Round cairn cemetery on Dunkery Hill


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Round cairn cemetery on Dunkery Hill
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Somerset (District Authority)
West Somerset (District Authority)
Wootton Courtenay
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SS 90883 42778

Reasons for Designation

Exmoor is the most easterly of the three main upland areas in the south western peninsula of England. In contrast to the other two areas, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, there has been no history of antiquarian research and little excavation of Exmoor monuments. However, survey work has confirmed a comparable richness of archaeological remains, with evidence of human exploitation and occupation from the Mesolithic period to the present day. Many of the field monuments surviving on Exmoor date from the later prehistoric period, examples including stone settings, stone alignments, standing stones, and burial mounds (barrows or cairns). Round cairn cemeteries are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500BC. Constructed as rubble mounds which covered single or multiple burials, they often also acted as a focus for burials in later periods. Over 370 barrows or cairns, varying in diameter from 2m to 35m, have been recorded on Exmoor, with a proportion of these forming round cairn cemeteries on or close to the summits of the three east-west ridges which cross the moor - the southern escarpment, the central ridge, and the northern ridge. Those which occupy prominent locations form a major visual element in the modern landscape. Their longevity as a monument type can 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.

The round cairn cemetery on Dunkery Hill survives well as a particularly good example of its class. It includes a number of large cairns, such as the distinguished Joaney How and Robin How Cairns, which are likely to have acted as a focus for other satellite cairns which are located in the area. The prominent position of the cemetery on the Dunkery massif forms an important and well known landmark in the Exmoor landscape. Additionally, the mounds would also have been highly visible in the prehistoric landscape in which they were constructed.


The monument includes a prehistoric round cairn cemetery which is situated on open moorland occupying a prominent position on the summit of Dunkery Hill. The cemetery, which comprises at least five round cairns, includes three distinctive cairns each of which is surrounded by a low bank. These cairns, two of which have attracted the place-names of Joaney How and Robin How, appear to have formed the focus of the cemetery which is roughly aligned from north east to south west along the high level plateau which forms the eastern end of the Dunkery Ridge. The surrounding earth and stone banks which distinguish three of the cairns from the others are an average of 1m wide. Their cairn mounds range in diameter between 21.5m and 24m with a maximum height of 2m. Each of the mounds is topped with a modern stone heap. The westernmost cairn, known as Robin How, is flanked by a large quarry pit to the east which has dimensions of 19m from north to south, 8m from east to west, and is 0.8m deep; it was probably the source of material for the cairn mound. A low stone and earthen mound about 3m in diameter is situated immediately west of the cairn mound and may be associated with it. An unnamed cairn which forms the southernmost of the group has several shallow pits close to the east and south sides of the mound and, as with Robin How, these were probably dug to provide material for the cairn mound. The north easternmost of this group of banked cairns is known as Joaney How. Two further cairns are located to the east and north east. Both are similarly constructed with stone and earth mounds 1.1m high but without enclosing banks. The mound of the northernmost of the two is 18m in diameter and has a slight hollow just to the south west of the centre which is visible in the exposed stone of the mound; this is probably the result of stone robbing. The second cairn, located to the south east of the former is 17m in diameter and has a pit dug into the centre of the mound of approximately 2.8 sq m with upcast stone around it. Also included in the scheduling are a further three small mounds considered to be cairns. These are located at the centre of the group just to the east of Joaney How and they may have been constructed as later and secondary cairns seeking association with the main focus of the cemetery. Their mounds are an average 3m in diameter and 0.2m high. The cemetery appears also to have acted as a focus for further cairns which lie some distance from it; these outlying cairns are the subject of separate schedulings. The cairns known as Robin How and Joaney How are traditionally thought to be named after Robin Hood and Little John and were first referred to as such on an Ordnance Survey 6 inch map of 1887. Both of these cairns, together with the southernmost cairn of the group, are recorded as the sites of beacons on the Ordnance Survey 25 inch 1st edition map of 1809.

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:
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Books and journals
Grinsel, L V, 'Proceedings Somerset Archaeological & Natural History Society' in Somerset Barrows, , Vol. 113, (1969), 35
Grinsell, L V, 'Proceedings of Somerset Archaelogical & Natural History Society' in Somerset Barrows, , Vol. 113, (1969), 14,35
Grinsell, L V, 'Proceedings of Somerset Archaelogical & Natural History Society' in Somerset Barrows, , Vol. 113, (1969), 14,35
Grinsell, L V, 'Proceedings of Somerset Archaelogical & Natural History Society' in Somerset Barrows, , Vol. 113, (1969), 43
Grinsell, L V, 'Proceedings of Somerset Archaelogical & Natural History Society' in Somerset Barrows, , Vol. 113, (1969), 43
SS 94 SW 14, National Monuments Record,
SS 94 SW 2, National Monuments Record,
SS 94 SW 3, National Monuments Record,
SS 94 SW 4, National Monuments Record,
SS 94 SW 6, National Monuments Record,


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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