Stonehenge Cursus, Wiltshire
Dorset Cursus terminal on Thickthorn Down, Dorset

Cursus (plural 'cursūs' or 'cursuses') was a name given by early British archaeologists such as William Stukeley to the large parallel lengths of banks with external ditches which they thought were early Roman athletic courses, hence the Latin name cursus, meaning "course". Cursus monuments are now understood to be Neolithic structures and represent some of the oldest prehistoric monumental structures of the British Isles;[1] cursus may have been of ceremonial function.

They range in length from 50 metres to almost 10 kilometres and the distance between the parallel earthworks can be up to 100 metres. Banks at the terminal ends enclose the cursus.

Contemporary internal features are rare and it has been traditionally thought that the cursuses were used as processional routes. They are often aligned on and respect the position of pre-existing long barrows and bank barrows and appear to ignore difficulties in terrain. The Dorset Cursus, the longest known example, crosses a river and three valleys along its course across Cranborne Chase and is close to the henge monuments at Knowlton. It has been conjectured that they were used in rituals connected with ancestor worship, that they follow astronomical alignments or that they served as buffer zones between ceremonial and occupation landscapes. More recent studies have reassessed the original interpretation and argued that they were in fact used for ceremonial competitions. Finds of arrowheads at the terminal ends suggest archery and hunting were important to the builders and that the length of the cursus may have reflected its use as a proving ground for young men involving a journey to adulthood. Anthropological parallels exist for this interpretation.

Examples include the four cursuses at Rudston in Yorkshire, that at Fornham All Saints in Suffolk, the Cleaven Dyke in Perthshire and the Dorset cursus.[2] A notable example is the Stonehenge Cursus, within sight of the more famous stone circle, on land belonging to The National Trust's Stonehenge Landscape.


Identification by aerial photography

Numerous examples of cursus are known and the discipline of aerial archaeology is the most effective method of identifying such large features following thousands of years of weathering and plough damage.[3] Some cursus have only been identified through a first sighting of cropmarks visible from aerial reconnaissance; for example, the cropmarks at Fetteresso were the first indication of a cursus at that location in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.[4]

See also

Line notes

  1. ^ McOmish, 1999
  2. ^ Champion, 2005
  3. ^ English Heritage
  4. ^ Hogan, 2008


  • Jim Champion, The Enigmatic Cursus, Megalithic Portal, 23 April 2005, ed. A. Burnham [1]
  • C.Michael Hogan (2008) Fetteresso Fieldnotes, The Modern Antiquarian [2]
  • David McOmish, Cursus: solving a 6,000-year-old puzzle, British Archaeology, Issue no 69, March 2003, editor Simon Denison ISSN 1357-4442 [3]
  • English Heritage: Cursus enclosures (broken link, July 2010)
  • Gerald S. Hawkins (with John B. White), Stonehenge Decoded Doubleday & Co Inc, Garden City, NY (1965)

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • cursus — [ kyrsys ] n. m. • 1968; mot lat. « cours » ♦ Ensemble des études universitaires dans une matière. Le cursus médical en France dure au minimum sept ans. Faire un double cursus. ● cursus nom masculin (latin cursus, course) Cycle des études… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Cursus — (lat.), 1) Lauf; bes. 2) Wettlauf, 3) (Pädag.), die Zeit, welche ein Studirender auf Schulen (Schul C.), od. Universitäten (akademischer, Universitäts C.) zubringt; C. canonicus, Zeitraum von 3 Jahren, den ein künftiger Canonicus auf einer hohen… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Cursus — Cursus, lat., Lauf, die vollständige Darlegung einer Wissenschaft beim Unterricht; auch die Zeit eines bestimmten Studiums, z.B. der Logik …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • cursus — index career, direction (course) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • cursus — (izg. kȕrsus) m DEFINICIJA pov. u srednjovjekovnoj latinskoj prozi i u gregorijanskom koralu metrički i ritmički princip rasporeda posljednjih slogova rečenice ili dijela rečenice ETIMOLOGIJA lat …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • Cursus — Als Cursus (pl. Cursūs, von lateinisch cursus: Lauf, Marschroute) bezeichnet man nach dem Antiquar William Stukeley schmale, extrem lange, meist rechteckige neolithische Erdwerke in Großbritannien. Die falsche im Englischen verwendete Pluralform… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • CURSUS — I. CURSUS Graece Δρόμος, in Aegyptiorum templis, dictum est in ingressu eorum pavimentum, Latitudine iugeri aut paulo minus, Longitudine triplâ, aut quadruplâ, apud Callimachum. Λιθόςτρωτον vocat Strabo, l. 17, post quam partem erat Προπύλαιον… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

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  • cursus — cùr·sus s.m.inv., lat. TS metr. struttura ritmica spec. della prosa latina medievale che consentiva di accelerare o rallentare il discorso agendo attraverso la disposizione degli accenti nelle ultime due parole: cursus planus, tardus, velox; in… …   Dizionario italiano

  • Cursus — Cur|sus [ kurzus] der; , <aus lat. cursus »Lauf, Verlauf«> wohlklingender rhythmischer Satzschluss (Reth.) …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

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