Belas Knap is a Neolithic long barrow or burial mound (about 2 miles south of Winchcombe), and which was probably built about 5000 years ago.
The barrow was first excavated in the 1860s, and the remains of 38 people of all ages were found inside.
In 1929, Sir James Berry led another excavation of the site, and Eleanor Adlard, the founder of the museum in Winchcombe, volunteered to assist him.
Belas Knap Timeline
5000 years ago, in the New Stone Age, a tribe of dolichocephalic, or long-headed, farmers lived in this valley.
They buried their dead in a long barrow on a hill about 2 miles south of Winchcombe.
This burial mound is now known as Belas Knap.
Sadly, their resting place was disturbed by archaeologists in the 1860s and these drawings of the building were made by James Drew and Vincent Brooks as a record of the initial excavation.
The archaeologists found this intriguing circle of stones in the centre of the barrow. There was wood ash in the centre, so perhaps the surviving members of the clan sometimes sat around a fire in the middle of the chambers so that the clan was complete.
When the site was excavated again in the early Twentieth Century, no trace of this circle remained.The site was restored by Dr Ralegh Radford in 1931. However, instead of covering everything over to restore the grassy mound with which the builders had disguised their barrow, he left the chambers open and the false portal exposed for everyone to admire the skills of these Stone Age craftsmen who had only flint tools, antlers and wood to build with.
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Exhibits from Belas Knap in the museum include the right hip bone and two vertebrae from the 38 dolichocephalic, or long-headed, people buried in the long barrow, as well as an antler tool.
People in the New Stone Age, who had not discovered metal, often used antlers, which were prized for their exceptional elasticity and resistance, to dig with. Antlers have sharp points and make perfect digging tools.
The museum also has a collection of flint tools and arrow heads which were found in the vicinity of Belas Knap, but not inside the barrow. Flint does not occur naturally in Gloucestershire, so the tribe must have traded with people in other areas. Neolithic people did not bury grave goods with their loved ones.
Other exhibits include stone loom weights which people would have hung from threads on an upright loom to keep them taut for weaving, and spindle whorls which were used to increase and maintain the speed of the spin when spinning sheep’s wool by hand.