History Group Talk June 2011

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The Excavation of the Round House at Bellever

An illustrated talk by Simon Hughes of South West Archaeology and Andy Crabb of Dartmoor National Park


This was an in-depth look at excavations near Bellever Tor over a period of four years.  As a result of a violent storm in 2007 when a large area of the Larch Plantation was flattened.  This is in the Lakehead  Hill area of the forest.  In the 1930s when the idea of planting this site to Conifers was first mooted two of Dartmoor's early Archaeologists, Rev. Baring-Gould and Mr. Worth, expressed their concern that valuable and important old sacred sites were about to become seriously damaged.  They were aware of a Bronze Age Field system and associated Hut circles (Round houses).  As a result of their intervention, some of these features were not damaged, but it was not until the 1970s that areas around the sites were clear felled. As a result of the 2007 storm, with so many trees blown over and their root masses laid bare, the walls of these structures were exposed and it was decided to spend thirty days examining the site.  The objective was to clear, record and investigate the site.  As a result of recent excavations of other sites on Dartmoor, the damage done to archaeological remains by bracken rhizomes  has been documented and an opportunity now presented itself to record what damage can and has been done by the roots of trees. It appears that the roots only invaded the more recent top layers of the soil. Due to the size of this site the question arose - was this a hut circle or a ring cairn. The first action taken was an evaluation trench across the diameter of the site, then a quarter segment of the circle was uncovered.  Ultimately it was decided to uncover the entire site in 2009 and do a full and detailed excavation.  The top layer of the soil did not reveal very much, but as they excavated further, it became very apparent that this was an important and interesting site.  Good photographs were shown of various stages of the work undertaken, and they  showed that the interior of the wall was made up of large granite stones, and  the wall was built of four courses of stone to a height of 1.1 metres.  The diameter of the round house was 8 metres. When they reached the base floor level it revealed many items of great interest.  Several considerable post-holes were uncovered that had taken large timbers, these were a metre or more off the inside of the wall.  These must have played a big part in holding up the roof structure.  Immediately inside the wall were numerous small stake holes, could these have possibly had wattle fencing attached to them?  In some of these holes were found pieces of pottery, in fact on the western side of the interior were found many pottery shards, in fact 154 pieces which according to the pottery experts could have contributed to 16 different vessels, made up of 7 different types of pottery and clay.  The entrance to the hut circle was in the south and evidence was found of layers of gravel being placed there over a period of time to repair the wear and tear in the doorway.  Finally, some large granite slabs were also evident at the entrance.  Microscopic examination of the timber remains found in the site, and radio-carbon dating of seeds and pollen also uncovered, seemed to date the site as 1600 - 1200 BC.  Timber found in one of the post holes was dated at 1500 BC.  This is an elaborate site and in 2011 further exploration has been planned.  It is believed that the site was abandoned, possibly due to climate change and population movement to the lowlands.  A short distance to the east of this circle is another smaller round house and it is hoped that during this year, that too will be excavated, as will the exterior area between the two circles.  Further examination  will hopefully be done to the field boundaries nearby by doing cross sections at about ten chosen points.  It is hoped to establish the connections between the round houses and the field systems and what effect the trees have had on the site.   As a small burial cairn has been found inside the large circle, it is to be hoped that some better understanding of how our ancestors lived and their religious and ritual habits developed.  Locally nearby at Powder Mills a potter has tried to recreate a pot in the style of the shards previously mentioned with considerable success.  Many of the shards show signs of decoration, made apparently by string or vegetation.  There will during this year be at least one open day, when interested parties can visit the site and see the work being undertaken.  The ’Going for Bronze Exhibition’ will hopefully continue at Postbridge Information Centre during this summer, and we thank Simon and Andy for a most interesting and informative talk and we look forward to visiting the site.


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