Bronze Age to Roman

Early Bronze Age (c. 2,500 BC – 1,700 BC)

The boundary between the later Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age is not clear cut. This was a time of great change among human societies in Britain, most obviously marked by the adoption of copper and bronze for the manufacture of tools and personal adornments. However, it is also a period during which many of the monuments which dot Dartmoor’s landscape were constructed and in use, including its stone rows and circles and its cairns which were used for the burial of prominent individuals. The famous Whitehorse Hill discovery; the grave of a young woman, complete with grave goods, which was excavated in 2011 dates to the very end of this period.

Middle Bronze Age (c.1,700 BC – 1,200 BC)

Although ceremonial monuments probably continued to be used, or at least revered and funeral cairns continued to be constructed, the archaeological evidence from the Middle Bronze Age is dominated by that of agriculture and settlement. At this time, Dartmoor appears to have been relatively densely occupied and exploited by people who lived in round houses and, in many places, divided the land up into regular systems of fields using stone boundaries that are today known as ‘reaves’.

Late Bronze Age and Iron Age (c.1,200 BC – AD 43)

By c. 1,200 BC, Dartmoor’s extensive reave systems and Bronze Age settlements appear to have been largely abandoned. There are scattered signs of occupation over the next millennium, but it is not until the construction of the hill forts on the fringes of the high moor during the Iron Age, which started c. 750 BC, that evidence for human activity becomes more obvious. These large, earthwork enclosures in defensible locations are thought to have served as centres for local communities, perhaps serving economic, political and ritual functions. With the exception of hillforts, little else is known about human settlement and activity on Dartmoor during this period, although it is likely that the region’s mineral resources were exploited and livestock were grazed on the high moors.

Roman Dartmoor (c. AD 43 – 410)

There are very few sites which have yielded evidence of activity during the Roman period on Dartmoor. By the beginning of the period, the hillforts of the Iron Age had been abandoned and people were probably living, as in the rest of the south west, in scattered farmsteads. It is most likely that, with a few changes in lifestyle, brought about by inclusion in the Roman Empire, the inhabitants of Dartmoor continued to live in much the same way as they had for centuries before.

Find out more about human history on Dartmoor.

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