The Grey Mare & Her Colts are situated on the ridge above Abbotsbury village, Dorset. Originally this area would have been covered in dense woodland, but was gradually cleared from about 6,000 BC. This ridgeway forms a natural E-W causeway facilitating communication and trade away from the wet valley bottoms.
The GM&HCs is Dorset's finest chambered long barrow and dates from around 3,000 BC. The site consists of a cairn creating a chamber, a facade and surrounding peristaliths (small lumps of stone around the edge of the earth mound - now only two remain). Unusually there is no evidence of flanking ditches.
The mound is an elongated egg form, 75 feet by 45 feet. The chamber, at the SE end, now consists of upright stones forming three sides of a rectangular space, with a capstone (7 feet by 5 feet) now slipped sideways and obscuring the fourth side.
There is a shallow crescent forecourt with the central stone blocking off what would have been the entrance to the chamber.
This communal burial custom changed to the individual burials of the Bronze Age, with inhumation and later cremation under round mounds.
The earliest examples of long mounds had wooden chambers, only later changing to the use of sarsen stones. The chambers were built and used for some time before being buried under the mounds after sealing, some of the timber ones being burnt down. The stone tradition used large blocks to seal the chamber, as here at GMHCs. The mound was then built running away from the chamber.
The bones do not show any gnawing by rodents etc, so it is possible that excarnation (rotting) occurred on platforms before the bones were taking for deposition in the tombs.
As usual many theories and interpretations have been put forward as to use and possible rituals. One of the most persuasive is that the mounds were symbolic of the Earth Mother, where the ancestors returned to her body after death (see previous posts). But I think that more work needs to be done to see if the long mounds were being used to point toward certain other monuments and even at points in the night sky. Other monuments at this time were definitely used in this way and it is logical that the monuments were used together and not in isolation i.e. the causewayed enclosures used with the early long barrows, the former for excarnation and latter for burial.