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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.

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 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.

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 1

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.

Driz1-01

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.

Driz1-02

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.

Driz1-03

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.

Driz1-04

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.

Driz1-05

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

Driz1Prof

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.

Source

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

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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 Ringmoor Down stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.

RingmoorMap

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.

 RingmoorDowntop

Kerbed cairn at the top of the stone alignment. View from north.

RingmoorDownlower

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.

Ringmoor01

Looking south from the northern end of the row. This spot lies within a natural basin and there are limited views in every direction.

Ringmoor02

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.

Ringmoor03

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.

Ringmoor04

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.

Ringmoor05

A pair of sea triangles are visible from the cairn at the top.

RingmoorArc

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.

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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 Burford Down stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.

BurfordDownMap

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.

Burford01

View from the lower (northern) end of the alignment. A view to the sea and a pair of sea triangles are present.

Burford02

As one proceeds along the row the view is initially maintained. (34m from lower end)

Burford03

After 128m the sea view is transformed into a sea triangle by the rising ground of Burford Down in the foreground.

Burford04

After 168m only the westernmost sea triangle is visible. The other two disappeared in the course of 40m.

Burford05

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.

Burford06

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.

Burford07

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.

BurfordArc01

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.

BurfordArc02

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.

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

BFH Map

The double stone alignment situated on the south west facing slope of Brent Fore Hill forms part of a discrete cluster of prehistoric funerary monuments including a long cairn and large numbers of round cairns. The stone alignment itself includes a double row of stones leading downslope for 120m from a kerbed cairn at SX 66843 61367. Walking upslope along this alignment a remarkable “reveal” is experienced. The view from the bottom of the alignment is very restricted but as one walks uphill a view eastwards towards South Devon and the sea emerges as if from the ground as the cairn at the top is approached.  From the cairn two sea triangles are visible of which the northern one is “closed” by the coast of Dorset in the background. When first revealed the southern sea triangle is split into two by a small hill in the distance but at the top of the alignment the two triangles merge.

BFH1

Many stones within this alignment are hidden beneath gorse bushes.

BFH2

The view from the lower end of the alignment is very restricted. The line denotes the approximate position of the alignment.

BFH3

63m from the top of the alignment there is still no view of the sea.

BFH4

45m from the top of the alignment a pair of sea triangles appear from behind the brow of the hill. A small hill in the far distance separates the triangles from each other.

BFH5

As one proceeds up the hill the triangles grow in size.

BFH6

Just as one reaches the cairn at the top of the alignment the pair of sea triangles on the right merge into one and a second triangle appears on the left. The second triangle is of the “closed variety”. The top of a closed sea triangle is formed by land rather than the sky and in this case the Jurassic Coast provides the closure.

The transition from restricted views to extensive ones incorporating specific types of sea view is now being recognised as common-place amongst the Dartmoor alignments. Obviously this feature is not shared by all alignments and there are many with no views to the sea at all. Variation in form is a recognised characteristic of the alignments and it would therefore be surprising if all of them shared an identical topographic setting. This said, a case is certainly building to support the idea that many alignments were designed to channel people along a specific route where significant changes in the appearance of the landscape could be observed and perhaps celebrated.  This is most obviously manifested with the sea triangles but other significant features in the landscape could have been signified in this way. The crucial aspect appears to be that the “waymarked route” was designed to provide at least one “reveal”.

Profile Analysis

An examination of cross-sectional profiles from the alignment to the sea allows the arcs of inter-visibility to be plotted onto a map. The juxtaposition of the hills in the middle distance block other views to the sea and thereby create the small clearly defined triangles of visible sea.

BFH ProfMap

This map shows the maximum arcs of visibility from the cairn at the top of the Brent Fore Hill stone alignment. Arc A is visible only from the top of the alignment and is closed by the Jurassic Coast. Arc B is the first one to come into sight and evolves from a pair of conjoined triangles into a single much larger one when viewed from the top.

BFH Prof1

Cross-sectional profile along the centre of the arc of visibility “A”. This indicates that the nearest visible sea is around 32km from Brent Fore Hill with the coast of Dorset beyond.

BFH Prof2

Cross-sectional profile along the centre of the arc of visibility “B”. This indicates that the nearest visible sea is around 28km from Brent Fore Hill.

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Archaeological site identification is not an exact science. Differences in opinion are common and often consensus can be elusive. As our understanding improves some earlier interpretations are seen as ridiculous whilst others are enhanced. The Ordnance Survey surveyors working on Dartmoor towards the end of the 19th century were well aware of the presence of stone rows and duly recorded and labelled them on their maps as stone rows or avenues. However when they reached the Erme Valley and  encountered the 3.3km line of stones leading from SX 63512 64443 to SX 63662 67797 they concluded that it could not be a stone row – because, well it was a whole lot longer than any of the others they had seen. So despite the fact that it terminated in a fine kerbed cairn they chose instead to describe it as a “stone trackway”. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Cadw consider the great length of the Bancbryn stone alignment to be a major reason for doubting its prehistoric credentials. Perhaps one day they too will concede that a line of stones (no matter how long) leading from a cairn is very likely to be a prehistoric stone alignment. Time will tell.

Interpretations

Although originally considered to be a trackway by Victorian surveyors this line of stones in the Upper Erme Valley is now accepted as a stone alignment.

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

HookLake Map

The double stone alignment at Hook Lake within the Erme Valley is surrounded by hills and it is therefore remarkable that it includes a view towards a sea triangle formed by Stall Moor on the right and Stalldown Barrow on the left. The stone alignment itself includes a double row of stones leading downslope for 227m from a kerbed cairn at SX 64110 65330. The row is partly incorporated into a later prehistoric round house and enclosure. A sea triangle is visible from the top of the row and diminishes in size as one walks down along the row and finally disappears approximately 100m from the lower end. This characteristic of alignments including a length with very restricted views to the sea and another length with no sea views is repeated at a significant number of alignments and the frequency strongly suggests an element of deliberation. The hypothesis being presented is that the alignments were deliberately located and positioned in places where specific landmarks such as sea triangles would change in form as you walk along the carefully defined routeway. Utilising the natural topography the alignment builders were able to replicate this time and time again at different places on the moor.

HookLake

The stone alignment in the foreground is incorporated into the later prehistoric enclosure wall

HookLakeGE1

From the top of the alignment the sea triangle is a prominent and eye-catching natural phenomenon. Under specific lighting conditions and at a particular time of day it would have manifested itself as triangle of bright light.

HookLakeGE2

Half way down the alignment the sea triangle is considerably reduced in size and 100m from the end the sea disappears from view.

HookLakeGE3

The lower length of the row has no views to the sea. This Google Earth image is from the lower end of the row illustrates that the sea is no longer visible.

Profile Analysis

An examination of cross-sectional profiles from the row to the sea allows the arc of inter-visibility to be plotted onto a map. The juxtaposition of the nearby hills block other views to the sea and thereby create the small clearly defined triangle of visible sea.

HookLake ProfMap

This map shows the maximum arc of visibility from the Hook Lake double stone alignment. This diminishes rapidly as one moves downward along the row until just over half way the sea disappears behind the lower slopes of Stall Moor.  The alignment is situated within a valley with much higher ground on three sides and indeed the restricted partial view to the sea is all the more remarkable because of prominent hills on the remaining side.

HookLake Profile

Cross-sectional profile along the centre of the arc of visibility indicates that the nearest visible sea is just under 32km from Hook Lake.

This article is the latest in a series by Dr Sandy Gerard, looking at the commonality of features in a variety of stone rows in the southwest.

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 Hart Tor stone alignments on Dartmoor are examined.

