The monument includes the known extent of the earthwork and buried remains of a Roman barrow situated on relatively high ground at the north west edge of the central plateau of Mersea Island overlooking the Pyefleet Channel. The flat-topped, conical mound is some 35m in diameter and 7m high. The top has a diameter of some 5m. There is no enclosing ditch.
Excavations carried out by the Morant Club in 1912 found that the mound contained a burial dating from the late first to early second century AD. The burial chamber, sited slightly off-centre, was dug into the original ground surface so that its floor was some 38cm beneath this level. The chamber measured some 45cm wide by 54cm high. A foundation of boulders and broken tile supported a floor of two roof tiles; seven courses of flanged roofing tiles formed the walls, with the two upper courses slightly corbelled to support the roof, which was made of a single tile some 54cm square. Within the burial chamber, the cremated remains of a child were found in a glass flask placed within a small lead casket with a wooden lid.
The structure of the mound comprised a consolidated central core of impure quartz sand, above which was mixed gravel and sand. Following the 1912 excavations, a passage was constructed through the excavation trench to the burial chamber; this is extant and facilitates viewing of the inner chamber. All modern fence lines, railings, walls, made-up surfaces and the wooden Wendy house are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.
Earthen barrows are the most visually spectacular survivals of a wide variety of funerary monuments in Britain dating to the Roman period. Constructed as steep-sided conical mounds, usually of considerable size and occasionally with an encircling bank or ditch, they covered one or more burials, generally believed to be those of high-ranking individuals. The burials were mainly cremations, although inhumations have been recorded, and were often deposited with accompanying grave goods in chambers or cists constructed of wood, tile or stone sealed beneath the barrow mound. Occasionally the mound appears to have been built directly over a funeral pyre. The barrows usually occur singly, although they can be grouped into “cemeteries” of up to ten examples. They are sited in as variety of locations but often occur near Roman roads. A small number of barrows were of particularly elaborate construction, with masonry revetment walls or radial internal walls. Roman barrows are rare nationally, with less than 150 recorded examples, and are generally restricted to lowland England with the majority in East Anglia. The earliest examples date to the first decades of the Roman occupation and occur mainly within this East Anglian concentration. It has been suggested that they are the graves of native British aristocrats who chose to perpetuate aspects of Iron Age burial practice. The majority of the barrows were constructed in the early second century AD but by the end of that century the fashion for barrow building appears to have ended. Occasionally the barrows were re-used when secondary Anglo-Saxon burials were dug into the mound. Many barrows were subjected to cursory investigation by antiquarians in the 19th century and, as little investigation to modern standards has taken place, they remain generally poorly understood. As a rare monument type which exhibits a wide diversity of burials tradition all Roman barrows, unless significantly damaged, are identified as nationally important.
The survival of Roman barrows as upstanding earthworks is rare nationally and extremely rare in East Anglia. The use of a barrow at West Mersea to demarcate a cremation burial is not unique in Roman Britain, however, Mersea Mount is unusual in that Roman barrow burials are usually found in groups (such as the Bartlow Mounds at Ashdon). This lone, large barrow is indicative of a very high status burial; the individual cremated and interred at West Mersea must have had some particular position of significance amongst the community to warrant the erection of the edifice.
Although partly excavated, the structure of the barrow remains substantially intact. Artefacts and environmental evidence will have survived and may, through the use of modern scientific analysis, add to our knowledge of the construction and appearance of the barrow and of Roman Mersea at the time of the mound’s construction; for example many fragments of marine mollusca and environmental evidence including seeds were recovered from the original excavations (the site was partly waterlogged providing conditions in which organic material can survive). Many fragments of briquetage (fired clay associated with salt production) were also recovered from within the make-up of the mound, demonstrating the presence of this industry nearby. <1>