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By Dr Sandy Gerrard

A recent press report in the Express & Echo should concern everyone with an interest in the archaeology of the South West English uplands.  Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor and Exmoor are particularly rich and important archaeological landscapes where the impact of the past can be easily appreciated.

On Dartmoor alone around 5,000 Bronze Age houses together with hundreds of hectares of field systems and enclosures survive in close proximity to thousands of cairns, hundreds of cists and the largest concentration of stone rows anywhere in Britain. Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor together provide a unique insight into the character of life and death in prehistoric times. Nowhere else in Britain is it possible to explore and appreciate the true impact of prehistoric people on the landscape. In recent years this incredible resource has been slowly disappearing beneath a sea of gorse, bracken and purple moor grass as farming practices have been adjusted in response to subsidy changes.

According to the Express & Echo article fresh plans are being drawn up to accelerate this process by returning parts of the moor “to the wild”. It is not clear which parts the bureaucrats have in mind, but we can be sure that given the extraordinary wide distribution of archaeology that important archaeology that we have all taken for granted could soon no longer be visible. Hopefully Historic England will fight this proposal and prevail – any other outcome would be disastrous.  Any attempt to deliberately conceal our heritage from us all should be opposed with the utmost vigour. Inevitably once the archaeology was out of sight it would soon be out of mind.

If this plan goes ahead much of Dartmoor’s amazing archaeology will be lost from sight. The fate of the largely invisible stone row at Spurrell’s Cross could await many cherished archaeological sites in South West England.

If this plan goes ahead much of Dartmoor’s amazing archaeology will be lost from sight. The fate of the largely invisible stone row at Spurrell’s Cross could await many cherished archaeological sites in South West England.

 

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the double row at Trowlesworthy on Dartmoor is examined.

TWMap

The double stone alignment at Trowlesworthy includes two roughly parallel lines of stones aligned north east to south west leading for 127.5m from a kerbed cairn (SX 57644 63985) on the lower slopes of Great Trowlesworthy Tor. The alignment is far from straight and several minor shifts in its orientation give it the sinuous character found at many rows. The row is built mainly from medium sized orthostats (average 0.37m high) although at least one more substantial stone (now recumbent) lies a short distance above the Old Bottlehill Mine Leat which cuts the row in two. There is no blocking stone at the south western end and it may therefore have originally been longer. A detailed plan of the row together with details and discussion is available the “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Volume 3” by Jeremy Butler.  A second row is situated to the north of this one and will be considered fully at a later date. At this stage it is perhaps worth noting that the second row includes a single line of stones and despite its close proximity has no views to the sea, a situation paralleled by the second row at Hart Tor. Analysis of sea views from the Trowlesworthy rows is to some extent hampered by the nearby china clay works at Lee Moor which have undoubtedly altered the local topography, but despite this the character of the sea views is still obvious and have not been significantly altered.

The Trowlesworthy double stone alignment in common with many Dartmoor stone rows is built across the sea view/no sea view interface. This means that views to the sea are visible from parts of the row but not from others.  In this instance the sea is visible from the upper part of the row and not from the lower length.  The largest stone (now recumbent) together with a significant shift in alignment denotes the point at which the sea view appears and disappears depending on the direction of travel. The presence of the largest orthostat and alignment shift suggests that this was a significant point along the journey denoted by the row and its precise correlation with the sea/no sea view interface is consistent with the familiar pattern being found at many stone rows. The observation first made at Bancbryn of a close and measurable visual link with the sea is one that is repeated time and time again. The construction of rows across the sea/no sea view interface is too common to be a coincidence and strongly supports the hypotheses that the siting of many rows was influenced by a need to acknowledge this phenomenon. A programme of statistical analysis is underway to establish and quantify the precise character of this relationship and demonstrate the degree of correlation between the Dartmoor rows and the types of sea view that exist. An initial pilot has suggested that the distribution of Dartmoor rows correlates with particular views towards the sea but also that other types of view and reveal are of significance. Cumulatively the evidence that is being gathered illustrates that the rows were erected in particular locations to enable particular types of view and reveals to be “experienced” by those walking along them and it would therefore be surprising if these experiences were not reflected in the activities being carried out.

Simplified plan showing the row and cairn. Views to the sea exist from the stones coloured  black, but no sea views are available from the part of the row coloured red.

Simplified plan showing the row and cairn. Views to the sea exist from the stones coloured  black, but no sea views are available from the part of the row coloured red.

The cairn at the top of the stone alignment. Note the way in which the row’s orientation shifts to ensure that it reaches the kerbed cairn. The orthostats denoting the cairn are larger than those used to build the row.

