Cawsand Beacon, a round cairn, a ring cairn, a stone building and five post-medieval shelters on the summit of Cawsand Hill
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1010793
Date first listed: 01-Mar-1972
Date of most recent amendment: 06-Mar-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: West Devon (District Authority)
Parish: South Tawton
National Park: DARTMOOR
National Grid Reference: SX 63634 91500
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Dartmoor is the largest expanse of open moorland in southern Britain and,
because of exceptional conditions of preservation, it is also one of the most
complete examples of an upland relict landscape in the whole country. The
great wealth and diversity of archaeological remains provide direct evidence
for human exploitation of the Moor from the early prehistoric period onwards.
The well-preserved and often visible relationship between settlement sites,
major land boundaries, trackways, ceremonial and funerary monuments as well as
later industrial remains, gives significant insights into successive changes
in the pattern of land use through time. A ring cairn is a prehistoric ritual
monument comprising a circular bank of stones up to 20m in diameter
surrounding a hollow central area. The bank may be kerbed on the inside, and
sometimes on the outside as well, with small uprights or laid boulders. Ring
cairns are found mainly in upland areas of England and are mostly discovered
and authenticated by ground level fieldwork and survey, although a few are
large enough to be visible on aerial photographs. They often occur in pairs or
small groups of up to four examples. Occasionally they lie within round barrow
cemeteries. Ring cairns are interpreted as ritual monuments of Early and
Middle Bronze Age date. The exact nature of the rituals concerned is not fully
understood, but excavation has revealed pits, some containing burials and
others containing charcoal and pottery, taken to indicate feasting activities
associated with the burial rituals. Many areas of upland have not yet been
surveyed in detail and the number of ring cairns in England is not accurately
known. However, available evidence indicates a population of between 250 and
500 examples. As a relatively rare class of monument exhibiting considerable
variation in form, all positively identified examples retaining significant
archaeological deposits are considered worthy of preservation.
The monument also includes a round cairn. Round cairns are prehistoric funerary monuments dating to the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, the latter predominating in areas of upland Britain where such raw materials were locally available in abundance. Round cairns may cover single or multiple burials and are sometimes surrounded by an outer ditch. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major visual element in the modern landscape. Their considerable variation in form and longevity as a monument type provide important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation amongst early prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of protection. Dartmoor provides one of the best preserved and most dense concentrations of round cairns in south western Britain. The cairns at the summit of Cawsand Hill survive well and contain archaeological and environmental information relating to the monument and the landscape in which they were erected. These cairns form part of the Cawsand Hill cairn cemetery, which includes at least two round cairns, two ring cairns and a platform cairn. The beacon is one of only two known sites on the moor where a beacon was erected on an earlier cairn. It is also rare in that the precise location of the fire is known and an associated building for the beacon attendant survives. Archaeological deposits and features associated with the fire may survive within the monument.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
This monument includes a round cairn, known as Cawsand Beacon or Cosdon Beacon and which was later reused as a beacon site, a ring cairn, a stone building and five post-medieval shelters situated on the summit of Cawsand Hill. The cairns form part of a cemetery which includes at least two round cairns, two ring cairns and one platform cairn. The round cairn mound measures 27m in diameter and stands up to 3m high. Large hollows in the centre of the mound may suggest partial early excavation or robbing, though it has also been suggested that they may have been excavated by the beacon builders to form a hearth.
The beacon is considered to be medieval in origin, although the earliest documentary references to the site are 16th century. The beacon, when lit, would have been visible throughout much of North Devon and, until late in the 19th century, this spot was believed to be the highest in southern England. Five post-medieval shelters have been constructed from the cairn material and lie on the periphery of the mound. These structures are composed of drystone walling surrounding an oval or triangular shaped internal area. An Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar lies on the eastern side of the mound. Lying 3m east of Cawsand Beacon is a circular 1.3m wide and 0.3m high rubble bank surrounding a 4.3m diameter internal area. This structure has been identified as a stone hut circle, though it seems more likely that it represents the foundations of the building which the person responsible for lighting the beacon would have occupied during times of crisis.
A large ring cairn lies 25m to the east of Cawsand Beacon and survives as a 3m wide rubble bank standing up to 0.6m high surrounding a 22.5m diameter internal area.
The Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 24144
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Rowe, S, A Perambulation of the Ancient and Royal Forest of Dartmoor86-87
Butler, J, 'Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities - The North' in Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities, , Vol. 2, (1990), 206-207
Butler, J, 'Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities - The North' in Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities, , Vol. 2, (1990), 206
Butler, J, 'Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities - The North' in Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities, , Vol. 2, (1990), 207
Russell, P, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Fire beacons in Devon, , Vol. 87, (1955), 284
Darvill, T.C., Single Monument Class Description - Ring Cairns, 1989,
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX69SW16, (1981)
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX69SW18, (1985)
Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SX69SW53, (1993)
MPP fieldwork by S. Gerrard,
National Archaeological Record, SX69SW21,
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing