In August 2011 an excavation began in a remote part of northern Dartmoor known as Whitehorse Hill. The work involved opening up a 4000 year old burial chamber – the first to be excavated on Dartmoor for over 100 years.
What the archaeologists (co-ordinated by the Dartmoor National Park Authority) found was amazing – normally such burial chambers or cists have been long opened and robbed. This one hadn’t because it had remained until recently buried out of sight in the peat.
The cist contained a huge array of different materials: the cremated remains of a person, charcoal, textiles, a wrist/arm band, basketry objects, beads, wooden stakes, wooden studs, plant material, a flint, a copper pin and an animal pelt.
Finding the contents of such an ancient grave is very unusual – normally the contents have either been raided or have rotted away in the Dartmoor peat.
The artefacts from Whitehorse Hill cist will be on display during the forthcoming major Exhibition at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery entitled ‘Whitehorse Hill: a Prehistoric Dartmoor Discovery’ which will be on show from September 13 – Dec 13 2014, with related displays and activities. The archaeological excavation at Whitehorse Hill and its results will be published in full as a monograph publication by Oxbow Books.
The Dartmoor National Park’s chief archaeologist, Jane Marchand, said: “The whole thing was actually wrapped up in an animal pelt of fur. As we lifted it up very carefully a bead fell out and the thrill of realising that actually this is a proper burial, this is a bead which belonged to a burial.
That’s what’s so exciting, you wouldn’t expect to find any archaeology somewhere like this stuck out on this peak hag. You’ll never be able to top this ever.”
This find was not on land owned by the National Trust but it is hoped that it will shed light on the Bronze Age and by doing this it will help us understand how people lived 4000 years ago. The National Trust’s Upper Plym property in south west Dartmoor contains a very rich Bronze Age landscape full of hut circles, cists, stone rows and circles. The results and finds from Whitehorse Hill will help us understand our archaeological places too.
A documentary about the Whitehorse Hill excavation will be shown on BBC Inside Out South West, on BBC One on Monday, 18 February at 19:30.