Concept

Dorset Cursus

Summary
The Dorset Cursus is a Neolithic cursus monument that spans across 10 km (61⁄4 miles) of the chalk downland of Cranborne Chase in east Dorset, United Kingdom. Its extreme length makes it a notable example of this class of linear earthwork; it is better interpreted as a pair of same-length cursus constructed end to end, with the more southerly cursus (the Gussage Cursus) pre-dating the northerly one (the Pentridge Cursus). Very little remains above ground of the Dorset Cursus, which once stretched for 10 km (61⁄4 miles) through the undulating chalkland of Cranborne Chase in east Dorset, from Martin Down to Thickthorn Down (both near the A354 road). It is by far the largest example of this class of ancient monument: it is over three times longer than the archetypical Great Cursus near Stonehenge. Most of the current knowledge about the course of this ancient earthwork comes from aerial photography (where its course can be seen as cropmarks or soil marks) and other geophysical surveying techniques. However, there are a few locations (mentioned below) where the banks, much reduced in size, are still visible; the best-preserved earthworks are those of the southwestern terminal on Thickthorn Down (). The Cursus dates from 3300 BCE which makes it contemporary with the earthen long barrows on Cranborne Chase: many of these are found near, on, or within the Cursus and since they are still in existence they help trace the Cursus' course in the modern landscape. The relationship between the Cursus and the alignment of these barrows suggests that they had a common ritual significance to the Neolithic people who spent an estimated 0.5 million worker-hours in its construction. The Cursus consisted of a pair of parallel banks (1.5 m tall) running about 82 m apart, with external ditches 1.5 m deep and 2 m wide. One bank is regular, whilst the other meanders, suggesting that the former was laid out first and the latter was dug using the former as a reference.
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