Prehistoric to early medieval field system and settlement at Dial Rocks, Tresco


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017781

Date first listed: 18-Mar-1998


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric to early medieval field system and settlement at Dial Rocks, Tresco
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Tresco

National Grid Reference: SV 88873 15525


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social development of early communities. Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands' settlement. The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post- medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post- medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard for the nation's shipping in the western approaches. The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of documentation, including several recent surveys. Regular field systems are one of several methods of field layout known to have been employed in the Isles of Scilly from the Bronze Age to the Roman period (c.2000 BC - AD 400); closer dating within that period may be provided by the visible relationships of the field boundaries to other classes of monument with a shorter known time-span of use, or by their relationship with an earlier recorded sea level. They comprise a collection of field plots defined by boundaries laid out in a consistent manner, along two dominant axes at approximate right angles to each other. This results in rectilinear fields which may vary in their size and length:width ratio both within and between individual field systems. The fields are bounded by rubble walls or banks, often incorporating edge- or end- set slabs called orthostats. Within its total area, a regular field system may be subdivided into blocks differing in the orientations of their dominant axes. Regular field systems may be associated with broadly contemporary settlement sites such as stone hut circles. Some regular field systems on the Isles of Scilly contain a distinctive association, rarely encountered elsewhere, whereby certain of their field boundaries directly incorporate or link cairns, entrance graves and cists in some groups of prehistoric funerary monuments. Although no precise figure is available, regular field systems form one of the three principal forms of prehistoric field system, along with irregular field systems and some groups of prehistoric linear boundaries, which survive in over 70 areas of the Isles of Scilly. They provide significant insights into the physical and social organisation of past landscapes and they provide evidence for the wider contemporary context within which other nationally important monuments were constructed.

The prehistoric to early medieval field system and settlement at Dial Rocks survive reasonably well, clearly displaying their manner of layout and construction despite some evidence for limited post-medieval reuse and partial clearance. Although not archaeologically excavated, the finds from burrow upcast have indicated the main phase of settlement activity and confirmed the rich artefactual and economic content of the middens, which have produced one of the relatively few examples of early medieval imported pottery from Scilly. The wider landuse context contemporary with the settlement features in this scheduling is well illustrated by the extensive early settlement and funerary remains nearby on Castle Down.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a prehistoric to early medieval field system surviving around the end of a broad spur that extends south east from the Castle Down plateau on northern Tresco in the Isles of Scilly. Incorporated within the field system are hut circles and middens of a broadly contemporary settlement. The field system is defined by turf-covered rubble banks generally 2m-2.5m wide and 0.3m-0.5m high; occasional large slabs are also visible through the banks' turf cover in some sectors, and near the crest of the spur in the north of the scheduling is a large end-set slab 1.1m high. Where the banks roughly follow the contour they appear as steps in the slope profile, called lynchets, reflecting soil movement caused by early cultivation on the slope. The banks follow straight or very slightly curving courses and most run directly across or along the slope, NNE-SSW or WSW-ENE, creating a network of small subrectangular plots, 20m-60m across, over the end of the spur. In the west of the scheduling the field system includes a trackway, 5m wide, defined by a slight bank to each side and surviving over 100m on an almost straight SSE-NNW course which gradually ascends the spur's south west flank; near its NNW end, adjoining banks define a branch extending ENE from the trackway, aiming towards the broadly contemporary settlement. The settlement incorporated within the field system includes at least five hut circles. Four of these form a close grouping, 5m-20m apart, on the upper north eastern slope of the spur; a fifth hut circle is located on the spur's south west slope close to the western edge of the scheduling. All adjoin banks of the field system except for the largest hut circle in the north east group which is located at the centre of a small plot. The hut circles have rounded interiors, in the range 3.5m to 5.5m diameter and levelled 0.3m-0.7m into the slope. The interiors are defined upslope by the levelling cut accompanied by a slight turf-covered bank, 1m-2m wide, extending around much of the interior; some hut circles' banks have occasional exposures of core rubble and facing slabs. Entrance gaps are visible in the western two hut circles of the north east group, facing north west and south west respectively. The hut circle settlement also includes at least five large mounds called middens, containing early occupation debris, earth and rubble. The middens are up to 11m long by 10m wide and range from 0.3m to 1m high; all but one is formed against banks of the field system and they occur in the area 10m-50m south and south west of the north eastern group of hut circles. Upcast from rabbit burrows penetrating the midden edges has produced quantities of artefacts, bone and shell which shed much light on the date and nature of the early settlement in this scheduling. The artefacts included several worked flints together with fragments of pottery dating to the later prehistoric and Romano-British periods and a piece of imported early medieval domestic ware dating to late sixth-early eigth century AD. The bones from midden deposits were mostly of cattle, including the dwarf Scillonian ox, with smaller quantities of sheep, pig, horse and grey seal bone and teeth represented. Seabird and fish bone was also present. Two of the bird long bones had been worked into pointed implements. The bone assemblage also included a vertebral bone from a young child. The overall extent of the field system is delimited on all sides beyond the scheduling by post medieval enclosure around the foot of the spur and by modern pasture clearance higher on the spur, separating the early settlement features in this scheduling from very extensive and broadly contemporary field systems, boundaries, settlements and funerary remains surviving on Castle Down. Less intensive stone clearance within the scheduling is also considered to account for the general scarcity of large slabs along the field system banks and, in the north east of the scheduling, for the discontinuity of some banks in an area where early Ordnance Survey maps indicate 19th century reuse of prehistoric wall alignments to define small field plots which have since been removed to produce large pasture fields. Other 19th century activity within the scheduling involved subsoil and stone-extraction, producing a series of small surface hollows on the south eastern periphery of the scheduling near the Dial Rocks outcrops. All modern post-and-wire fences, gates and gate-posts and livestock feed containers are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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: 15513

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ratcliffe, J, Lighting up the Past in Scilly, (1991)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7357, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7357 & 7357.08, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7357.01-.04, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7357.05-.07 &.09, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7357.06, .07, .09, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 14 Source Date: 1888 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8815 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing