Wiltshire after Westbury (1778). Interestingly it was designed by a Dr. Christopher Alsop of Calne who was a friend of the artist George Stubbs, famous for his equestrian paintings. The horse is carved into the hillside below our eponymous hill-top iron age fort, Oldbury Castle, the massive ramparts of which are visible on the ridge above.
I have found these two specialised books very useful in understanding the role of Long Barrows in the Early Neolithic.