Annual Excavations at Shaw Cairn

The digs at Shaw Cairn on Mellor Moor in 2008 and 2009, with the discovery of amber beads in a Bronze Age cist, showed that more should be done at this site. In 2010, John Hearle e-mailed Professor Mike Parker-Pearson at Sheffield University to see if he could join in leading further excavations. Mike was fully committed, but he passed the message to his colleague, Dr Bob Johnston, who was keen to work with Mellor Archaeology Trust (MAT). In 2011, Bob and Sheffield students joined MAT volunteers and made interesting discoveries in trial trenches in the adjoining fields. A joint 2012 dig was marred by bad weather and little was found. [See 2011 and 2012 reports.]

A bigger effort was planned for 2013 with students from Manchester University, led by Dr Mel Giles, joining the Sheffield and MAT groups. Unfortunately, other commitments at the University meant that Bob was not able to carry on with this plan. However, it is expected that there will be a joint Sheffield-Manchester-MAT excavation in July 2014 and that the effort will continue for many years. The advantage for MAT is that the University involvement means that it avoids the expense of employing an external professional archaeologist to supervise the work. The costs are relatively small and can be met from MAT funds, the student fieldwork programme, and other small grants. The input from MAT is led by the Trustees, Donald Reid and Maxine Wild, and another Trustee, George Burgess of Shaw Farm, is supportive of work on his land.

There are other exciting opportunities for a wider study of the Bronze Age landscape in this part of the western Peak District. Shaw Cairn is just one of a number of Bronze Age burial sites. On Ludworth Moor, there are the Bronze Age barrows at Brownlow and the Intakes, explored by Reverend Marriott around 1800. There is some limited evidence of Bronze Age activity on the Old Vicarage site. The big question is “where did the people live?

The Story of Shaw Cairn

A Bronze Age Burial and the Mellor "Princess"

For excavations and finds from 1976-1988, 2007-2009 go to

Article in Current Archaeology, August 2011: Shaw Cairn revisited – the dead of Mellor Moor

The Reverend Marriott, circa 1800, had mentioned in his book, Antiquities of Lyme, barrows near Shaw Farm. In the mid-1970s, four amateur archaeologists with help from school students started ten years of excavations around the trig point on the top of Mellor Moor. They found a Bronze Age burial, which they called Shaw Cairn. Flints, pottery and cremated bones, which were stored in Kilner jars with names such as Hector, Marcus and Fred, were found. The only written record was a diary. In 2000, the material was rescued from one of their garages and a report was written by Victoria Mellor, a student on secondment to GMAU.

In 2008-9, as part of the HLF-supported Mellor Heritage Project 2007-9, Shaw Cairn was revisited. The old excavations had not been back-filled, so they were cleared and more of the cairn excavated. The most notable find consisted of nearly 100 amber beads in a cist, in which would have been buried the "Mellor princess". More recently, the pottery from the earlier excavations has been examined by Dr Alison Sheridan of the National Museums of Scotland, who describes it as one of the most important collections of Early Bronze Age pottery in the North-West, and the cremated bones have been examined by researchers form Edinburgh University.

In 2011 and 2012, students from Sheffield University, led by Dr Bob Johnston, joined Mellor volunteers for more excavations on and around Shaw Cairn. These digs will continue each summer.


Plan of Shaw Cairn dig from 1970s-80s.

Flint knife

Neolithic flint knife.

Flint knife

Pottery vessel.


2008 excavation of Shaw Cairn.


Amber beads re-strung.


2011 Excavations at Shaw Cairn

Shaw Cairn Dig 2011Shaw Cairn Dig 2011

Sheffield University students, led by Dr Bob Johnston, joined MAT volunteers for a two-week dig in July 2011. Trial trenches in the fields adjoining Shaw Cairn yielded interesting finds.


A programme of archaeological survey and excavation was undertaken during June/July 2011 at Shaw Cairn, Mellor Moor, Stockport. The cairn is a multi-phase monument that was the focus for the deposition of human inhumation and cremation burials during the Early Bronze Age. It was first excavated during 1976-88, and more recently in 2008-9. The aims of the 2011 fieldwork were to determine the character of the stone-built structures located in the environs of Shaw Cairn, and evaluate the evidence for human activity on the broader plateau on which it is sited.

Topographic and geophysical surveys failed to find evidence of the stone platform that was excavated in 2008-9. The surveys did show, however, that Shaw Cairn was not an isolated monument. In addition to the platform, there may have been at least two other mounds, both smaller than the main cairn, sited on the plateau.

Read more: 2011 Excavations at Shaw Cairn

2012 Excavations at Shaw Cairn

Shaw Cairn Dig 2012

Dr Bob Johnston and students from Sheffield University again joined MAT volunteers for a two-week dig at Shaw Cairn in July 2012. The weather was against them. Some days were a washout. The trial trenches in the adjoining fields in the 2011 dig had yielded interesting finds. The plan was to dig more but it could not be carried out because the grass, which is usually cut in May or June, was still uncut. Trial trenches were dug in areas around the cairn, but the results were not spectacular. One possible subsidiary cairn could not be excavated because a bird was nesting on it! A report on the excavations will be added to the website in due course.

Bob is convinced of the importance of the site. It is hoped that there can be a bigger digs starting in 2013 with students from both Sheffield and Manchester Universities. The big questions are what took place in the areas around the cairn and, further afield, where did the people live during the Bronze Age.

2014 Excavations at Shaw Cairn

Shaw Cairn Dig July 2014

Maxine Wild with additional input by John Hearle.

On the warm, sunny and windless morning of 7th of July (so different from two years ago, when the weather was so bad that it had not been possible for George Burgess to cut the grass in his fields), I met MAT volunteers at Shaw Farm for three weeks excavating at the prehistoric site of Shaw Cairn. We were joined by students from Sheffield and Manchester Universities, led by Bob Johnston and Mel Giles. Our first task was to load all our equipment into the Land Rover and trailer belonging to George Burgess, who had kindly offered to transport it to the site! Some volunteers cadged a lift, while the students walked the mile long-trudge up to the top of Mellor Moor, the highest point in Stockport MBC.

Read more: 2014  Excavations at Shaw Cairn