Prehistoric tor cairn and stone setting at Smallacombe Tor


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018682

Date first listed: 16-Mar-1994

Date of most recent amendment: 23-Oct-1998


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric tor cairn and stone setting at Smallacombe Tor
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Cleer

National Grid Reference: SX 23480 74928


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

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 relationships 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. Tor cairns are ceremonial monuments dating to the Early and Middle Bronze Age (c.2000-1000 BC). They were constructed as a ring bank of stone rubble, up to 35m in external diameter, sometimes with an entrance and an external ditch, and roughly concentric around a natural rock outcrop or tor. In some cases a kerb of edge-set stones bounds the inner edge of the bank and the area between the bank and the outcrop was sometimes infilled by laying down a platform of stone rubble or turves. Excavated examples have revealed post-holes and pits within the area defined by the ring-bank, some containing burial evidence, and scatters of Bronze Age artefacts concentrated around the central tor. Tor cairns usually occur as isolated monuments, though several are associated with broadly contemporary cairn cemeteries. They are very rare nationally with only 40-50 known examples concentrated on the higher moors of Devon and Cornwall, where their situation in prominent locations makes them a major visual element in the modern landscape. As a rare monument type a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of preservation.

Both the tor cairn and the stone setting on Smallacoombe Tor survive well; they have not been excavated and have no visible or recorded evidence for any disturbance. The stone setting belongs to a rare and diverse class of prehistoric ritual monument; its close association in this instance with the tor cairn on such a striking landscape feature as Smallacoombe Tor highlights the significant role of distinctive natural formations in prehistoric religions and the means by which that significance was expressed. The relationship of the tor cairn and stone setting with the field systems, boundaries and settlement sites on the flanks of Smallacoombe Downs and with the cairn on the Downs' highest point demonstrates well the organisation of ritual, funerary and settlement land use during the Bronze Age.


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


The monument includes two prehistoric ritual features, a tor cairn and a small stone setting, situated at Smallacoombe Tor on the Smallacoombe Downs, on south east Bodmin Moor. The tor cairn is against the base of the southern face of Smallacoombe Tor and survives with an almost semi-circular wall concentric about a distinctively-jointed granite outcrop, 3m high and projecting slightly from the tor's face. The wall is formed of largely edge-set, closely-spaced slabs up to 1.3m long and 0.7m high, but shortly before joining the face of the tor stack, the eastern end of the wall becomes a bank of heaped rubble and slabs, up to 1.7m wide and 0.6m high. Overall, the wall measures 6.5m east-west externally, and extends up to 5.9m south from the rock face beside the distinctive outcrop. The internal area defined by the wall is almost level and free of surface stone. The stone setting is located on the flattened top of Smallacoombe Tor at its higher western end, only 5m north west from the top of the outcrop forming the tor cairn's focus. The setting is 2.7m in external diameter, visible as a circular arrangement of at least six edge-set slabs up to 0.3m long and 0.3m high, spaced 0.25m-1m apart. A larger gap in the circuit on the south is completed by the northern edge of a low flat bedrock outcrop. Beyond this scheduling, other broadly contemporary features include a platform cairn on the highest point of Smallacoombe Downs, 430m to the WSW, while extensive prehistoric to medieval field systems, linear boundaries and settlement sites extend along the north east and eastern flanks of the downs, some of their walls rising to about west, north and south of Smallacoombe Tor.

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: 15286

Legacy System: RSM


Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 27 SW Source Date: 1984 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing