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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 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.

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

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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:

Heritage Action member Mark Camp is an author and tour guide. Here, he relates some of his thoughts about the Colvannick stone row on Bodmin Moor.

Colvannick1

According to the Modern Antiquarian website, it’s 11 years since I ‘discovered’ this stone row. At the time I was relatively new to prehistoric sites, being more interested in industrial archaeology, and so was happy just to snap a few photos and try to trace the row through the gorse bushes.

In the years since I think I must have visited every stone row on Bodmin Moor, from the tiny row at Carneglos to the undulating row on Fox Tor. I have talked about them on guided walks and given talks about them, but in all that time I have never been able to describe to people why they are where they are. On Dartmoor rows tend to have a reason, in that they nearly always terminate at a cairn or taller stone, but not on Bodmin Moor. They don’t follow any particular direction, often they are not on the skyline, or even high enough to be seen above the grass!

I came to the conclusion that Bodmin Moor’s stone rows were rows of stones and could be where they are for many reasons. I have not even found any proof to suggest they were all erected at the same time, whatever time they were supposed to be erected. I have always taken it for granted that they date back to the Bronze Age and were built by the same people who created stone circles and erected standing stones. But I don’t make any claims to being an expert and as I say to people who walk with me, I can only give you my ideas, I may be completely wrong!

But recently, through the Heritage Journal, the thoughts of Dr Sandy Gerrard have been brought to my attention. I was lucky to meet up with Sandy on Bodmin Moor a few weeks ago when he was giving a guided walk on industrial archaeology. After looking at humps and bumps and the occasional hole for a few hours we got to talking about stone rows and his thoughts on their setting in the landscape. Sandy has put forward the idea that rows lead to viewing points, maybe of the sea or a hill or other features in the landscape. To see an example of this check out his thoughts on Leedon Tor and his other posts on the same subject.

Bearing this in mind, I recently retraced my steps to Colvannick Tor, just off the A30 in the middle of Bodmin Moor. It’s not the most visited part of the moor and looking back on The Modern Antiquarian, I was the last person to add any postings from there… and that was August 2004! Which surprises me as it is only a short walk from a layby and much easier to access than say Fernacre Circle or even the Cheesewring! Saying that, I actually approached from a southerly direction, parking beside the Millpool firing range and walking via St Bellarmins Tor.

The first stone you come across is close to one of the range marker posts (a word of warning, don’t go looking for the row on a day when the red flags are flying – you might get shot!) and is all on its own. Is this the southern end of the row? It’s difficult to say, there are no other standing stones nearby and you cannot make out the main body of the row from here, so is it part of the row or was the row longer, or is it just a stone that is standing? Working on Dr Gerrard’s idea, the only feature in the landscape that comes into view at this point is the main tumuli/cairn on top of Brown Gelly to the east. Until this point it has been hidden by other hills.

From here there is no way of working out where the other stones are, it’s just a matter of walking in a general direction northwards. Recent cutting down of gorse in the area has cleared things a little but it’s still a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact I missed the next stone and had to double back to find it. This is the leaning monster that I first found back in 2004. And from here it is possible to pick up the row heading north (or to be correct NNW). There are four uprights/leaning/lying stones here, all a good size, and from them it is possible to continue on the same bearing to find the last stone further on. This stone is a good four foot high and there is another stone lying nearby on the same bearing. Like the southern stone, you ask the question, is this the end stone?

I am pretty certain there are no more stones standing between here and the A30 but that doesn’t mean there are not some lying in amongst the gorse. Like most of Bodmin Moor the area is also littered with stones, plus in the early 1900s there was a China Clay works built nearby and chances are some stone was sourced locally for building work. But let’s take it that this is the northern end of the row, what can we see?

Away to the north east are the two summits of Roughtor and Brown Willy, but we have been able to see them all the way up the row, so are they relevant to the end stone? Looking south you can see the sea, probably St Austell Bay in the distance and to the east several hills including Brown Gelly. But from here looking west we have Colvannick Tor blocking any view, its actual summit out of site and in the low evening light it is just a mass of shadow and gorse.

But then I spot something. Atop of the hill, in amongst the silhouettes of gorse there appears to be a stone. I might not have seen it in daylight, or I might have taken it for a sheep. I decided to make for it, just to check it out. It was a stone, not the tallest, only about two to three feet high, but from it the view west suddenly opens out and I can see down over the moor and out across the fields to the shining sea beyond the north Cornwall coast. Is that why the stone was put there? If I had continued northwards from the row I am not sure if I would have got the view before another hill came along, so this summit was a lookout point.

Colvannick2

What’s more, as I stood there I thought I could make out a broken circle of stones radiating out from the standing stone. Now I have ‘imagined’ stone circles on the moor before and I am not making any claims here, but there are stones there and they create a circle of a similar size to others on the moor.

Colvannick3

This is just an observation by somebody who enjoys walking the moor and has no archaeological expertise apart from what I have read in books along the way. I feel that the landscape offers much more than what a book ever can, but at the same time we need experts to decipher what we can see. Colvannick Row is there for everybody to look at and next time you hurtle down the A30 towards West Penwith, take time out and stop just past the Temple turn and have a walk across the moor, see what you can see?

Colvannick map

Our thanks go to Mark for being inspired by Sandy’s work, getting out there to look for himself, and then submitting this article.

Afterword: Sandy Gerrard has subsequently desk-checked this row, and his findings will appear in a followup article in the near future.

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:

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:

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.

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 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.

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 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.

Previous articles in this series:

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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