Visit date: 14th April 2013
Weather: Cold and rainy. Visibility poor, ground very wet underfoot.
The field trip began by considering the type of landscape we could see, and the various features visible on the hills around. These hills are formed of granite intrusions through older sedimentary rocks and provides a good source of building material over most of the uplands of Dartmoor (Newman 2011: 3).
The first stop was to climb the hill up to Grimspound, and then on to Round Pound at Kestor. A planned visit to a nearby stone row was cancelled owing to the onset of heavy rain, and the need to push the cars out of a boggy carpark!
Dartmoor has been considered inhospitable, inaccessible and undesirable to visit for most of the historic period, and as a result, the archaeological remains visible are in a remarkable state of preservation. There has been a lack of intensive farming but also a continuity of agricultural practice that has meant that later land uses have not tended to destroy evidence for previous use. A notable exception is the robbing of stone to create new boundaries and buildings (Newman 2011:11).
Grid Reference: SX 7006 8088
Grimspound is a 1.54ha stone enclosure, constructed from the local granite of Dartmoor and enclosing the remains of 24 hut circles and features interpreted as pens in the side of the enclosure (Devon HER MDV8778) shown in Figure 4. It is situated, as shown in the 3D terrain model in Figure 2, in a valley between two prominent hills: Hookney Tor and Hameldon Tor, which although Grimspound is at a height of about 460m (NMR SX 78 SW 11), considerably overlook the site, with the entrance to the enclosure facing upslope towards Hameldon Tor.
Although there are three gaps in the enclosure wall (as shown in Figure 4 below), those labelled ‘eastern breach’ and ‘western breach’ appear to be as a result of a later trackway passing through the site. Only the ‘SE entrance’ appears to be original, although there is a suspicion that this may have been ‘enhanced’ as a result of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee’s efforts (Newman 2011:67).
The huts are not evenly distributed within the enclosure, as can be seen in Figure 5, and to the north, a winterbourne, the Grim’s Lake (Fox 1957 :158), flows through the enclosure as shown in Figure 5 below.
|Investigation type||Investigation Details|
|1829||Survey||Accurate survey by A. C. Shillibeer of Grimspound, showing the entire enclosure (McOmish 2011 :2; Devon HER MDV8778).|
|1894-1895||Excavation||Grimspound was excavated and described by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee. They reckoned that Grimspound was in good condition for assessing owing to there not being any new walls nearby that would have robbed it of stone (Baring Gould et al. 1894:101). Owing to this assumption that all the stone remained onsite and in close proximity to its original position, the DEC experimented with reconstructing the huts to establish the original height of the walls, and therefore hazard a guess at the construction of the rest of the hut. They established that with the stone available, the walls would have reached no further than the current height of the door frames, and that the upper part of the hut was probably therefore constructed of turf or rushes on poles (Baring Gould et al. 1894:108).Finds from the excavations include oak and ash charcoal, flints (not native to the area), but no pottery or metal items (Devon HER MDV8778). Inside the huts was found a ‘dais’ arrangement adjacent to the wall, interpreted as sleeping and sitting facilities, hearths and ‘cooking holes’ in the floor of the hut. Also noted were the L-shaped porch arrangements provided to many of the huts, affording protection against the weather.|
Chronology and Current Interpretation
A personal comment by Grinsell in 1977, recorded on the Devon HER for Grimspound suggests that of the 24 circular huts, only 16 of these were dwellings (based on the presence of hearths) and the rest were storage huts (without hearths) (Devon HER MDV8778). Grimspound is interpreted as being to do with Bronze Age settlement and farming, and similar enclosures are often tied into the Reave system that partitions Dartmoor (Davies 2010 :62). Davies also suggests that the positioning of these enclosures in the landscape is not intentionally defensive, in contrast with the Tors that are also found on the granite uplands.
It might be that the enclosure and the hut circles were not constructed at the same time, as excavations at Shaugh Moor showed that the huts predated the enclosure by about 100 years (Newman 2011 :67). The houses are small, only 2.4-3.5m in diameter, leading to the suggestion that they were not intended for permanent occupation and that Grimspound represents a seasonal site for livestock farmers, or possibly associated also with tin workings nearby (Devon HER MDV8778).
Round Pound, Kestor
Grid Reference: SX 66388685
The area around Round Pound is visually dominated by the granite outcrop of Kestor. The archaeological remains consist of a series of what Curwen (1927 :283) described as ‘the most elaborate and finished set of such rectangular fields’, and several hut circles, of which we visited that within Round Pound. Round Pound is an enclosure of 0.07ha on a north-west-facing slope on Chagford Common. Within this enclosure is a large hut with walls, like the pound itself, up to 2 metres thick (NMR SX 68 NE 14).
|Year||Investigation type||Investigation Details|
|1951-2||Excavation||Aileen Fox excavated some of the hut circles at Kestor, including Round Pound. She found Iron Age pottery, and evidence for Iron smelting inside the hut itself. This led to the assumption that the site was Iron Age, and that the associated field system was analogous to the ‘Celtic Fields’ known elsewhere in the country (Newman 2011:85).|
The huts in the settlement were so large that posts would have been required to hold up a roof of that size, and postholes were indeed found and a suggested reconstruction is shown in Figure 9.
Chronology and Current Interpretation
The settlement of Kestor probably dates from the fourth or fifth century BC (Cunliffe 2005 :277). It consists of twenty-seven stone roundhouses amongst a field system bounded with granite stone walls (Henderson 2007 :219).
The fields around it had been reclaimed from the blanket peat that had already begun to form by this date and it seems likely that the uplands of Dartmoor had already been abandoned by the time the settlement at Kestor was in use, owing to a deterioration of the climate during the Later Bronze Age (Fox 1957 :129).
Newman (2011:85) argues though, that more recent interpretations of Kestor place its origins, along with the Reaves, in the Bronze Age but with later occupation in the Later Bronze Age and possibly into the Iron Age.
Fox’s interpretation of the large hut in Round Pound is shown below in Figure 11, and this shows the metalworking to be occurring while the hut was in occupation. However, the evidence for iron smelting is considered to be unrelated to the occupation partly due to the lack of dating evidence, but also because the practicalities of ironworking in an enclosed space like a hut would be problematical and that it was more likely to have occurred in a derelict shell of a building rather than the main occupation phase (Newman 2011:85).
The radial walls that are apparent within the pound (shown in Figure 11) mostly likely result from a later, medieval, use of the enclosure for containing stock (NMR SX 68 NE 14)
Baring Gould, S. et al., 1894. The Exploration of Grimspound: First report of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee. Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science , Literature and Art, 26, pp.101–121.
Cunliffe, B., 2005. Iron Age Communities in Britain: An account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest 4th Editio., Abingdon: Routledge.
Curwen, E., 1927. Prehistoric agriculture in Britain. Antiquity, 1(3), pp.261–289. Available at: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/ant/001/Ant0010261.htm [Accessed May 18, 2013].
Davies, S.R., 2010. The Early Neolithic Tor Enclosures of Southwest Britain. Unpub’d PhD Thesis. University of Birmingham.
Fox, A., 1954. Celtic fields and farms on Dartmoor, in the light of recent excavations at Kestor. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 20, pp.87–102.
Fox, A., 1957. The Prehistoric Monuments of Dartmoor. The Archaeological Journal, 114, pp.152–159.
Henderson, J.C., 2007. The Atlantic Iron Age: Settlement and Identity in the First Millennium BC Reprint ed., Routledge.
McOmish, D., 2011. Introductions to Heritage Assets: Enclosed Prehistoric Settlements, Swindon: English Heritage.
Newman, P., 2011. The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor, Swindon: English Heritage.