The cairn at the top of the stone alignment. Note the way in which the row’s orientation shifts to ensure that it reaches the kerbed cairn. The orthostats denoting the cairn are larger than those used to build the row.

The sinuous form of this row is obvious when viewed along its length from the south west. The large stones at the top of the photograph surround the cairn. The form of the row strongly suggests that perhaps it was an established path that was subsequently denoted by stones. The large recumbent stone is indicated by a red arrow. This is the point where the sea becomes visible for the first time as you walk up the row.

The sinuous form of this row is obvious when viewed along its length from the south west. The large stones at the top of the photograph surround the cairn. The form of the row strongly suggests that perhaps it was an established path that was subsequently denoted by stones. The large recumbent stone is indicated by a red arrow. This is the point where the sea becomes visible for the first time as you walk up the row.

View from the south east of the row.  The hillside is littered with substantial blocks of granite but the builders of the row selected smaller more manageable stones.

View from the south east of the row.  The hillside is littered with substantial blocks of granite but the builders of the row selected smaller more manageable stones.

The lower length of the row has no views to the sea. View from south west.

The lower length of the row has no views to the sea. View from south west.

Views from the alignment

Three images derived from Google Earth are presented below to illustrate the character of the reveal. As you walk up the hill towards Great Trowlesworthy Tor a view to the sea appears at the point where the largest stone once stood.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by rising ground. Only a modern china clay tip is visible beyond the immediate horizon.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by rising ground. Only a modern china clay tip is visible beyond the immediate horizon.

The sea is suddenly revealed when you reach the largest stone.

The sea is suddenly revealed when you reach the largest stone.

Although now partly obscured by a china clay tip originally a thin slither of sea would have been visible from the cairn at the top of the row.

Although now partly obscured by a china clay tip originally a thin slither of sea would have been visible from the cairn at the top of the row.

TWarc

Map showing the arc of visibility from the upper (north eastern) end of the alignment.  The view to the sea is most impressive in the middle of the day during the winter months.

Source: Butler, J., 1994, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Volume Three, 169-71 and 205.

Previous articles in this series:

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Yar Tor stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.

yartor1map

The Yar Tor triple stone alignment includes three roughly parallel lines of stones leading for at least 250m, aligned NNW to SSE up a saddle between Yar Tor and Corndon Tor. Although the row now apparently stops about 70m short of the Money Pit Cairn (SX 6816 7385) there is broad consensus that it once extended as far as this cairn. The stones forming the row are generally relatively small and Jeremy Butler notes that the average height is 0.16m high.  This row has something to tell us about the attitude of the Middle Bronze Age farmers who lived here in later years. Destruction and desecration is certainly not a modern phenomenon.  Over 2,500 years ago a new generation of farmers set about enclosing substantial areas of Dartmoor with fields.  Many of these still survive and illustrate land development on a colossal scale.  The field system laid out over the Yar Tor stone row was truly massive with over 3,000 hectares surviving to this day. The builders of this field system had no use for the Yar Tor alignment and built three lengths of field boundary over it. We can therefore be certain that by the Middle Bronze Age stone alignments were no longer being revered and even by this time their purpose had probably been forgotten. This indicates a significant shift in belief and is likely to reflect radical changes in cultural and ritual practises. Areas previously set aside for ritual activity were now being incorporated into the business of living.  Whatever was originally special about these places had been forgotten or perhaps the needs of the present had rendered them obsolete. They were built by communities, used by the same communities and abandoned when they were no longer required. One need not look any further than the modern church for an analogy.  Long after the Bronze Age fields had been abandoned farmers returned to the area and built new enclosures again incorporating the earlier row in their fields.  The later use of the area has undoubtedly damaged the row but despite its relatively delicate form consisting as it did of mainly small stones it thankfully survived.

Simplified map showing the position of the Yar Tor stone alignment relative to the high ground of Yar Tor, Corndon Tor and Sharp Tor. As you walk up the row from the north views to the east and west are restricted whilst those to the south are constrained by rising ground.

Simplified map showing the position of the Yar Tor stone alignment relative to the high ground of Yar Tor, Corndon Tor and Sharp Tor. As you walk up the row from the north views to the east and west are restricted whilst those to the south are constrained by rising ground.

Simplified plan showing the row leading to the Money Pit Cairn. The Bronze Age reaves (red) and historic fields (green) show no respect for the row and both will have caused damage.

Simplified plan showing the row leading to the Money Pit Cairn. The Bronze Age reaves (red) and historic fields (green) show no respect for the row and both will have caused damage.

The topographical position of this row has much to offer our current research and the manner in which the row relates to the surrounding landscape is remarkable.  The row sits within a valley between Yar Tor on the west and Corndon Tor on the east and leads upslope from the north to the saddle between the tors. The effect of the disposition of the tors relative to the row is to restrict views to the east and west as you walk along it. It is also unlikely to be a coincidence that the northern end of the row marks the precise point from which restricted views start.  The view westward at this point may also be of significance. An eye catching view of Longaford Tor framed by Laughter Tor is visible and should certainly be described as a visual treat.

yartor4

This eye-catching view of Longaford Tor is available only from the northern end of the stone alignment.  Longaford Tor is framed perfectly by the nearer Laughter Tor. It seems very unlikely that the myriad of distinctive visual relationships like this can all be coincidences. Furthermore it is possible at the summer solstice sun may set behind the tor. Certainly something worth checking out.

The three roughly parallel lines of stone can be traced up the hill towards the saddle.

The three roughly parallel lines of stone can be traced up the hill towards the saddle.

The shift in the alignment at this point is obvious. Like most Dartmoor stone rows this one is not absolutely straight.

The shift in the alignment at this point is obvious. Like most Dartmoor stone rows this one is not absolutely straight.

The Money Pit Cairn would have originally formed the upper end of the row.

The Money Pit Cairn would have originally formed the upper end of the row.

As you approach the Money Pit Cairn on the route of the row Sharp Tor slowly emerges from behind the cairn.

As you approach the Money Pit Cairn on the route of the row Sharp Tor slowly emerges from behind the cairn.

Yartor8

As you reach the cairn Sharp Tor looks as if it is sitting on top of the cairn. This visual trick and treat may of course have had considerable significance for the row builders. We have seen several reveals like this already but this one is particularly special enhanced as it is by the appearance of the sea on the distant horizon further to the east. Most artificial structures both past and present are built where they are for particular reasons and it would therefore be most surprising if stone alignments were not sited to take cognisance of their surroundings.  Here the visual treats are very obvious but the chances are that all the rows were built to acknowledge their surroundings.  Their linear form suggests that special routes were being denoted. It was clearly important that a particular path was followed and that the reveal was an important part of the ritual. The repeating pattern of links between the landscape and alignments provides a powerful indication that the rows played some part in connecting these people with their world.

The juxtaposition of the Money Pit Cairn, Yar Tor stone alignment and Sharp Tor is just too perfect to be a coincidence.

The juxtaposition of the Money Pit Cairn, Yar Tor stone alignment and Sharp Tor is just too perfect to be a coincidence.

Views from the alignment

Four images derived from Google Earth are presented below to illustrate the character of the reveal. As you walk up the hill towards the saddle views to the west and east are restricted by the neighbouring tors and the view to the south by the saddle itself. This is the case for much of the length of the row which of course emphasises the reveal when it happens.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by the saddle between Corndon and Yar Tors.

From the bottom of the row the view southward is restricted by the saddle between Corndon and Yar Tors.

After 100m the view remains restricted.

After 100m the view remains restricted.

Finally a sea triangle appears on the south eastern horizon 25m from the Money Pit Cairn

Finally a sea triangle appears on the south eastern horizon 25m from the Money Pit Cairn

And grows rapidly in size by the time you reach the Money Pit Cairn

And grows rapidly in size by the time you reach the Money Pit Cairn

ytv5

Map showing the arc of visibility from the upper (southern) end of the alignment.  It might be significant that the rising sun at the mid-winter solstice appears out of the sea triangle. Either end of the row appears to be closely related to celestial events – the top in the winter and the bottom in the summer.  A convincing body of evidence is developing that there is a correlation between the rows and celestial events although not in a manner that had been envisaged when this research began. The links with the sea are undoubtedly important but they are clearly only part of the picture and it is the complex visual relationships between the sky, water and land that seem to be being celebrated, acknowledged and sign-posted by the rows.  Each site is unique in form and location but the common thread that is developing is that they were each built to provide a special route between places with extra-ordinary visual relationships with the landscape. The stone alignment at Yar Tor is particularly informative and I would like to thank the Dartmoor Preservation Association for their recent clearance work which has revealed this extraordinary alignment.

Sources:

Butler, J., 1991, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Volume One, 126-7.

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into the stone row monuments of the South West. This time we are looking at the second of a pair of alignments north west of Sharpitor on Dartmoor. Last time we looked at its neighbour.

SNW1-1

The two stone alignments are situated close to each other on a spur of high ground leading north west from Sharpitor. This time we shall look at the southern row which is of the single variety – last time we looked at the associated double row. Both rows stand immediately next to the public highway (B3212) leading from Yelverton to Princetown near a car park next to Goatstone Pool. They have seen considerable damage but despite this their form is still discernible. The single row includes at least thirty stones forming an 82.5m long row standing between 0.1m and 0.4m high leading a low spread mound at its western end. Unsurprisingly a walk westwards along this row provides nearly identical views and reveals to those experienced at the nearby double row although in this case the row is not aligned on South Hessary Tor, but instead points directly at the cairns at the top of the Hart Tor stone rows.

SNW1-2

Idealised sketch plan of the Sharpitor stone alignments showing what they may once have looked like based on Google Earth and field observations

 

View from the north eastern end of the row looking south westward.

View from the north eastern end of the row looking south westward.

Most of the stones in this alignment protrude only slightly above the ground surface.

Most of the stones in this alignment protrude only slightly above the ground surface.

Row leading towards the low cairn at the south western end. View from the north east.

Row leading towards the low cairn at the south western end. View from the north east.

Views from the alignment

The character of the reveal achieved by walking south westward along the row is very similar to that experienced along the adjacent double row. So instead this time the view revealed as you walk north eastwards is examined. A case is being built that the alignments were built to denote movement and that a megalithic character was not necessary. Indeed this row could have been built by a single family group in an afternoon. The stones were capable of being easily handled but this does not detract from their importance or the information they have to tell us. In this instance as is probably the case with many of the rows other visual treats are on offer, but the most obvious is the relationship between the row and the stone rows at Hart Tor. This row points directly towards the Hart Tor rows which are partly revealed as you walk up the hill from the cairn at the south western end. The Hart Tor rows are framed and partly obscured by the lower slopes of Leeden Tor which effectively block the view to the lower parts of both rows. It is anticipated that further work will reveal more examples of this type of particular precise visual inter-relationship and  these taken together with the links to the sea will allow analysis of patterns and convincingly demonstrate how these monuments were used even if we never understand why. Each row is unique in appearance and it should therefore not come as a surprise to find that they were each placed very carefully within the landscape to take full advantage of a myriad of different visual treats.

View looking north east along the row from the cairn at the south west end. The views in this direction are restricted by the rising ground leading to the blind summit.

View looking north east along the row from the cairn at the south west end. The views in this direction are restricted by the rising ground leading to the blind summit.

SNW1-7

As you walk up the hill the stone rows at Har Tor appear framed by the near ground and the lower slopes of Leeden Tor. The fact that this row is aligned on these rows and they are revealed as you proceed along the row seems deliberate particularly when one considers that the slightest difference in the orientation of the row would mean that this visual treat would not happen.

SNW1-8

Finally at the end of this row the Hart Tor rows are peeking out behind the lower slopes of Leeden Tor in the foreground.

Previous articles in this series:

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time we are looking at one of a pair of alignments north west of Sharpitor on Dartmoor and next time we shall examine its neighbour.

snw1

The two stone alignments are situated close to each other on a spur of high ground leading north west from Sharpitor. This time we shall look at the northern row which is of the double variety and next time we shall consider the associated single row.  Both rows stand immediately next to the public highway (B3212) leading from Yelverton to Princetown to a car park next to Goatstone Pool. They have seen considerable damage but despite this their form is still discernible. The double row measures 113m long and includes at least 42 stones leading north east from a cairn at SX 55664 70619 to a fallen blocking stone at SX 55776 70655. Despite its battered appearance this row in common with so many on the moor provides a whole series of visual treats of which the spectacular “sea triangle” reveal is but one. I have been able to visit this site since starting to research the landscape setting of the stone rows and as well as the obvious visual relationship with the sea another one with South Hessary Tor is apparent.

snw2

Idealised sketch plan of the Sharpitor stone alignments showing what they may once have looked like based on Google Earth and field observations.

The row in common with many on Dartmoor includes a “blind summit” which means that either ends are not intervisible. A sketch profile along the length of the rows illustrates this characteristic which of course creates the “sea view” reveal.

Sketch profile showing the position of stones along the row. The sea is slowly revealed as you proceed along the row from the blocking stone.  If one thinks of the stones as marking a special route then the dramatic “sea view” revelation is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Sketch profile showing the position of stones along the row. The sea is slowly revealed as you proceed along the row from the blocking stone.  If one thinks of the stones as marking a special route then the dramatic “sea view” revelation is unlikely to be a coincidence.

snw3a

Sharpitor row was not built to be an obvious feature in the landscape. The row comprises only very small stones of which these three are among the biggest. Whilst rows sometimes did make architectural statements many did not and instead include only small or indeed tiny stones. These rows can best be seen as accurately denoting the position of a special route. It was important to their builders that people walked from point A to point B along a precise pathway and what better way to ensure that this happened than to erect waymarkers which would of course have also denoted specific points along the route. Over time or perhaps from the very start these waymarkers could have had a significance of their own but it is the route itself that must have been of greatest significance and therefore it we are ever to understand at least the context in which they were built it is the route that we should be studying.

snw4

Looking north eastward along the row. The black arrow shows the alignment of the row which along its northern length points directly at the only skyline tor visible on the northern horizon. The other features visible on the horizon are modern forestry plantations.

snw6

The northern part of the alignment is orientated directly on the prominent South Hessary Tor.

snw7

The cairn at the south western end of the row is far from obvious. Many terminal cairns are slight in character.

The blocking stone (behind the ranging rod) which is now recumbent was the largest stone in the row. 

The blocking stone (behind the ranging rod) which is now recumbent was the largest stone in the row.

Views from the alignment

Three images derived from Google Earth are presented to illustrate the “reveal” that is attained as you walk along the row starting from the blocking stone at the north eastern end. The first one is from the blocking stone, the second at the point where the sea first becomes visible and the final one is from the small cairn at the south western end. This reveal is real but is it significant?  Over the past few months, similar examples have been presented and certainly the picture that is building up is one of consistence. All of the rows we have looked at have an observable link to the sea and the precision of that relationship is often remarkable. The sea of course is but one (although important) element in a landscape and the work at Sharpitor has shown that other features within the natural landscape may have been acknowledged. Detailed fieldwork will be required to assess other visual links, but it should really not come as a surprise to find that the alignments were built to take full cognisance of their surroundings. The builders of the stone alignments would have a sense of place and it would therefore be more remarkable if their monuments ignored the world in which they lived. The stone rows therefore probably provide an insight into these people’s sense of place and it would be unwise to ignore the clues they have left behind.

snw9View looking south west from the blocking stone. From here everything is hidden by the rising ground.

snw10

As one walks up along the row a small closed sea triangle appears on the horizon. The land forming the top of the triangle is provided by the Lizard in Cornwall. This view is visible only when the lighting conditions are perfect and its consequent rarity may have made it doubly special, worth denoting and even celebrating.

snw11

Arrival at the cairn brings a particularly fine grouping of sea views.  On the right is the closed sea triangle, in the middle a pair of stacked triangles and on the left a narrow slither which under certain lighting conditions looks like a beam of bright light emanating out of the ground. It is hard to believe that this remarkable sight is a coincidence particularly given that the row itself leads you to this point opening up this vista as you proceed along their waymarked route. It feels as if these people are showing us what was important to them.

snw12

Map showing the arcs of visibility from the cairn at the south western end of the alignment. The eastern arc would have been illuminated by the winter sun for two hours from about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The spectacular light show as the sun moves over the sea during this time is noteworthy and it would surely not be too fanciful to suggest that a people with a known interest in the movement of the sun might wish to celebrate this and perhaps in the process formalise the event.

One can’t help but notice the similarities between the movement of the sun and the movement of people implied by the rows. This is an idea that needs further thought but the reveal identified at many rows may in some way be connected with sunset and sunrise.

A final point worth making is that around 12th January the sun sets into the closed sea triangle to the west. Certainly the rows we have looked at so far have all implied winter use and this too may point us in a profitable research direction.

Previous articles in this series:

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Sharpitor West stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.

Sharpitor1

The Sharpitor West single stone alignment includes a 132m long line of stones leading south west from a cairn at SX 55058 70749 and incorporates at least 54 stones, some of which are now recumbent. The alignment is situated on the south west facing slope of a pronounced ridge leading west from Sharpitor. Despite being a really rather obvious alignment it is sobering to note that this alignment was first recorded as recently as 1963. This is surprising because the alignment includes a number of large uprights and the terminal pillar stands 1.2m high.

Sea views framed by the land exist, but one particular phenomenon is worth a special mention. There are three arcs of visibility and the western one which is the smallest includes a second triangle formed by the estuary of the River Plym.  The effect is one triangle sitting above another one and for this reason “stacked triangles” seems an appropriate descriptive term. Such an arrangement could have been of special interest or significance to the alignment builders and may have influenced their choice of this site.  Sea-level changes combined with the considerable alterations to the estuary caused by tinworking waste are acknowledged problems and we cannot therefore be entirely confident that the estuary triangle would have appeared as it does today. This said it is probable that a water triangle of some form would have existed at this location perhaps formed by a slow flowing river rather than the estuary we see today.  The changes in the form the Plym estuary make it is impossible to establish the precise character of the original visual treat provided by the juxtaposition of the sea and river triangles but the evidence does strongly suggest that there would have been something which in turn could been acknowledged by this alignment. Individually the visual relationships between the sea and the alignments are simply observations of fact but taken together the repetitive pattern that is emerging points to a link and it is this cumulative weight of albeit circumstantial evidence which provides the backbone to support the contention that the siting and therefore the function of the rows was in some way directly associated with the interface between water, land and sky.

Sharpitor2

The terminal pillar at the south western end of the row. The flattened triangle of water formed by the Plym estuary is visible is a slither of white surrounded by land. When the alignment was erected sea levels were lower and the water may not have been visible from this point. Indeed it may have disappeared at this spot.

Views from the alignment

Two images derived from Google Earth are presented below. Up until now slightly enhanced and labelled images have been used. These views are all about the relationship between sky, water and land and I think that this new style portrays the crucial visual date more clearly. I would welcome your feedback on this change. This series of articles as well as presenting hopefully an interesting and fresh way of looking at this enigmatic form of monument is also intended to provide an insight into the archaeological research process – warts and all – and you are most welcome to contribute.

The first illustration represents the view from the lower south western end of the row and the second one from the top of the alignment.
Sharpitor3

View from the lower (south western) end of the alignment. A view to the sea and a pair of sea triangles are present.  The fourth expanse of water visible from the point is the Plym Estuary and the illusion of one triangle stacked upon another may have been of particular interest to the builders of this alignment.

Sharpitor4

Compared with some sites the difference between the views from the top and bottom of the row is very slight. More of the eastern sea view is visible from the top but otherwise there are apparently no remarkable differences. In reality the alignment may have been focussed on the triangle of estuary water. The sea levels were lower when the alignment was constructed and this may mean that originally the near water would have disappeared as one walked down along the row.

Sharpitor5

Map showing the arcs of visibility from the upper (north-eastern) 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. At the mid-winter solstice the “stacked triangle” arc of visibility should form the focus of the setting sun – certainly something worth checking out. 

Sharpitor6

This obvious stone alignment was not discovered until the 1960’s.

Previous articles in this series:

It’s amazing what you can find when you look. Back in 2007, Dartmoor expert Alan Endecott discovered an arc of recumbent stones high up on the moor, some 1700 or so feet (525m) above sea level.

Initial investigations of the area are now completed, and what Alan discovered has been identified as a previously unknown stone circle, some 112 feet (34m) in diameter, and consisting of 30 or 31 stones with extensive views in all directions. This is the highest stone circle recorded on Dartmoor thus far.

sittaford circle

The stones were previously all thought to be upright, due to the surviving presence of packing stones and the large stones themselves, all of a similar size, may have been quarried from nearby Sittaford Tor. The location of this new circle places it within an arc of known circles in the NE moor, which includes Buttern Hill, Scorhill, Shovel Down, Fernworthy and the Grey Wethers double circles, described by some as a ‘sacred arc’ which suggests some measure of wider landscape planning by the circle builders. Preliminary radio-carbon dating of samples taken from underneath the stones suggests that they had fallen close to the end of the 3rd millenium BC, some 4000 years ago.

Geophysical work at the site has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Funded scheme, Moor Than Meets The Eye. Although full results are not yet available, initial results have identified a possible linear ditch just outside the eastern side of the circle.

The find was announced in the announced in the January 2014 edition of the Devon Archaelogical Society Newsletter, No.117. Further investigation is planned later this summer, we’ll be watching this one with interest!

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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 the Leeden Tor stone alignment in the Meavy Valley on Dartmoor is examined.

LeedonMap

On the eastern slopes of Leeden Tor is a single stone row leading downhill from a somewhat maltreated cairn at SX 56524 71473. The alignment is at least 165m long and includes twelve stones, most of which are recumbent. Much of the damage to the cairn was probably caused during the Bronze Age when a reave (field boundary) was built over it. Lack of respect for antiquities is not a modern phenomenon but in this instance at least this behaviour has enabled us to establish with certainty that the cairn and row are earlier than the reave which is of Middle Bronze Age date. We can also be fairly confident that the ritual practices connected with the row had fallen from favour and now the area was being brought into agricultural use and the old rituals abandoned. We have already seen this type of behaviour at Hook Lake and it is clearly part of a widespread pattern. The evidence for the stone alignments being damaged in the Middle Bronze Age serves as a poignant reminder that changing beliefs and attitudes have consequences. What was once so important to the people living on Dartmoor became an irrelevance and the previous special places became mundane and disposable.  The Middle Bronze Age people on Dartmoor had no time for the rituals of earlier generations although perhaps an element of superstition ensured that the fabric of the earlier beliefs was not entirely swept away – for this we should be grateful.

The Leeden Tor alignment stands within an incredibly rich archaeological landscape including large numbers of cairns and stone alignments as well as Middle Bronze Age settlements, enclosures and field systems. The stone alignments at Hart Tor and Stanlake are visible from here and indeed seem to share noteworthy visual inter-relationships, some of which are considered below.

LeedonPlan

Simplified map showing the relative positions of the Leeden Tor, Stanlake and Hart Tor stone alignments. The Middle Bronze Age settlements in the vicinity are shown in black.

 Leedon01

 The lower end of the stone alignment. View from the north.

 Views from the alignment

A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the lower end (east), the second from the point mid-way along the length of the row and the third from the cairn at the top of the alignment.

LeedonGE01

Standing at the lowest point (eastern end) of the row a very restricted view towards the sea is visible.  It is hard to convey in words just how fleeting this sight of the sea is.  A few metres upslope (west) from this point the view is lost behind the lower slopes of Leeden Tor whilst about 20m to the east the sea vanishes behind Sharpitor.  We cannot be certain that the row terminated at this point but it is at this point and only at this point along its entire length that a view of the sea exists. This would suggest a very strong element of deliberation and provides further evidence to support the crucial link between alignments and the sea.

LeedonGE02

Ten metres west of the bottom of the alignment the sea is no longer visible.  Another huge coincidence or is the alignment acknowledging a link to the sea?  If so, the views to the sea must have been special to those who built the alignment and could have played a part in the rituals.

LeedonGE03

The sea remains hidden from view at the top of the row. An alternative view towards the east provides a further insight into why visual connections are likely to have been important to those who built and used the alignments.

LeedonGE04

From the top of the row the alignments at Hart Tor and the double row at Stanlake are visible (shown red).  The Stanlake row would have been particular impressive because from this position it would have been silhouetted against Raddick Hill. It may also be more than a coincidence that the Leeden Tor alignment points directly at the cairns at the southern end of the Stanlake alignment. This pair of clear visual links between the stone alignments provides further evidence of precise visual connections and these may have been important.

Leedon02

The lower eastern end of the alignment. View from west.

Mapping the Sea Triangles

LeedonView

The very restricted view from the bottom of the alignment provides a focussed view towards the sea. During the winter months at around 1.00pm a bead of bright light similar in character to the “Baily’s Beads” associated with total eclipses of the sun will be visible on clear days.

Source

Butler, J., 1994, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume Three – The South-West”, 50.

Previous articles in this series:

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the third of the three stone alignments at Drizzlecombe on Dartmoor is examined.

Driz1Map

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 fields 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 archaeological 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 3.

DrizPlan

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).

Row 3

This stone alignment measures 149.5m long and includes a single line of at least 69 slabs. The length of this alignment is exactly the same as Row 1 which is unlikely to be a coincidence and will have been important to their builders. The cairn at the top of the row is only 20m away from the one at the top of Row 2 and the view towards the sea is therefore only very slightly different. The row is far from straight and has a number of subtle changes in alignment along its length. This point is worth stressing because there is a popular misconception that these rows are absolutely straight. The lack of alignment precision indicates that an absolutely straight line of stones was not a necessary requirement for the builders and users of these places. Indeed given how easy it would have been to create a perfectly straight line this could not have always been seen as important.

Driz3-1

The stone alignment is far from straight and curves towards the terminal pillar. The alignment in background is Row 2. View from south west.

Driz3-2

The sinuous character of this alignment is clear. Could it be that the stones were erected beside an existing path?  The plan form is very reminiscent of paths leading between two points. The stones may therefore be waymarking a ritual route which had already become important to the people who lived here in the Late Neolithic. 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 mid-way along the length of the row and the third from the terminal pillar.

Driz3-3

The view from the top of the alignment is very similar to that from the cairn at the top of Row 2. Despite the close proximity of the two viewpoints it would seem that the western sea triangle might be entirely closed with the closure being provided by the Cornish coast leading south from St Austell. The precision of this visual inter-relationship is of considerable interest and potential significance and certainly merits further exploration.

