| 4 November 2004
An unrecorded megalithic stone row from Dartmoor
In the past thirty years the 100,000 acres (40,000 ha) of moorland Dartmoor in south-west England have been the subject of some of the most detailed archaeological exploration and survey in Britain. It is therefore all the more remarkable that a previously unrecorded stone row with very large stones has been noted for the first time on one of Dartmoor’s highest and remotest hills.
Cut Hill (603m) is one of only five Dartmoor points above 600m in altitude. To reach it requires a walk of about two hours from whatever direction. The hill is impressive and powerful, especially when approaching from the east. The row, aligned 52º/232º (approximately NE/SW), is situated on the top of the hill (SX 59928275) within an area of extensive but partially eroding blanket peat. It consists of six large slabs of granite all lying flat in the same orientarion (approximately ESE/WNW). Five of the slabs are visible within a 100m strip of ground where the peat has eroded by either natural or human agency, and appear to be on a prehistoric land surface about 1.4m lower than the present top surface of the peat. They are spaced between 19m and 29.5m apart, and so regular in line and proportion that they give the impression of railway sleepers. The stones are all carefully chosen slab-like stones, which, if upright, would have their thinnest profile visible when looking along the axis of the row.
The recorded length of the row formed by the six stones is 123m. A seventh probable stone lies 34.5m further north-east, almost entirely buried bv peat, and with only 0.8 x 0.5m of its surface visible. Preliminary probing suggests thax it is 1.15m wide and at least 1.7m long. Its visible long side is orientated SE/NW. The most south-westerly stone has what appear to be small packing stones still in situ at its north-west end. One of these is visible on its south side, and six are visible close together on the north side. The largest of these packing stones is about 0.40m long.
The row is tangential to a ditched barrow on the very highest point of Cut Hill, 58m WSW of the most south-westerly stone of the row. The barrow itself consists of a superficially almost stone-free mound some 14m in diameter and about 1.5m in height. The waterlogged ditch is a particularly unusual feature to be visible on a Dartmoor barrow.
The discovery radically alters the perception of prehistoric presence on Dartmoor. Within a 3 km radius of the hill, virtually no prehistoric structures had previously been identified. Stone rows are a particular feature of Dartmoor and about eighty have now been recorded, but this one has several striking elements, apart from its location: it is at an altitude 100m higher than any previously known row on Dartmoor; the spacing between the stones is without parallel on the area; the stones are among the largest used for a Dartmoor row; the stones appear to have been very carefully chosen in terms of their shape.
Of special interest are the messages potentially contained in the peat associated with the row. It is usually suggested that blanket peat began forming at 600m on Dartmoor in the 4th millennium BCE. Could the row be as early as this, or are we to assume that the peat formed later? Why are all the stones lying in the same direction? – were they pushed, or were they placed there but never erected? The packing stones around the south-westerly stone seem to contradict the latter hypothesis.
A programme of more detailed research is being planned. The implications for what else might be buried beneath the blanket peat of Dartmoor are massive. This discovery will hopefully give a new impetus to prehistoric studies in the region.
Source: Past no.47 - The Newsletter of the Prehistoric Society (July 2004)
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