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Burial Cairns

Another feature of Indigenous culture common in the Beacon Hill Park area  were burial cairns or mounds composed of boulders, stones, and dirt. These cairns occurred in many different shapes and sizes and were often located on prominent hillsides. They varied in diameter from one to ten meters and were up to two meters in height.

Beneath these cairns the deceased was usually placed in a shallow grave lined with stones. Rocks of various sizes and dirt were placed over the body and then large boulders placed around or on top of this cluster.

Burial cairns once extended from the top of Beacon Hill down the south-east slope. It was stated in 1858: “An attentive observer will note circles, and that a center mound is within each located near the base of the present flag staff was excavated. In it were found human remains and part of a cedar bark mat for wrapping the body.”

In 1871, James Deans, Victoria’s first notable archaeological enthusiast, mentioned that at least 23 cairns “dot the summit and sides of Beacon Hill, some of which are surrounded with a circular thicket or scrub-oak.”

In 1897, Deans observed that many of the surface boulders of cairns had been removed. Since the turn of the century, many more of the cairn boulders have been removed, or shoved to new locations. By the 1970s, only one intact cairn and the circular bases of several others embedded in the ground could be seen down the slope of the hill. In 1986, scattered boulders from some of the original cairns were moved and used in the reconstruction of four burial cairns. These cairn reconstructions resemble some of those observed in the 19th century. The bases of some partially intact cairns can still be seen close to the reconstructed ones.

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