Driz3-4

As one walks downhill along the alignment all three sea triangles shrink, being seemingly swallowed up by the land. The closed sea triangle on the west may have been of particular interest. If one accepts the hypothesis that prehistoric peoples had a particular interest in the boundary between land and water this phenomenon which we have seen at many sites provides a strong, albeit circumstantial, case that this interest may have influenced or indeed determined with a degree of precision the positioning of their alignments.

Driz3-5

At the point where the alignment ends the very last vestiges of the eastern sea triangle are visible. Effectively the terminal pillar denotes the point at which the sea views disappear. Again the precision of this relationship really does imply a strong correlation between the row and the sea.  The frequency of such precise relationships supports the idea that stone alignments were sited to acknowledge, denote and celebrate the  boundary between  the land, water and sky.

Driz3-6

The stone alignment leads away from the cairn in the foreground. View from north east.

Mapping the Sea Triangles

Driz3 Profile

The views from the top of the row are almost identical to those from row 2 and the same map is used to illustrate the arcs of visibility. The eastern arc also includes the Shaugh Moor alignment cairn as well as the sea. 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 5 minutes at 3.25pm, the central arc for 20 minutes from 3.45pm and the western arc for about 30 minutes from around 4.15pm (all times are modern!).

Source

Butler, J., 1994, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume Three – The South-West” 135-142.

The wealth of evidence keeps building! As ever, we are indebted to Dr Sandy Gerrard for his ongoing research on this story. Previous articles in this series:

We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the second of the three stone alignments at Drizzlecombe on Dartmoor is examined.

Driz2Map

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 archaeological 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 2.

DrizPlan

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).

Row 2

This stone alignment measures 83.2m long including at least 11 slabs. The cairn at the upper end is surrounded by a circle stones and at the lower end is a 4.2m high granite pillar. The amount of effort involved in erecting this stone suggests that it denotes a special place at the end of a significant linear feature. The placing of large stones at the end of alignments is a recognised feature of many rows, but is epitomised at Drizzlecombe where all three alignments terminals are denoted in this way. Another characteristic of stone alignments is the variable size of the stones used to form the row. This row includes stones of many different sizes.

Driz2-01

A mixture of tiny, small and large stones lead towards a particularly impressive terminal stone. The alignment in background is Row 1. View from north east.

Driz2-02

The alignment approaching the terminal pillar. The large mound in the background is the Giant’s Basin cairn. A ring of rushes around the foot of the cairn suggests the presence of a buried ditch. This is an unusual feature of Dartmoor cairns. It is perhaps worth emphasising that none of the rows at Drizzlecombe are aligned upon this most impressive of cairns and are instead intimately associated with smaller less dramatic examples. This is a phenomenon that has been noted at other places. View from north.

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 mid-way along the length of the row and the third from the terminal pillar.

Driz2-03

The view from the top of the alignment provides views of three sea triangles. The triangle on the left would also be framed by the cairn at the top of the Shaugh Moor stone alignment.  The triangle on the right includes distant views to the Cornish coast.

Driz2-04

As one walks downhill along the alignment all three sea triangles shrink, being seemingly swallowed up by the land. If one accepts the hypothesis that prehistoric peoples had a particular interest in the boundary between land and water this phenomenon which we have seen at many sites provides a strong, albeit circumstantial, case that this interest may have influenced or indeed determined with a degree of precision the positioning of their alignments.

Driz2-05

At the point where the alignment stops the western triangle has disappeared and the remaining two are much smaller. The disappearance of the western sea triangle may correlate precisely with the end of the row, but unfortunately Google Earth is not detailed enough to provide this degree of resolution. If field observations can confirm that the third triangle disappears at this precise spot another powerful piece of evidence will have been obtained.

Driz2-06

The stone alignment approaching the terminal pillar. Could this pillar have provided further fine tuning for the special views towards the sea. Standing in one spot both sea triangles would be hidden and the slightest shift in position would reveal first one and then the other. This type of reveal seems to be a characteristic of the alignments and may have manifested itself in different ways. View from north.

Mapping the Sea Triangles

Driz2Prof

Three 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. 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 5 minutes at 3.25pm, the central arc for 20 minutes from 3.45pm and the western arc for about 30 minutes from around 4.15pm (all times are modern!). So should you be lucky enough to be at Drizzlecombe on a fine day in the late afternoon in December or January have a look for yourself and let the Heritage Journal know what you saw.

Source

Butler, J., 1994, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume Three – The South-West” 135-142.

As ever, we are indebted to Dr Sandy Gerrard for his ongoing research on this story. Previous articles in this series:

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