Brown bears and Dartmoor

After months of mystery and intrigue it has been announced today that the animal pelt that was found at Whitehorse Hill is in fact that of a brown bear. The site dates back to the Bronze Age (1900-1500 BC {Before Christ}). This is an extremely important and interesting find and like so many archaeological discoveries poses as many new questions as it answers.

The BBC news article suggests that the identification of the pelt implies that brown bears may have therefore been resident on Dartmoor at the time. This is entirely possible as it is now widely accepted that the brown bear went extinct in Britain around 500AD (i.e. between 2400-2000 years after the time of the Whitehorse cremation).

The late and great Derek Yalden published a book in 1999 – The History of British Mammals.

YaldenThis book details the archaeological evidence for brown bears in Britain


The book includes this map – showing a number of brown bear finds in south Devon – mainly from cave sites. Three are from the Devensian period i.e. during the last Ice Ages between 110,000 – 12,000 BP (Before Present). There are also three records from Kents Cavern dating between 28,720 – 9100 BP. Note there are no records as recent as 3900BP – the date of the Whitehorse Hill find.

Yalden in his summary paper quoted above suggests that the brown bear went extinct in Britain as a result of human hunting pressure. Brown bears are animals of the forest and the Bronze Age coincides with the period when people cleared huge areas of woodland for agriculture so this would have undoubtedly led to interactions and conflict with brown bears and Bronze Age people.

Bronze Age people were also great traders regularly visiting the continent so it is not impossible that the bear skin was brought from Spain but it is also entirely possible that the skin in question was from an animal killed on Dartmoor.

Lets hope the scientific investigations reveal some more secrets as time progresses.




One thought on “Brown bears and Dartmoor

  1. Pingback: Preserved in the peat – A Dartmoor blog

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