Historical context and chronology of Bronze Age land enclosure on Dartmoor, UK

Fyfe, Ralph, Bruck, Joanna, Johnston, Robert, Lewis, Helen, Roland, T. P. and Wickstead, Helen (2008) Historical context and chronology of Bronze Age land enclosure on Dartmoor, UK. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35(8), pp. 2250-2261. ISSN (print) 0305-4403


The upland of Dartmoor, southwest England, is one of the flagship prehistoric landscapes within Britain owing to the excellent survival of extensive prehistoric coaxial field systems. Archaeological surveys and rescue excavations during the 1970s and 1980s did much to further the understanding of this landscape; however, much remains to be explored, in particular the chronology of enclosure, the nature of the pre-enclosure landscape and the relationship between Bronze Age communities and their environment. Reconsideration of this landscape is important, given the place it holds in our understanding of subdivision of the landscape across northwest Europe during prehistory. This paper presents new palaeoecological data recovered as part of an integrated archaeological and palaeoecological project on northeast Dartmoor. The sequences detailed here include the first dated Neolithic period palaeoenvironmental data from within the prehistoric enclosed land on the moor, providing a longer-term context for enclosure. Neolithic groups are implicated in the first establishment of heathland in the study area at around 3630–3370 cal BC. During the early Bronze Age, reestablishment of hazel scrub in the study area implies reduced use of the upland, although it is not clear whether this is local or indicative of the wider landscape. A combination of pollen and fungal spore data indicates a substantial shift to species-rich grassland with grazing animals at c.1480 cal BC in a phase that lasted 400 years. The later Bronze Age and early Iron Age are characterised by low intensity use of the upland. These data provide new chronological data for land cover change on Dartmoor and whilst they broadly confirm existing models of upland land use in later prehistory, their proximity to the standing archaeology affords a more nuanced interpretation of local change.

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