Heritage projects can include a wide variety of tasks depending on the nature of individual monuments and the threats they are under. One of the greatest issues is the spread of vegetation such as gorse, bracken and scrub, the roots of which can damage buried archaeology. The National Park undertakes and coordinates regular vegetation clearance, often in conjunction with volunteer groups, of threatened monuments such as the medieval settlement at Ford Waste.
Other work can be more involved and include the re-erection of fallen standing stones, the repair of erosion caused by traffic or water on archaeological sites or even the replacement of granite features.
In addition to the everyday work of management and protection of the historic environment, the National Park’s Archaeology team also undertakes investigation of Dartmoor’s archaeology. Currently, three projects are in progress as part of the HLF-funded Moor than meets the eye Landscape Partnership Scheme.
North Hall Manor
This site is located in Widecombe-in-the-Moor and is one of only a handful of moated medieval manors known in Devon. Only the moat is now visible, disguised as other features in the landscape or overgrown, but within its circuit excavation over three seasons has revealed the footings of a substantial stone building, the post-holes and beam slots which are all that remains of a series of wooden buildings. The remains have been much robbed for building material over the years, but the debris includes fragments of roofing slate and window glass which tell us of the wealth of the building’s inhabitants. This has been confirmed by some of the finds from the site which have included sherds of expensive imported pottery from south-eastern France and Islamic Spain.
Field survey in 2015 revealed two features initially identified as possible prehistoric cairns on Hangingstone Hill, around 600m north of the prehistoric burial site on Whitehorse Hill. These were targeted by excavation in 2016 which revealed that this interpretation was incorrect.
One of the ‘cairns’ was in fact a naturally formed mound of peat topped by an accumulation of stone which may have been the remains of a military position. The other consisted of a mass of granite slabs and boulders which seemed to have accumulated through freeze-thaw action on a slight slope. However, among this material were several stones which were more post-like in appearance, one of which may have been deliberately placed upright. It is possible that this represents the modification or even veneration of a natural feature by people in the past; a relatively under-studied type of archaeology on Dartmoor, although this remains to be confirmed.
Sittaford Stone Circle
All thirty stones of this monument are recumbent and lay hidden until their discovery in 2008 following a moorland fire. Previous work suggested they had been there since c. 2,000 BC during the Early Bronze Age. Excavation in September 2016 revealed the remains of the soil which had covered the site before the formation of the peat and should enable the recovery of valuable environmental information, including additional dates to refine the site’s chronology. However, it failed to identify socket holes for any of the three stones investigated. This is puzzling and raises the possibility that the stones in the circle were never upright, or perhaps, were erected but not intended to stay that way for long. As is so common in archaeology, the excavation at Sittaford has raised as many new questions as it has answered!