Hart Tor Map

The Heritage Journal has been to this site before.  On that occasion the remains of the two stone alignments and four cairns were explored. The complex is largely situated on a gentle south west facing slope at SX 57638 71675 and includes a kerbed cairn with a double alignment leading downslope; another cairn with a single alignment and two further cairns one of which is on the western side of the river. The site sits within the Meavy valley is surrounded by hills and seems at first to be an unlikely candidate for views to the sea.

Hart Tor 01

Kerbed cairn at the top of the double stone alignment. View looking towards the south west.

A recent visit confirmed that this was not the case and the sea is visible from much of the lower length of the double alignment and the two western cairns. The small sea triangle is formed by nearby Raddick Hill and slightly more distant Leather Tor and disappears as you move upslope towards the cairns at the top.  The reason for this is that the nearby Raddick Hill blocks the view to the sea from the upper part of the complex. The sub-division of ritual complexes into those parts where a precise and often extremely limited view of the sea is visible and parts with no such views is becoming a recognised feature of many sites.  This developing pattern suggests that the limits of sea view inter-visibility were significant to the alignment builders. A simple explanation would be that these types of locations were selected because this was an important consideration for the alignment builders and that therefore in turn the sea triangle shrinking or growing, appearing and disappearing (depending on direction of travel) is likely to have played a part in the ritual. Simple analogies would be moving from light to darkness or ignorance to knowledge or even the journey of life.  Whatever the reason a very particular, precise and quantifiable relationship between many stone alignments and the sea has now been recognised.

Views from the alignment

A series of images from Google Earth are presented below. The first one represents the view from the lower (south western) 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.

Hart Tor GE1

Sea triangle visible from the lower end of the double alignment

Hart Tor GE2

As one proceeds eastward up the row the triangle rapidly disappears behind the blocking hill in the foreground.

Hart Tor GE3

Eighteen metres from the top cairn the last vestiges of the sea triangle disappear behind the hills.

Hart Tor GE4

At the kerbed cairn at the top of the alignment the sea is no longer visible.

 Profile Analysis

An examination of cross-sectional profiles from the row to the sea allows the arc of inter-visibility to be plotted onto a map. The juxtaposition of the nearby hills block other views to the sea and thereby create the small clearly defined triangle of visible sea.

Hart Tor ProfileMap

This map shows the maximum arc of visibility from the Hart Tor double stone alignment. This diminishes rapidly as one moves upward along the row.  It may be significant to note that the western edge is the last to be lost from sight and this coincides with two coastal headlands one of which is Penlee Point upon which the Shaugh Moor alignment is orientated.

Hart Tor Profile 01

Cross-sectional profile along the centre of the arc of visibility indicates that the nearest visible sea is just under 24km from Hart Tor.

Hart Tor Profile 02

Cross-sectional profile of the western side of the arc of visibility.  Note that the upper parts of Redding Point and Penlee Point are visible.

This article is the latest in a series by Dr Sandy Gerard, looking at the commonality of features in a variety of stone rows in the southwest.

Previous articles in this series:

On high ground between the valleys of the Newleycombe Lake and Narrator Brook at SX 58690 69273 is the impressive Hingston Hill stone alignment.

Hingston Map

The alignment is far from straight and in common with many others on Dartmoor it has clearly defined, restricted and contrived views to the sea. At a single point along the alignment the sea disappears or appears depending on your direction of travel. This phenomenon  is a recurring feature of many rows and very strongly supports the hypothesis that there is a direct visual relationship between the rows and the sea and that therefore the alignment builders were seeking at the very least to denote this.  Many of the rows appear to have been specifically positioned and orientated to achieve this special form of inter-visibility and indeed in some instances the siting of the rows is so precise that if they had been positioned just a few metres from their present position or aligned a few degrees differently no sea views would be visible from them.  At Hingston Hill if the alignment had been sited 20m north or south the tantalising sea view would not be visible. Even more interestingly if the row had been extended a few more metres further to the west the kerbed cairn at the end which currently lies within an area without sea views would have fallen within an area with a view to the sea.

The Hingston Hill alignment in common with many rows falls into two discrete areas – a length with views to the sea and a length with no such views. The eastern part of the alignment travels through an area from which a sea triangle is visible. Under certain lighting conditions this will appear as a small triangular white light until as you get to 80m from the western end it suddenly disappears. I can accept that if this happened at one or two sites this could be a coincidence, but this phenomenon is repeated time and time again as we shall see during the coming months. The evidence that many alignments were specifically built to denote the routes along which this happens is cumulatively compelling and I hope to present a convincing case to support an explanation for why many alignments are positioned where they are.  Acceptance of this argument may in turn provide an insight into the character or perhaps the mind-set of those who built and used these monuments.

The computer generated images presented below were generated using the “ground level-view” available within Google Earth. Fieldwork elsewhere has confirmed that this is a reliable though not infallible tool.

This sinuous stone alignment measures 351m long and includes a line of at least 174 stones leading eastward from a kerbed cairn at SX 58690 69273.

The view from the eastern end of the stone alignment shows a sea triangle formed between Trowlesworthy on the left and Gutter Tor.

As one walks westward along the row the sea triangle remains visible after 100m:

Hingston 3

After 200m the sea triangle retains its form. If the row had been placed a short distance to the north or south, this view would not exist.

Hingston 4

80m from the end of the row the sea triangle starts to rapidly vanish behind rising ground on Hingston Hill:

Hingston 5

At the top of the row the view to the sea is blocked by the rising ground of Hingston Hill and the kerbed cairn is hidden from the sea:

Hingston 6

Profile Analysis

An examination of cross-sectional profiles from the row to the sea allows the arc of inter-visibility to be plotted onto a map. The juxtaposition of the nearby hills block other views to the sea and thereby create the small clearly defined triangle of visible sea.

Hingston Map2

A cross-section along the centre of the arc illustrates the character of the topography within the arc of inter-visibility and shows why much of the land between the alignment and sea cannot be seen.

Hingston Profile

This article is the latest in a series by Dr Sandy Gerard, lookng at the commonality of features in a variety of stones rows in the southwest.

Previous articles in the series:

In January 2012 a previously unrecorded alignment of stones was identified on the southern slope of Bancbryn, Carmarthenshire. Subsequent research has indicated that this stone alignment shares many characteristics with examples in South West England, but one particular aspect – a specific and pronounced visual link to the sea and a coastal headland – apparently had no English parallels.  Preliminary research has revealed that this is not the case and that many of the Dartmoor rows have been specifically positioned and orientated taking often precise cognisance of the local topography to create tangible visual links with the sea.

This new series of articles by Sandy Gerrard will investigate and document these alignments and over time build a compelling body of evidence to support the hypothesis that many stone alignments represent special way-marked routes which were designed to provide the “traveller” with extraordinary visual treats. In turn this discovery may provide fresh insights into the character of Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age society.

Location of the Shaugh Moor stone alignment.

Location of the Shaugh Moor stone alignment.

Leading up a gentle north facing slope of Shaugh Moor at SX 55422 63429 on Dartmoor is a single stone row which was discovered by Hugh Breton in 1917. The row is aligned approximately NNE to SSW and is at least 179m long. Walking along the row from its lower NNE end the nearby sea is hidden from sight. As one proceeds up the hill the sea framed by the headlands of Staddon Heights and Penlee Point appears at precisely the point where the row shifts alignment to point directly at Staddon Heights. From this point as you continue walking along the row the sea view slowly develops into a spectacular vista as you reach the cairn at the top. The appearance of the sea view at the precise spot where the alignment changes course very strongly supports the idea that the row was positioned to maximise and emphasise a particular visual relationship between the row and sea.

An identical relationship was recognised at Bancbryn where adjustments in the orientation of the alignment were visually connected to the sea and a prominent headland. To dismiss such observations as coincidence would seem unwise particularly as a growing body of evidence is building of similar precise relationships between stone alignments and prominent features in the landscape.

The stone alignment includes a line of small stones leading NNE up a gentle slope on Shaugh Moor.

The stone alignment includes a line of small stones leading NNE up a gentle slope on Shaugh Moor.

The lower end of stone alignment. View from above and south west. This length of the alignment has no views towards Plymouth Sound.

The lower end of stone alignment. View from above and south west. This length of the alignment has no views towards Plymouth Sound.

View from above and north east of the stone alignment. The length of row in the foreground up to the alignment shift has no views of Plymouth Sound. The length of alignment in the background has views of Penlee Point, Staddon Heights and Plymouth Sound.

View from above and north east of the stone alignment. The length of row in the foreground up to the alignment shift has no views of Plymouth Sound. The length of alignment in the background has views of Penlee Point, Staddon Heights and Plymouth Sound.

At the point where the alignment shifts Staddon Heights, Penlee Point and Plymouth Sound become visible for the first time

At the point where the alignment shifts Staddon Heights, Penlee Point and Plymouth Sound become visible for the first time

View from the point where the alignment shifts. Penlee Point is clearly visible although Staddon Heights is hidden behind a gorse bush.  From this point as you walk up the row the sea becomes increasingly visible.

View from the point where the alignment shifts. Penlee Point is clearly visible although Staddon Heights is hidden behind a gorse bush. From this point as you walk up the row the sea becomes increasingly visible.

View of the upper part of the row. The photograph is taken from a short distance west of the row because a gorse bush obscures the direct view to Staddon Heights along the row.

View of the upper part of the row. The photograph is taken from a short distance west of the row because a gorse bush obscures the direct view to Staddon Heights along the row.

View from above of the upper part of the row illustrates that it is aligned with the western end of Staddon Heights.

View from above of the upper part of the row illustrates that it is aligned with the western end of Staddon Heights.

View from the top of the row as it would appear with low sunlight on the water. This is view available at the top of the row and is slowly revealed after passing the alignment shift point.

View from the top of the row as it would appear with low sunlight on the water. This is view available at the top of the row and is slowly revealed after passing the alignment shift point.

Profile Analysis

A helpful way to illustrate the character of the local topography is with a series of cross-sectional profiles. The first shows the profile from the cairn at the top of the alignment to Penlee Point. The sea is visible in front and behind the headland. The second profile illustrates that the Plym Estuary is visible as a small body of water from the alignment as well as Plymouth Sound beyond. The third profile illustrates the impact of Staddon Heights on restricting but not preventing a view to the sea. This technique for examining the views from stone alignments will be utilised at other sites to demonstrate particular links between rows and the sea.

Map showing the position of the cross-section profiles.

Map showing the position of the cross-section profiles.

Cross-section profiles from the alignment to the sea.  The water visible from the alignment is shown blue.

Cross-section profiles from the alignment to the sea. The water visible from the alignment is shown blue.

Sea Levels and Forests

The late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age natural environment would have been somewhat different than today’s.  Sea level would have been lower and distribution of tree cover would have been rather different.  The sea level is unlikely to be a significant factor given the distances involved, but clearly a single copse in the foreground in the wrong place could significantly affect the character of views and any reveals.  Clearly there is no way that we can establish the precise character or distribution of woodland at the time the rows were built and therefore it is not possible to factor this in. This is unfortunate but the evidence for strong, deliberate visual links between the sea and many rows would support the idea that the major topographic features being acknowledged by the rows are likely to have presented themselves in a similar if not identical way today.  The journey is hopefully one that you agree is worth making – if lack of conclusive evidence was seen as a reason not to pursue explanations then the library shelves in the archaeology section would be very empty indeed.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank a number of people who have helped formulate the ideas behind this series of articles. In particular, special thanks are due to Helen Woodley who has generously contributed many of her thoughts and observations regarding sea triangles and their association with prehistoric monuments. George Currie, Nigel Swift, Alan Simkins and Sophie Smith have provided much useful feedback and suggested helpful directions. Finally I would like to thank Cadw whose infuriating failure to acknowledge the obvious provided the impetus for this re-appraisal of this enigmatic group of monuments.

