Prehistoric cist, cairns and cairnfield on north east Smallacoombe Downs, 570m north west of Smallacoombe Tor


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric cist, cairns and cairnfield on north east Smallacoombe Downs, 570m north west of Smallacoombe Tor
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Cleer
National Grid Reference:
SX 23070 75386, SX 23149 75391, SX 23252 75382

Reasons for Designation

Bodmin Moor, the largest of the Cornish granite uplands, has long been recognised to have exceptional preservation of archaeological remains. The Moor has been the subject of detailed archaeological survey and is one of the best recorded upland landscapes in England. The extensive relict landscapes of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval date provide direct evidence for human exploitation of the Moor from the earliest prehistoric period onwards. The well-preserved and often visible relationship between settlement sites, field systems, ceremonial and funerary monuments as well as later industrial remains provides significant insights into successive changes in the pattern of land use through time. Round cairns are funerary monuments covering single or multiple burials and dating to the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). They were constructed as mounds of earth and stone rubble up to 40m in external diameter but usually considerably smaller; a kerb of edge-set stones sometimes bounds the edges of the mound. Burials were placed in small pits, or on occasion within a box-like structure of stone slabs called a cist, let into the old ground surface or dug into the body of the cairn. Round cairns can occur as isolated monuments, in small groups or in larger cemeteries. Their considerable variation in form and longevity as a monument type provides important information on the diversity of beliefs, burial practices and social organisation in the Bronze Age. They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of preservation.

The prehistoric funerary remains on north eastern Smallacoombe Downs, 570m north west of Smallacoombe Tor, survive well; despite evidence for some animal burrowing and stone-robbing respectively at the two larger cairns, each retains a substantial proportion of its fabric undisturbed and displays clearly its form. The grouping of funerary remains in this scheduling is highly unusual both in its diversity and in the nature of structural elements represented, the cairnfield in particular is very rare in the contemporary funerary context in Cornwall and is well outside the main foci of their national distribution. The smaller eastern cist and the larger cairn and cist are also unusual representations of these uncommon funerary structures in the far south west. The eastern cist is one of very few examples that shows no clear evidence for antiquarian disturbance. In their wider context, these funerary remains complement the extensive survival of multi-phase prehistoric settlement remains nearby to provide valuable evidence for the organisation of settlement and funerary activity among the early communities on the downs.


The monument includes a group of prehistoric funerary remains dispersed across the middle slope of the north eastern flank of Smallacoombe Downs on south east Bodmin Moor. The group includes, on the east, a small box-like funerary structure called a cist, set within a small mound; at the centre of the group are two round cairns, one of which contains another cist, and at the west of the group is a dense and well-defined scatter of small cairns which together form a cairnfield. The scheduling is divided into three areas of protection. The funerary remains are spaced across 210m of Smallacoombe Downs' north easterly midslope between about the 270m-275m contour level. The eastern structure in the group is a small ovoid rubble mound, 2.6m long, north-south, by 1.75m wide and rising up to 0.75m high from its downslope edge. Its edges rise steeply to a flattened upper surface at whose northern end is a flat slab, 0.75m long by 0.65m wide, with squared corners. This is the covering slab of a cist whose east and west side-slabs are exposed beneath, where vegetation has fallen away at the northern end of the mound. Both side-slabs are leaning over to the east leaving a cavity beneath the covering slab. Their bases and leaning lengths suggest an original cist width of about 0.5m and height of 0.3m; the cavity over them extends 0.7m to an end-slab to the SSW. Close to the north east of the exposed end of the cist is a large flat slab, 0.75m long by 0.6m wide, considered to be the cist's former northern end-slab now fallen outwards. From 100m WNW of that cist, the central funerary remains include two round cairns 10m apart on a north east-south west axis. The north eastern cairn is visible as a circular mound 4.5m in diameter, built out from the northerly slope to rise up to 0.75m high from its downslope edge. On top of its domed surface are exposed the side slabs and north west end-slab of a funerary cist, its south east end masked by leafmould and its covering slab absent. The slabs define a rectangular cist interior 0.4m wide, north east-south west; its exposed north west-south east length is 0.75m and at the north west end an animal burrow reveals the cist slabs extending 0.55m deep into the mound. The cairn to the south west is visible as a mound 4m in diameter, with a domed surface rising 0.8m high on its northern side. The northern quadrant of the mound has been removed by stone-robbers, revealing a large boulder in the west of the mound, exposed in the resulting robbing scarp. From about 48m west of these cairns, the cairnfield extends over an area at least 55m WNW-ESE by 50m NNE-SSW. Within that area the surface contains a dense scatter of small rubble mounds, generally spaced 5m-10m apart and commonly 1.5m diameter and 0.3m high, but in the range 1m-3m diameter and 0.1m-0.6m high. The cairns show no clear patterning within the area of the cairnfield and most show no visible structural features apart from the rubble mound; however several do have occasional edge-set slabs on their periphery indicating part-kerbing and one has a large edge-set slab near the centre that may derive from a former cist. Beyond this scheduling, two further prehistoric cairns are situated at a slightly higher level from 305m to the WNW, while most of the lower slopes along this flank of Smallacoombe Downs are encompassed by extensive prehistoric field systems with earlier phases of enclosures and settlement.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 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:
Legacy System:


Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map SX 27 NW Source Date: 1984 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Smallacoombe Downs survey plan on OS/Landline map base Source Date: 1998 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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

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