A prehistoric cairnfield?

Common Wood: part 14

I know there are lumps and bumps at the top of my land at Common Wood, near Horndon on Dartmoor.  I also know that piles of stones on Dartmoor often have some significance.


Looking east towards Lynch Tor, from the top of Common Wood

I was delighted to walk up there in March with Tom and Elisabeth Greeves.  Tom is a cultural environmentalist with an extensive knowledge of Dartmoor’s prehistory and industrial archaeology.  He is founder and chairman of the Dartmoor Society.  He cast his eye over the piles of stones and pondered that they might well be of interest.

Cairn 2

Lis and Tom on one of the piles of stones – a prehistoric cairn perhaps?

He also pointed out a potentially ancient track running roughly to the east.

Ancient track

Possible track

He suggested that the first port of call should be the tithe map, as if no boundaries were marked there it would indicate that the boundaries were older than the map itself.

It was encouraging to discover that there were indeed no boundaries.

Extract from Mary Tavy tithe map

Extract from the tithe map for Mary Tavy: the River Tavy forms the southern boundary. I have shaded Common Wood in red. Devon County Council

Tom has suggested that the stones might be a prehistoric cairnfield.  I am very thrilled at this possibility and hope some time to find out for sure.  I love to think of prehistoric people living at Common Wood, standing on the slope and looking upstream to Standon Hill and Lynch Tor.

Cairn 3

The following information is on the Ancient Monuments UK website describing various scheduled cairnfields on Dartmoor:

Dartmoor is the largest expanse of open moorland in southern Britain and, because of exceptional conditions of preservation, it is also one of the most complete examples of an upland relict landscape in the whole country.  The great wealth and diversity of  archaeological remains provide direct evidence for human exploitation of the Moor from the early prehistoric period onwards.  The well-preserved and often visible relationship between settlement sites, land boundaries, trackways, ceremonial and funerary monuments as well as later industrial remains, gives significant insights into successive changes in the pattern of land use through time.

Cairnfields are concentrations of three or more cairns sited within close proximity to one another; they may consist of burial cairns or cairns built with stone cleared from the land surface (clearance cairns).  Round funerary cairns were constructed during the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC) and consisted of earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials.  Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major visual element in the modern landscape.  The considerable variation in the size of cairnfields and their longevity as a monument type provide important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation amongst early prehistoric communities.  They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of protection.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
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