We know that people were visiting Dartmoor to hunt over 10,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until about 4,500 years ago that people began to settle in large numbers to farm the land.
These first farmers settled in upland Dartmoor because it would have been more open than the heavily wooded valleys below. They would have had to clear dense thickets of alder and hazel before they could start farming the land, with nothing more than simple hand tools.
These Bronze Age settlers lived in round huts with strong granite walls and thatched roofs. They gathered in small communities, often protected by a defensive wall. As they cleared the land, they divided the landscape with long stone boundary walls, called reaves. These ran in parallel lines for several miles across the land, and traces of them can be seen as low boundaries on the open moor, or fossilised within later dry stone walls. The landscape must have held particular significance for them because they constructed within it, important monuments, such as stone rows and stone circles.
Across the moor there are many burial mounds or cairns and cists (stone-lined graves). Archaeologists think that only the most important people in Bronze Age society would have been buried like this.
One of the most exciting discoveries made on Dartmoor in the last one hundred years has been the Whitehorse Hill cist. It became visible as the peat around it naturally eroded. Archaeologists got special permission to excavate it, and found the cremated remains of a young woman, buried with some incredible objects over 4,000 years ago. We’ll be sharing more information in a post about these finds later this morning.
To find out more about life on Bronze Age Dartmoor, take a look at the film, ‘Bronze Age Dartmoor – The Life of Marghwen’ (running time 9 mins 10 secs).
Or why not watch one of Dartmoor National Park’s character films? This one sees Cass talking about her journey with a trading party, travelling from Dartmoor to the coast, to trade tin from the moor with amber from the Baltic (running time 3 mins 18 secs).
If you’re a teacher, educator, parent or carer, explore some Bronze Age learning resources and learn how our ancestors lived and died on the moor.
Dartmoor is one of the most important sites for Bronze Age archaeology in Western Europe and contains over 8,000 historic features reflecting human activity in the area for over 3,550. Discover Bronze Age Dartmoor from your own home with an interactive Heritage Trails map – and once lockdown measures are lifted, visit some of the sites for yourselves.