By Dr Sandy Gerrard

Earlier reports on the Bancbryn stone alignment have demonstrated a visual link with Hartland Point in Devon. The very precise nature of this link strongly supports the idea that the alignment was placed to take advantage of the views created by a blocking hill in the foreground. Recent work in SW England has found that this is a pattern that is repeated many times and in the coming months the preliminary results of this work will be reported here. In the meantime, this research has also revealed a particularly interesting and significant relationship between the Bancbryn alignment and the Nine Maidens stone alignment in Cornwall. The Nine Maidens is an alignment consisting of large upright slabs which was first described in the early part of the 17th century.

Nine Maidens stone alignment leading up a gentle hill towards The Fiddler from which there is a view of Hartland Point. The orientation of the alignment is directly towards Hartland Point.

Nine Maidens stone alignment leading up a gentle hill towards The Fiddler from which there is a view of Hartland Point. The orientation of the alignment is directly towards Hartland Point.

The alignment survives within enclosed farmland and has as a result suffered significant damage. Despite this the alignment includes a line of stones leading up a gentle south facing slope towards a single stone known as the Fiddler situated on the north brow of the hill. From The Fiddler there is a view towards Hartland Point, but most significantly the surviving length of the alignment is on the same orientation as the length at Bancbryn which points at Hartland Point. The significance of this relationship is most easily expressed by a map showing the position of all three places.

Map illustrating the orientation of the Nine Maidens and Bancbryn stone alignments

Map illustrating the orientation of the Nine Maidens and Bancbryn stone alignments

It would therefore appear that two separate alignments are pointing at the same prominent natural feature as well as including a large body of sea. Indeed on mainland Britain this is probably the largest single expanse of water that could have been treated in this way.  This may be significant or a coincidence, although it is perhaps worth mentioning at this juncture that a large number of SW English alignments have convincing and demonstrable links with the sea and that the precision of their siting can be explained purely in terms of visual references to the sea. These exciting new discoveries will be presented in future articles.

Simplified plan of the Nine Maidens stone alignment and associated cairns. Cairns denoted by red circles have sea views whilst the green ones do not.

Simplified plan of the Nine Maidens stone alignment and associated cairns. Cairns denoted by red circles have sea views whilst the green ones do not.

Simplified plan of the Bancbryn stone alignment and associated cairns.

Simplified plan of the Bancbryn stone alignment and associated cairns.

This far we have established that the Bancbryn and Nine Maidens alignments share the same broad orientation (remembering that alignments are very rarely precisely straight) and that their uppermost lengths are also aligned towards Hartland Point. The two alignments share a number of other details. Both separate discrete clusters of cairns and both include lengths which do not have sight of Hartland Point. The southern lengths of both alignments have no views of the sea and therefore in simplistic terms whilst progressing along both alignments a point is reached where the sea appears and disappears. This point may have been of particular importance and is marked at Bancbryn by a shift in the orientation. Sadly at the Nine Maidens this part of the alignment has been removed.

If we start from the premise that alignments were designed to denote a special and very particular route it is perhaps more than a little significant that both alignments include lengths with only local outlooks leading to lengths with far reaching views including the sea. I would suggest that should this be repeated regularly at other sites then we are perhaps getting closer to an understanding as to why stone alignments were built where they are although details of any rituals along the way will inevitably remain obscure. The importance of topography in the siting of other classes of ritual and funerary monuments of this broad period is universally accepted. The barrow in a prominent position so that it can be viewed from afar may disappear for a short time as you approach it before being finally revealed as you reach it.  Some journeys through ritual landscapes were clearly special enough to be marked with stones and it is therefore not surprising to find particular themes being repeated time and time again along the journey.

There is more to come in this fascinating series over the coming weeks – Ed.

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