Cut Hill

Cut Hill

Copyright: Bill Radcliffe.

Location

England     Devon     Dartmoor     SX 59876 82769     Lat 50.627601    Long -3.982561

Google Map showing the location of Cut Hill stone row

Plan of Cut Hill stone row. Source: Google Earth and Fyfe, R. & Greeves, T, 2010, 59.

Characteristics

Type: Single Length: 215m
No. of stones: 9 Size of stones: Only large
Orientation: 52° Altitude: 600m
Upper end: – Lower end: –
Straight (Yes or No)  : Yes Sea View: Yes
Context:  Barrow
Notes:

Other Information

Public Access:  Yes
Land Status: National Park and MOD Firing Range. Access only when firing not taking place.
Scheduled Ancient Monument: No

Dating

This is the only row in Great Britain with a recognised date.  Work by Ralph Fyfe indicated that peat started accumulating at this spot in around 5580 BC, with one of the stones coming to rest on a surface in around 3620 BC, before being sealed by further peat accumulation in around 2360 BC. This suggested chronology would mean that the row was of Early to Middle Neolithic, which is rather earlier than had been previously assumed. This conclusion however relies on the assumption “that no peat was removed or disturbed” prior to the stone being placed on the ground (Fyfe and Greeves, 2010, 63).  Work by Martlew and Ruggles at Ardnacross, North and South throws considerable doubt on this assumption as they was able to demonstrate that some of the stones had been deliberately felled into prepared holes. If this was also the case at Cut Hill this would have implications for the chronology and instead permit the row to be seen as belonging to the Late Neolithic period. The illustration below highlights a possible alternative scenario which is entirely consistent with our understanding of the evidence.

 Illustration  showing a possible sequence of events consistent with the evidence.

A: Peat starts accumulating in around 5880 BC.

B: The position of the land surface in around 3620 BC.

C: Hole cut to receive standing stone in about 2600 BC.

D: Stone erected around 2600 BC.

E:  Hole cut adjacent to the standing exposing peat deposited in around 3620 BC.

F: Standing stone toppled into the pre-cut hole and coming to rest of the freshly exposed peat.

G: Peat accumulates on top of the now recumbent stone from 2360 BC onwards.

This scenario is consistent with the evidence from Cut Hill and Ardnacross and whilst it is not possible to demonstrate its certainty, it clearly throws doubt on the very early date suggested for this row. The date from the upper surface of the stone is however much more informative as it provides solid evidence that this stone was no longer standing by around 2360 BC. There has been some debate as to whether the stones were ever placed upright. The later suggested date for their erection would have meant that there was a greater depth of peat available and they could have been erected by cutting a slot into the peat and inserting the stones.  A few packing stones may have been used to stabilise the stones, but we would not expect these to have survived because within a landscape with few readily available small stones, they would have soon been picked up as the peat erosion exposed them.  The depth of the peat would have meant that there was no need for an archaeologically detectable socket hole.  To conclude the evidence is entirely with a stone row of large slabs being erected in around 2600 BC and then perhaps ritually closed in about 2360 BC.

Identification

Category: Plausible. Despite being an unusual stone row compared to others on Dartmoor the surving evidence and environmental work are entirely consistent with a prehistoric stone row interpretation.

Photographs

Looking south west along the row.

Plan showing the position of the numbered stones.

Individual Stones

Stone 1. View from above and south west (Scale 1m).

Stone 1. View from above and SSW (Scale 1m).

Stone 1. View from south east.

Stone 2. View from above and south west (Scale 1m).

Stone 2. View from north east (Scale 1m).  The barrow is just to the left of the figures on the skyline.

Stone 3. View from above and south west (Scale 1m). Cairn and stone 4 visible beyond.

Stone 3. View from above and south (Scale 1m).

Stone 3. View from north east (Scale 1m).  The barrow is clearly visible on the skyline.

Stone 4. View from north east (Scale 1m). Cairn behind the ranging rod and barrow on the skyline.

Stone 4. View from above and south west (Scale 1m). Stone 5 and peat exposures visible beyond.

Stone 5. View from south (Scale 1m).  All these stones were originally covered in peat. This photograph gives a graphic idea of just how much has been removed. 

Stone 5. View from north east (Scale 1m). Cairn and barrow visible in the background.

Stone 5. View from above and north east (Scale 1m).

Stone 6. View from south (Scale 1m).

Stone 7. View from south (Scale 1m).

Stone 8. View from south (Scale 1m).

Stone 8. View from east (Scale 1m).

Stone 9. View from north west (Scale 1m).

Barrow

A circular mound with a surrounding ditch beyond the south western end of the row has been identified as a barrow. Given its location this interpretation is attractive, but the possibility of it being a peat stack cannot be entirely dismissed. On balance however, particularly given the lack of any others in the vicinity the barrow interpretation seems the most probable. View from east (Scale 1m).

View from above and east of the barrow at Cut Hill (Scale 1m).

Cairn

A cairn situated between stones 3 and 4 looks modern but does seem to have a structure that might imply it is of prehistoric origin. The larger stones denote the edges of the cairn, the centre of which is formed by smaller stones. Its modern appearance may relate to the fact that it was exposed in the historic period when peat was cut from this area. View from north east (Scale 1m).

Access Information

This is not an easy row to get to. It lies within the Okehampton Range and it is only possible to visit when live firing is not taking place. Details of firing times are available online. Access is difficult which ever direction it is approached from. After much thought, I decided that the south looked best. Car parking is available at Postbridge (SX 64667 78839). From here take the footpath leading north to SX 63444 79743.  From here continue following the path to SX 62823 80230 and then along the western side of the East Dart River to SX 60837 82087. Follow the line of poles that separate the Okehampton and Merrivale Ranges to SX 59748 82645 then walk north to the row which is at the top of the hill.  Allow a whole day and make sure you have map. My journey was eventful. At one point three sky larks attacked a cuckoo, another sky lark collided with me when being chased by a kestrel which then hovered for a few seconds within arms reach, in the middle of nowhere a group of people were partaking in what looked like a delicious cream tea and I was joined for part of the journey by a couple who made the final ascent pass without the expected pain.

Online Resources 

Megalithic Portal     Modern Antiquarian     PastScape     Historic Environment Record

Prehistoric Monuments of Dartmoor     Prehistoric Dartmoor Walks

Prehistoric Society Newsletter          Fyfe, R. 2008

Other Sources

Fyfe, R. and Greeves, T., 2010, “The date and context of a stone row: Cut Hill, Dartmoor, south-west England”, Antiquity, 84, 55-70.

Martlew, R.D. and Ruggles, C.L.N., 1993, “The North Mull Project (4): Excavations at Ardnacross 1989 – 91”, Archaeoastronomy, 18, 55-64.

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