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HER Number:MDV66367
Name:Whitehorse Hill Cist

Summary

A small early Bronze Age cist which was only discovered in 1999. The cist, which was scheduled in 2003, was excavated in 2011 as the peat mound around it was drying out and shrinking. Despite the collapse of one of the side stones an intact burial deposit including cremated bone and associated organic artefacts was found inside. The organic remains which were found to be in an exceptional state of preservation included an animal pelt, identified as bear, a textile bag, a braided armlet with tin rivets and tin, amber and shale beads.

Location

Grid Reference:SX 617 854
Map Sheet:SX68NW
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishDartmoor Forest
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishLYDFORD

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX68NW/170
  • Old SAM Ref: 34445

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATION (Early Neolithic to Early Bronze Age - 3650 BC to 1890 BC (Between)) + Sci.Date
  • CIST (Early Bronze Age - 1800 BC to 1600 BC (Between))

Full description

Turner, J. R., 2000, Whitehorse Hill Bronze Age Cist, 249-250 (Article in Serial). SDV224691.

The stone cist is 0.6 metres long internally. The eastern end stone, the southern side stones and the capstone appear to be in situ but the northern side stone leans inward and the west end stone has collapsed.


Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2003, Cist on Whitehorse Hill, 910 meters south-east of Taw Head (Schedule Document). SDV224690.

The monument includes a cist situated near the summit of Whitehorse Hill. The cist was, until 2001, visible in the edge of an irregularly shaped island of peat standing above its surroundings. Only the western edge of the cist was exposed, the remainder, including the cist's original contents, being sealed beneath peat deposits. The cist measures 0.3 metres deep by 0.4 metres wide and its capstone remains in its original position. Early in 2001 a protective drystone wall measuring 3.0 metres long by 0.9 metres high was built in front of the western edge of the cist, which as a result is no longer visible.
The drystone wall is included in the scheduling. This cist stands at a considerable height above sea level and, perhaps as a consequence, no broadly contemporary settlements are known to survive within its vicinity. Map object based on this Source.


Fyfe, R., 2006, White Horse Hill, Dartmoor. Phase 1 Pollen Analysis, 7 (Report - Scientific). SDV358690.

Pollen analysis from White Horse Hill indicates that the environment in which peat development began was characterised by open heather-dominated heath. Changes within the pollen profile indicate that the local environment underwent a range of changes, from dry heath to wetter heath and back, although it is not clear whether this relates to a cessation of Mesolithic-type burning or a climatic perturbation. The top of the profile records the start of species-rich grassland around the site, which would have been attractive as a grazing area in prehistory. It is possible that this relates to the period during which the cist was constructed on White Horse Hill.


Richards, A. F., 2011, Whitehorse Hill Cist (Personal Comment). SDV347605.

It is thought to be likely that this cist has not been disturbed due to its remote location. Excavation of the cist in order to save it from severe peat erosion due to start in August 2011.


Jones, A., 2011, Whitehorse Hill Cist, Dartmoor, Devon. Archaeological Excavation, 7 (Report - Evaluation). SDV358692.

Excavation of the cist revealed that the alignment was north-south (previously thought to be east-west alignment). Despite the collapse of one of the side stones, there was an intact burial deposit including cremated bone which was associated with organic artefacts. The cremation has been placed within an animal hide or fur and there were two layers of matted plant material, a woven bag or basket, a textile band, and a leather and textile object. The cist also contained shale and amber beads from a necklace.
The excavation was highly significant as the environmental information recorded from the peat mound will provide the first secure dating information from a Dartmoor cist. However, it is the unparalleled assemblage of organic objects which are of most importance, as this will yield insights into materials which have not survived elsewhere from the earlier Bronze Age in Southern Britain.


Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service, 2012, Whitehorse Cist, Dartmoor, Devon. Part 2. Project Design for Analysis (Report - non-specific). SDV356966.

Excavation of the cist led to the recovery of a unique assemblage of Bronze Age organic objects and other artefacts including tin, amber and shale beads which is unparalleled in southern Britain. The state of preservation of the organic remains is considered to be exceptional and there is also good preservation of other environmental material including pollen, tephra and fungal spores. Analysis of the latter will shed further light on environmental and climatic conditions at the time of the burial.
The cist is situated within a peat mound near the summit of Whitehorse Hill. It is at the southern end of a north-south ridge at about 604 metres Ordnance Datum and is one of the highest cists to be recorded on Dartmoor. The northern end of the ridge is occupied by a prominent turf and stone barrow known as Hangingstone Cairn. Prior to excavation in 2011 the exposed section of the cist measured up to 0.7 metres wide by 0.25 metres deep and 0.35 metres high. The cist comprised a flat granite base slab, 0.7 metres long by 0.48 metres wide around which several wedge-shaped granite stones were set upright within the peat. A large capstone, 0.79 by 0.66 metres lay on top.
Analysis of samples taken from the peat mound within which the cist is set have shown that the peat at the level of the base of the cist was of Early to Middle Neolithic date (3650-3100 calibrated BC) whereas that level with the top of the cist was of Early Bronze Age date (2200-1890 calibrated BC). This suggests that either the cist was set in a trench cut into the Neolithic level or that it stood on the Neolithic ground surface and the peat grew up around it. The latter scenario is considered the more unlikely as the side and end stones would probably not have provided any long-term support for the capstone and would have collapsed before the peat built up around the cist.


Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service, 2012, Whitehorse Hill Cist, Dartmoor, Devon. Part 1. Assessment Stage. Collation of Specialist Reports (Report - Assessment). SDV356965.

Cist excavated in 2011 as the peat mound in which it is located was drying out and shrinking. It was initially thought that the cist was aligned east-west but excavation showed it to be aligned north-south. Despite the collapse of one of the side stones an intact burial deposit including cremated bone and associated organic artefacts was found inside. The cremation had been placed within an animal pelt and there were two layers of matted plant material, a woven bag or basket and a textile band with tin rivets. There were also shale and amber beads from a necklace together with one tin bead. Two hazel stakes recovered from the peat adjacent to the cist may have been used for marking out the site.
There is no indication of the presence of more than one individual within the cremated remains. The total weight of bone is about half that expected of a complete skeleton. The excavation is highly significant as the cremated bone and environmental information recorded from the peat will potentially enable the first secure dating information for a Dartmoor cist. Of even more importance, however, is the unparalleled assemblage of organic material which will yield insights into materials that have not survived elsewhere from the Bronze Age in southern Britain.


Jones, A. + Marchand, J. + Sheridan, A. + Straker, V., 2014, Redeemed From the Peat: An Extraordinary Bronze Age Grave on Whitehorse Hill, 16-23 (Article in Serial). SDV357230.

Largely similar article to the other 2014 article, although the identification of the animal pelt as a bear (probably brown bear) has now been revealed. This suggests that these animals may have continued to live in southern Britain into the Bronze Age, unless this pelt represents a trade item aquired from a distant community. Other finds from the cist show improtant trade links to the East of England (Kimmeridge shale beads) and Jutland (amber). The clay is thought to be local and the tin may also be from Dartmoor, although it could originate from Cornwall. A final stage of the project will involve modelling of the radiocarbon dates to try and establish precise biographies of the cremated remains and associated objects before their deposition in the cist.
The analsis of the peat over the capstone of the cist suggests it had grown over it, indicating the stone had probably stood proud of the peat and would have been visible when first built, at least locally. Changes in the environment at the time of burial, from a peat bog covered with heather and cotton grasses to one where grazing of animals was becoming more stablished may be significant; perhaps the burial served as some kind of marked associated with land tenure or inidcated a growing attachment to the land that people were frequenting with their animals. This is the highest burial cist recorded on Dartmoor.


Marchand, J., 2014, The Whitehorse Hill Cist. Analysis of the Finds, 70-72 (Article in Serial). SDV357136.

Over the last three years painstaking conservation work and analysis has been carried out on the finds from the Whitehorse Hill cist. The unusual environmental conditions within the cist enabled the survival not only of cremated human remains but also organic materials which do not usually survive.
The cremated bone represents a young person. Amongst the cremated bone were a small number of burnt textile fragments, perhaps from a shroud. The cremated remains had been wrapped in an animal pelt, yet to be identified at the time of writing. This was laid on top of a fine leather and textile object made from woven nettle fibre. Stitched to the outer edges were two rows of leather binding with a fringe of leather triangles. The fine detail suggests it was an item to be worn. It is unique in north-western Europe. Hidden within the pelt was a woven basket of lime bast and within the basket and spread beneath it were more than 200 beads. This is by far the largest number of beads from a single Early Bronze Age context in the south-west. There were 7 amber beads, 92 shale beads, 110 clay beads; analysis of the clay has shown that it was not local to Dartmoor and a single large tin bead. Also in the basket were two pairs of small wooden studs of spindle wood and a worked flint flake while beneath was an arm band of woven cow hair with tin rivets. Fragments of copper alloy discovered inside the edge of the pelt may be the remains of an awl or pin. A layer of 'packing material' has been identified as purple moor grass while pollen analysis has revealed a concentration of meadowsweet suggesting that a floral tribute was deposited with the burial. This together with the purple moor grass indicates that the burial took place in the summer.


Dartmoor National Park Authority, 2014, Whitehorse Hill: An Early Bronze Age Burial (Leaflet). SDV357069.

Summary of the discovery and excavation of the cist and subsequent analysis of artefacts. Animal pelt revealed to be Brown Bear.


Jones, A. M., 2016, Preserved in the Peat. An Extraordinary Bronze Age Burial on Whitehorse Hill, Dartmoor, and its Wider Context (Monograph). SDV360094.

Full assessment of the excavation results and artefacts recovered from a range of specialists.


Quinnell, H., 2017, Dartmoor and Prehistoric to Early Medieval Tinworking, 20 (Article in Monograph). SDV360639.

The tin beads from this cremation have no known parallels and may be suggestive of local tin-working.

Sources / Further Reading

  • Schedule Document: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2003. Cist on Whitehorse Hill, 910 meters south-east of Taw Head. The Schedule of Monuments. Digital.
  • Article in Serial: Turner, J. R.. 2000. Whitehorse Hill Bronze Age Cist. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 58. Unknown. 249-250.
  • Personal Comment: Richards, A. F.. 2011. Whitehorse Hill Cist. Digital.
  • Report - Assessment: Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service. 2012. Whitehorse Hill Cist, Dartmoor, Devon. Part 1. Assessment Stage. Collation of Specialist Reports. Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service Report. A4 Comb Bound + Digital.
  • Report - non-specific: Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service. 2012. Whitehorse Cist, Dartmoor, Devon. Part 2. Project Design for Analysis. Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service Report. A4 Comb Bound + Digital.
  • Leaflet: Dartmoor National Park Authority. 2014. Whitehorse Hill: An Early Bronze Age Burial. Dartmoor National Park Authority Publication. A5 Stapled.
  • Article in Serial: Marchand, J.. 2014. The Whitehorse Hill Cist. Analysis of the Finds. Dartmoor Magazine. 116. Newspaper/Magazine Article. 70-72.
  • Article in Serial: Jones, A. + Marchand, J. + Sheridan, A. + Straker, V.. 2014. Redeemed From the Peat: An Extraordinary Bronze Age Grave on Whitehorse Hill. British Archaeology Magazine. 139. Digital. 16-23.
  • Report - Scientific: Fyfe, R.. 2006. White Horse Hill, Dartmoor. Phase 1 Pollen Analysis. University of Plymouth. A4 Stapled. 7.
  • Report - Evaluation: Jones, A.. 2011. Whitehorse Hill Cist, Dartmoor, Devon. Archaeological Excavation. Cornwall Archaeological Unit Report. A4 Bound + Digital. 7.
  • Monograph: Jones, A. M.. 2016. Preserved in the Peat. An Extraordinary Bronze Age Burial on Whitehorse Hill, Dartmoor, and its Wider Context. Preserved in the Peat. An Extraordinary Bronze Age Burial on Whitehorse Hill, Dartmoor, and its Wider Context. Hardback Volume.
  • Article in Monograph: Quinnell, H.. 2017. Dartmoor and Prehistoric to Early Medieval Tinworking. The Tinworking Landscape of Dartmoor in a European Context. Paperback Volume. 20.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds

  • FDV5564 - ANIMAL REMAINS (Early Bronze Age - 1800 BC to 1600 BC)
  • FDV5563 - ARMLET (Early Bronze Age - 1800 BC to 1600 BC)
  • FDV5567 - BAG (Early Bronze Age - 1800 BC to 1600 BC)
  • FDV5562 - BEAD (Early Bronze Age - 1800 BC to 1600 BC)
  • FDV5570 - EAR RING (Early Bronze Age - 1800 BC to 1600 BC)
  • FDV6658 - HUMAN REMAINS (Early Bronze Age - 1800 BC to 1600 BC)
  • FDV5565 - TEXTILE (Early Bronze Age - 1800 BC to 1600 BC)

Associated Events

  • EDV6536 - Excavation of Whitehorse Hill Cist

Date Last Edited:Dec 18 2017 10:21AM