Archaeologists unearth possible evidence of early Neolithic farming communities in Dartmoor


New evidence potentially left by Dartmoor’s earliest farming communities 5,500 years ago has been uncovered by archaeologists at two of the moor’s most enigmatic sites.

Archaeologists unearth possible evidence of early Neolithic farming communities in Dartmoor
Credit: Dartmoor National Park Authority

A series of previously unknown features including postholes and circular structures have been discovered at the tor enclosure sites of White Tor and Dewerstone.

One of the most exciting discoveries at Dewerstone (pictured) is the recovery of charcoal suitable for radiocarbon dating. Results are awaited but, if proved, could conclusively show people occupied these sites in the early Neolithic period – around 3,500BC.

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 fieldwork was carried out using high-specification survey methods and limited excavation to improve understanding of the tor enclosures’ precise age and broader prehistoric landscape context.

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.

Source: Exeter Daily [December 23, 2019]