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DORSET CURSUS

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A cursus circa 6.25 miles (10 kilometres) long which runs roughly southwest-northeast between Thickthorn Down and Martin Down. Narrow and roughly parallel-sided, it follows a slightly sinuous course across the chalk downland, crossing a river and several valleys. The monument in fact comprises two cursuses laid out end to end, the earlier southwestern (Gussage) portion terminating on Bottlebush Down. Both are defined by a bank with external ditch, though for much of their length these are visible only as cropmarks or soilmarks. The southwestern end survives as an earthwork. RCHME fieldwork in the (?) 1950s recorded the bank here as surviving to a height of more than 4 feet in places, and up to 30 feet in width. The ditch was also up to 30 feet across and up to 3.5 feet deep. The width of the cursus at this point was measured as circa 350 feet. This southwestern stretch is relatively straight though it changes course northeast of Gussage Hill before heading to its terminal on Bottlebush Down. The northeastern (Pentridge) Cursus then continues on a slightly different alignment, adjusting its course slightly on a few occasions before terminating on Martin Down. The cursus incorporates two long barrows. On Gussage Hill, ST 91 SE 9 lies across the interior of the cursus, while the Pentridge Cursus has SU 01 NW 47 actually incorporated into the bank of the northwestern side, although the barrow's alignment differs slightly. The full extent of the Dorset Cursus was not appreciated until the publication of Atkinson's fieldwork in 1955. The central portion, from Gussage Down to a point southwest of Pentridge, had been known as an open-ended earthwork since at least the early 19th century. The terminals survive as earthworks but hadn't been identified as parts of the same monument. The only published excavations were undertaken in 1982 by Barrett at al, who sought to interpret the cursus within a study of the prehistoric landscape of Cranborne Chase.

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