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We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time one of the three stone alignments at Drizzlecombe on Dartmoor is examined.
On the lower slopes of a pronounced spur leading south west from Higher Hartor Tor is a remarkable prehistoric ritual complex including three stone alignments and at least 22 cairns. The rows are set close to each other and all of them have a cairn at the upper end. The terminal stones at the lower end of two alignments tower above the others which look tiny by comparison. In common with many rows the size of the stones varies considerably with many just protruding through the turf. All three terminal stones were re-erected by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee in 1893 following excavations to identify the sockets. Several other stones within the rows had also fallen but these remain recumbent.
However you define special the Drizzlecombe area must surely rank amongst the best. There is something for everyone. As well as the prehistoric ritual monuments there are several well preserved Bronze Age settlements and from later periods there are field systems and tinworks. Whichever way you look there is archaeology starring back at you inviting exploration and discovery. There is plenty to keep you occupied, so much to see and ponder. It is therefore with some trepidation and at the risk of overload I am going to suggest that as well as looking at the archaeology around your feet that (weather permitting) you look towards the south west for views of the sea. The location of Drizzlecombe means that these views are tightly focussed but as elsewhere they would seem to suggest deliberation. In common with several other sites the alignments sit within a valley location and are nearly surrounded by hills. It is as if the site has been chosen because of the particular views where the sea appears and disappears as you move around the area. This article will deal with the south eastern alignment which is described by Jeremy Butler as Row 1.
Simplified plan showing the relative positions of the stone alignments at Drizzlecombe. Associated cairns are shown as circles. (Source: Google Earth and Butler, 1994,136).
This stone alignment measures 149.5m long including at least 86 slabs. It is unusual in that for part of its length it is formed by a double row of stones, but at either end by a single row of stones. Despite this anomaly there can be no doubting its prehistoric credentials. Regular readers of the Heritage Journal will know what is about to happen next, but for those of you who may be new to this series a sequence of Google Earth ground level view images are now going to be presented to illustrate views towards the sea from different spots along the alignment. Fieldwork at several locations has demonstrated that this technique is valid and whilst obviously there will be a need to confirm each “remote sensing” exercise in the field the results to date have indicated that it is a reliable method of rapidly identifying sites with observable links to the sea.
The southern alignment at Drizzlecombe has a cairn at the upper end and large terminal pillar at the far end. The valley below has been scoured for tin from prehistoric times. View from the north east.
Views from the alignment
A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the cairn at the top of the row, the second from the point where the row changes from a single row to a double row and the third from the terminal pillar.
The view from the top of the alignment provides a clearly focussed view of a pair of sea triangles. The larger triangle on the left would also be framed by the cairn at the top of the Shaugh Moor stone alignment. Sadly the cairn has been very badly damaged and even with powerful binoculars will no longer be visible. However when fresh someone standing at the top of this alignment could have seen the Shaugh Moor cairn apparently protruding into the sea beyond. Another of Dartmoor’s visual treats and perhaps further evidence for the importance of visual links between the natural and the artificial.
At the point where the double alignment commences, the sea disappears behind Shaugh Moor in the background and Eastern Tor in the foreground. As you walk along the row towards this point (a distance of only about 30m) it will look like the sea is being swallowed up by these two hills. In a culture where the boundary between land and water was significant this would have been seen as special and worth denoting by raising stones to mark the route to be followed.
There are no views towards the sea along the entire lower length of the alignment and at the south western end the view is now dominated by Eastern Tor. The journey is complete and its end denoted by a massive granite pillar.
A huge pillar denotes the south western end of the alignment. The row can be seen leading away into the distance. The second pillar visible in this photograph forms the lower end of Row No. 2. A large cairn known as the Giant’s Basin is visible protruding from behind this large standing stone.
Mapping the Sea Triangles
Two very restricted views to the sea are visible from the cairn at the top of the alignment. The eastern one also includes the Shaugh Moor alignment cairn as well as the sea. This might imply some sort of sophisticated planning or could be a coincidence. The frequency of such special relationships is however worth emphasising and even if a coincidence it would have been something that they were very aware of. Each sea triangle would have been spectacularly illuminated in turn by the winter sun and may have added a temporal dimension to any ceremonies. The eastern arc should glisten for about 10 minutes at 3.40pm and the western arc for just a few minutes at around 3.55pm. (all times are modern!). I do hope one day to see this for myself.
Butler, J., 1994, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume Three – The South-West” 135-142.
Previous articles in this series:
An internal Cadw e-mail written three days after they were asked to consider the Bancbryn stone alignment for scheduling provides an insight into much of what followed.
“I think we know the answer to the questions raised – although if it does prove to be schedulable it might prove awkward. But we are under pressure to do something. At present the line is that DAT are keeping it safe and assessing the feature. Should we though bring it to a head by arranging an urgent inspection so that we can discount this for scheduling (or otherwise), as the pressure to do something will not go away in the meantime.” (Cadw official, 19 January 2012).
This item of correspondence written at a time before anyone from Cadw had visited the site acknowledges that it would be awkward for them if the site was of national importance. The suggested remedy would on the face of it seem somewhat prejudiced. The (or otherwise) reads very much as an afterthought and there is an implicit assumption that the site will be discounted for scheduling – and all of this before they have even seen it. Some might think this approach lacks balance.
An awkward feature that should be discounted for scheduling (or otherwise)
We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Ringmoor Down stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.
Leading up a gentle north facing slope of Ringmoor Down at SX 56336 65805 on Dartmoor is a single stone row. The row is aligned approximately NNE to SSW and is at least 369m long. Walking along the row from its lower NNE end the nearby sea is hidden from sight. At a distance of 100m from the top of the alignment the sea starts to appear and as you proceed it seems to emerge out of the ground. On a clear winter afternoon a beam of reflected white light should be visible extending westward from the cairn at the top of the row when viewed from a particular spot on the alignment. This is clearly something that can be checked in the field and the next stage will be to record the precision and character of this phenomena. The incorporation of natural phenomena in this way would have surely enhanced the appearance of the row and added a temporal element to its use but proving an element of deliberation is obviously going to be more difficult to accomplish. The strongest evidence for deliberation is provided by the considerable number of instances of observable inter-relationships between alignments, the surrounding topography and the daily ever changing lighting conditions.
As visitors to these monuments we appreciate how the seasons and time of day influences the ambience and quality of any photographs we may take. The stone alignments in particular regularly alter their appearance with constantly shifting shadows being amongst the most obvious daily changes. The stone alignments were not built in splendid isolation they were created for a reason by a society who we know were interested in the astronomical cycles, seasons and the complex form of the world they inhabited. It should therefore not come as a surprise to find tangible evidence of these interests expressed in their alignments. The sheer number of visual links that are being identified means that the likelihood of these being random coincidences rapidly diminishes and instead it is much more likely that they form part of a broad pattern of shared relationships with special places and natural events in the landscape. Visual associations between sites of this period are accepted as significant with the siting of many monuments being the result to some degree of particular topographic features. We are dealing with a society where ritual played an important part in their lives and it is perhaps interesting to note that often it is evidence of their rituals that survive whilst domestic sites remain difficult to identify.
Kerbed cairn at the top of the stone alignment. View from north.
The lower end of stone alignment. View from north. This length of the alignment has no sea views.
Views from the alignment
A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the lower (NNE) end of the row and each subsequent image is taken from a point along the alignment with the last one being from the cairn at the top.
Looking south from the northern end of the row. This spot lies within a natural basin and there are limited views in every direction.
200m from the top. As one proceeds along the alignment more and more of the surrounding landscape comes into view but still there is no view of the sea.
100m from top the sea becomes visible. At mid-day during the winter months it might look like a beam of light shining from the cairn at the top of the row.
50m from top more and more of the sea becomes visible. The relationship between the sea and the cairn at the top will be worth investigating in further detail.
A pair of sea triangles are visible from the cairn at the top.
Map showing the arcs of visibility from the cairn at the top of the alignment. Each sea triangle would have been illuminated at a different time by the winter sun and may have added a temporal dimension to the ceremonies. The eastern arc would have been illuminated from about 1.15pm until 2.30pm and the western arc between 3.20pm and 3.35pm.
Previous articles in this series:
Old Oswestry hillfort has inspired a national call to show heritage some love this Valentine’s. Campaigners are staging a symbolic hug of the 3,000 year old Iron Age monument on February 14 while a decision is awaited on proposed housing in its shadow. See HERE!
Now the social media campaign #hugyourheritage is calling for the nation to join in the spirit of the event by tweeting selfies with the ‘I love heritage’ logo.
Launch details reveal: “History and heritage are important. Support Old Oswestry Hillfort and hug your heritage on Valentine’s Day! We are urging as many people as possible to take part in person or online and demonstrate their support for an iconic and nationally important hillfort.” Participants are being asked to reserve their tweets at Thunderclap, the crowdspeaking platform which will mass-share the message on Valentine’s Day.
Meanwhile, the live hug on Old Oswestry, organised by Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH), will take place at 1pm, meeting first at Gatacre playing field. Anyone interested in helping to steward the event should contact HOOOH on 01691 652918 or go to http://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort
Three days after Cadw were asked to consider the Bancbryn stone alignment for scheduling the responsible Cadw officer informed her colleagues that she was starting to lose her temper. This outburst was attached to a proposed reply to a couple of emails sent to Cadw on 16th and 17th January 2012.
What can have been said to have triggered this outburst?
- asked to see the evidence that the area had been covered in dense vegetation.
- expressed concerns that it was now apparently acceptable practice to ignore areas covered with dense vegetation during an assessment on areas adjacent to scheduled archaeology that are to be destroyed.
- expressed surprise that no archaeological earthwork survey work has been conducted as part of this project.
- asked that a fresh survey be conducted as a matter of priority.
- informed Cadw that Dyfed Archaeological Trust had claimed that they did not have time to monitor this development in the field.
- expressed concern that an earlier response had suggested that mitigation would be limited to a watching brief.
- asked that a scheduling assessment be carried out as a matter of priority.
- asked to be kept up to date with progress.
- requested that the site be accorded sensitive handling.
Whatever the reason it was surely a somewhat inappropriate reaction to genuine concerns expressed in a constructive manner.
The final irony is that the Cadw officer “forgot” to send the reply!
RESCUE – the British Archaeological Trust have been campaigning for many years against cuts to archaeological and museum services around the country, lobbying local councils, politicians and others with influence in governmental circles.
For a similar number of years, they have also provided advice so that members of the public such as you and I can assist in their campaigning, by lobbying our local bigwigs on archaeological issues of local and national importance.
As part of this campaigning, their useful guide, “Fighting Back: Some suggestions as to how to campaign to save museums, archaeological services and the historic environment” has been updated afresh for 2015 and version 5.2 of this very useful document is now available for all to download.
You don’t have to be a member of RESCUE to follow the advice therein, but the more people that sign up for membership, the more weight their arguments carry within the corridors of power, so please consider signing up. Individual membership costs a shade over £1 a month, less than a cup of coffee!
By Dr Sandy Gerrard.
As part of the planning conditions imposed by the Planning Inspector at Mynydd y Betws he stated: “No development shall take place within the site until a programme of archaeological work has been implemented in accordance with a written scheme of investigation approved by the Local Planning Authority in consultation with Cadw”
In August 2010 the necessary approval was obtained with a Cadw Officer stating:
“I have read through this WSI and can conﬁrm Cadw’s agreement to what is a comprehensive programme of work linked to the appropriate professional standards.”
Please can someone tell me how can a Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) which does not include any earthwork recording in a landscape which Cadw described in 2006 as having a “density of visible upstanding archaeological sites and monuments of many periods” be described as comprehensive?
Furthermore the Planning Inspector had already stated in his report when mentioning archaeological sites that “it would appear from the site inspection that some are not specifically recorded.”
So why did Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust not insist that at least these were recorded prior to destruction?
If they had perhaps a field system through which a road was driven would have at least been noticed before it was destroyed.
A press release from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign.
‘Hillfort Hug’ planned for threatened Iron Age monument
‘Show heritage some love’ say campaigners who will be joining arms in a protective hug at Old Oswestry hillfort (North Shropshire) as planners target its ancient landscape for housing.
The ‘Hillfort Hug’ takes place on Valentine’s Day, February 14, with organisers HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) calling it a peaceful family event. They are urging as many people as possible to take part and demonstrate their support for an iconic and nationally important hillfort.
It comes as a government Inspector decides whether fiercely opposed housing allocations bordering the 3,000 year old earthwork should remain in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.
Dr George Nash, an archaeologist and adviser to HOOOH said: “What happens at Old Oswestry is being seen as a test case that could open the floodgates to indiscriminate development exploiting heritage sites and areas of natural beauty across Britain.
“We have the short-sightedness of English Heritage and Shropshire Council to thank for putting this important Iron Age monument and potentially other parts of Britain’s ancient landscape in this state of planning jeopardy.”
HOOOH campaigner and Oswestry resident Neil Phillips said: “We are not against house-building and development. But the public wants to see it delivered in the right place, in realistic numbers and in tune with the community’s wishes.”
He added: “We hope people will feel moved to join the Old Oswestry hug in large numbers and show we are ready to protect our heritage and countryside against insensitive development.”
HOOOH says that a number of archaeological organisations have expressed an interest in networking the hug as a national event.
BBC Radio 4 visited the hillfort recently to record a programme for its new Making History series airing this spring.
Public opposition and campaign pressure has seen hillfort housing numbers proposed in SAMDev almost halved. But the developer is currently appealing for its original masterplan for some 200 homes to be reinstated.
The Inspector’s decision is expected later in February.
Those attending the ‘Hillfort Hug’ should meet at Gatacre playing fields in Oswestry at 1pm for the short walk to Old Oswestry. HOOOH is asking participants to sign up to the event page on Facebook, if possible, so that they can plan for likely numbers.
Volunteers are also needed to help steward the event. Anyone interested should ring 01691 652918 or message HOOOH on Facebook which has information on parking and other event details.
We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Burford Down stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.
The Burford Down single stone alignment includes a 508m long line of stones leading north from a kerbed cairn at SX 63697 60170 and incorporates at least 100 stones, many of which are now recumbent. The alignment is situated on a pronounced north to south promontory extending from the higher ground of Dartmoor to the north and offers two separate views towards the sea. Indeed the sea is visible only from either end and is not visible from much of the central length. Clearly it is impossible to demonstrate that the particular visual changes experienced as you move along the alignment were deliberately contrived but the accumulation of evidence strongly supports the idea that many of the alignments were positioned to generate a particular set of visual reveals, with those involving the sea being the most obvious. This really should come as no surprise since it has been accepted for some time that prehistoric ritual monuments were carefully positioned with particular cognisance to local topography. Ritual was important to these people and indeed in many ways it defined their whole lives. Movement played a significant part in their ceremonies as is witnessed by the considerable distances that stones were often carried and indeed it has been suggested that the routes taken by the builders of some of our most impressive megalithic monuments may have been as important as the monuments themselves. The alignments may therefore be seen as a physical manifestation of special routes – but what made them special? Chances are that like so much in life it was different things or events but the correlation between sea views and many rows strongly implies that the relationship between land and sea was significant and worth celebrating although of course we are left to speculate on why.
Views from the alignment
A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the northern end of the row and each subsequent image is taken from a point along the alignment with the last one being from the kerbed cairn at the top.
View from the lower (northern) end of the alignment. A view to the sea and a pair of sea triangles are present.
As one proceeds along the row the view is initially maintained. (34m from lower end)
After 128m the sea view is transformed into a sea triangle by the rising ground of Burford Down in the foreground.
After 168m only the westernmost sea triangle is visible. The other two disappeared in the course of 40m.
After 220m the final sea triangle disappears behind the rising ground of Burford Down. For the next 208m there is no view of the sea.
After 428m a sea triangle slowly emerges from behind the brow of the Burford Down. Reveals such as this perhaps formed part of the ceremonies associated with the alignments.
From the cairn at the top a narrow band of sea is visible. During winter months the low sunlight reflecting on the sea creates a “beam of light”. This impressive natural phenomenon could have been incorporated into the ceremonies.
Map showing the arcs of visibility from the northern end of the alignment. Each sea triangle would have been illuminated in turn by the winter sun and may have added a temporal dimension to the ceremonies. The easternmost arc would have been illuminated from about 2.30pm until 3.40pm, the central one at 4.15pm and the westernmost arc around 4.20pm.
Map showing the arc of visibility from the kerbed cairn at the southern end of the alignment. The beam of light would have been visible from around 11.40am until 2.15pm and varied in intensity according to the weather and date.
Previous articles in this series:
By Dr Sandy Gerrard.
On the 2nd January 2012 we were invited by friends to have a look at an area that was about to be destroyed by wind farm construction works. The wind farm was to occupy Mynydd y Betws and the part we chose to look at was around Bancbryn.
A few years earlier despite protestations from Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) permission had been granted by the Welsh Assembly Government for a wind farm to be erected subject to a whole raft of conditions. Amongst these were a couple of archaeological ones which sought to ensure that the archaeology was properly recorded prior to destruction. In 2011 a programme of work was carried out by Cotswold Archaeology who reported that very little had been found. With the green light in place construction work started towards the end of 2011 and it was then that we were approached by friends who were concerned that various planning conditions were being flouted.
The visit on 2nd January rapidly revealed that there were archaeological remains within the area that was scheduled for destruction. Traces of archaeological trenches were visible in places but these appeared to have missed the surviving remains. The local archaeological trust (DAT) were informed of our discoveries and eventually agreed to meet on the mountain on 16th January. The DAT officer agreed that the remains were of potential significance and asked the developers to stop work in their vicinity until they had been investigated.
In the meantime a request to schedule one of the sites was submitted to Cadw together with a question. Why had no attempt been made to look for and record the archaeology within the development footprint?
From this point onwards the archaeological organisations involved set about protecting their positions and in doing so exposed series flaws in the way that archaeology is conducted in Wales. Freedom of Information requests have revealed the highly questionable ways in which the various organisations sought to minimise the political fallout and the considerable lengths that they were willing to go to try and protect their vested interests.
Amongst the techniques used were: ignoring evidence; failing to substantiate claims; not publishing the excavation report, refusing to engage with many of the issues; conducting a biased scheduling assessment and attempting to withhold information. Perhaps most telling however was the role played by DAT who were simultaneously providing planning advice to the local authority whilst working on behalf of the developer. Where else within the planning system is a private company (DAT) able to act simultaneously on behalf of both the developer and the planning authority?
Running through the whole sorry saga however is a seam of complete incompetence. Fundamental mistakes were made at every turn – contradictions, inconsistencies, inaccuracies and contempt for public concerns are all apparent. During the coming months the evidence to support these and other claims will be presented.
Of course if any of the organisations involved would like to comment we would be happy to publish their responses in full (The Heritage Journal).