Possible evidence of early Neolithic farming communities

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Exploration of Dartmoor’s tor enclosure sites of White Tor and Dewerstone have revealed what might prove to be evidence of the moor’s very early farming communities.

Postholes and circular structures have been discovered and charcoal recovered from just below the surface. The charcoal is particularly important as it can be radiocarbon dated and might well show that these sites were occupied by people in the early Neolithic period, around 3,500 BC. The results are due soon.

Archaeological survivals from such early periods of the human past are rare and their presence on these sites, just inches below the surface, is a demonstration of Dartmoor’s archaeological importance.

The work was carried out as part of the Dartmoor Tor Enclosure Survey project, a collaborative effort between the University of Leicester and Dartmoor National Park Authority and funded by the Royal Society of Antiquaries.

Dr Laura Basell, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Leicester and Project Director, said: “Even though sites we’re looking at could be amongst the oldest prehistoric built structures that still exist on the moor, we know very little about them.

‘We’re only in the early stages of the project but already the results suggest these monuments are a lot more complex than we previously thought. It’s been great to collaborate with Dartmoor National Park Authority, landowners and managers to improve our understanding of these fascinating sites.”

Project Co-Director and Dartmoor National Park Authority Archaeologist Dr Lee Bray said: “White Tor and Dewerstone offer an invaluable opportunity for us to shed light on the lives and beliefs of Dartmoor’s earliest farming communities and improve our understanding of how they saw the world around them.

‘This has huge significance, not only for Dartmoor’s archaeology but for the study of prehistory in the South West and Britain more widely.”
The excavation was very restricted and high-specification survey methods were used. The goal is to improve understanding of the tor enclosures’ precise age and broader prehistoric landscape context.

The archaeologists said: “Both Dewerstone, near Shaugh Prior, and White Tor, above Peter Tavy, have long been recognised as potential sites of Neolithic activity. Some excavations were carried out in the 19th Century at White Tor by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee who reported finding Neolithic stone tools, pottery and charcoal. Sadly, the finds have been lost.”

Dartmoor National Park and the University of Leicester want to share their findings and are holding guided ‘Walks in Ancient Places’ at White Tor on Friday, 10th January at 11am and Dewerstone on Sunday, 12th January at 11.30am.

Walkers will be able to take a look at key landscape features, talk about the history of research at the sites, and hear about the fieldwork methods used. Places are limited and are likely to fill fast so booking is essential. More details, including parking and what to bring/wear, will be provided on sign-up.

To book a place email torenclosures@gmail.com or phone Dr Lee Bray on 01626 831035.

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