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Dartmoor: A Pre-National Mapping Programme project

The Dartmoor project was an early pre-National Mapping Programme survey undertaken in 1984-5. Covering the Dartmoor National Park and an adjacent area of south-west Dartmoor, the main objective was to identify sites or areas worthy of protection through scheduling, as well as to update the Devon Sites and Monuments Record. Other survey and excavation projects on Dartmoor were transforming archaeological understanding of the area, and the aerial survey was also intended as a contribution to this process.

Colour aerial photograph showing extensive open moorland cut by gullies; in the foreground is a stone enclosure
View across Dartmoor taken on 13-OCT-2005 with the prehistoric settlement of Erme Pound in the foreground (NMR 24101/32) © Historic England

Dartmoor reaves

A major aim of this project was to map some of the extensive Bronze Age field systems known to exist on Dartmoor. Defined by low stone banks known as reaves, their existence had long been known, but their Bronze Age date had only recently been recognised. In conjunction with other survey and excavation projects, the mapping aided understanding of the nature and extent of these systems, their relationship to the landscape, and their connections with other prehistoric features including settlements, funerary and ritual monuments.

Colour aerial photo showing open moorland crossed by a series of linear stony banks, with trees and pasture fields behind
Bronze Age field system defined by parallel arrangements of low stone banks on Mountsland Common photographed on 18-MAY-2004 (NMR 23521/20) © Historic England

Industrial sites

An important outcome of this project was the extensive mapping of industrial sites of medieval and later periods. There is a long history of tin mining on Dartmoor and evidence of both mineral extraction and processing was identified. Mapped sites include tin streamworks, openworks and their associated leats, one of which is about 11km long. Shafts, trail pits, tin mills and blowing houses were also recorded. Other industries mapped range from China clay extraction to peat-cutting.

One of the rights of Dartmoor commoners was to cut peat and there is widespread evidence of peat cutting on Dartmoor visible on aerial photographs. Rows of peat-ties or ‘turf-tyes’ can be seen, often fanning out from summit points.

Colour aerial photograph showing open moorland with a road running through the middle; the moor is cut by multiple gullies
Part of an extensive area of 19th century or earlier tin working onthe north-east of Dartmoor photographed on 26-MAR-2002. Pictured are the remains of open work mining and leats; next to the road are the remains of 19th or early 20th century miners’ houses (NMR 21582/18) © Historic England

The key results of the project were incorporated in the Dartmoor volume and a project report:

The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor

The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor

Published 15 July 2011

This book presents an overview of the landscape and archaeology of Dartmoor from 4000 BC to the present. It summarises recent fieldwork in an accessible manner and allows a fuller appreciation of this tranquil and beautiful landscape by detailing its cultural past.


The Archaeology of Dartmoor: an air photographic survey

The Archaeology of Dartmoor: an air photographic survey

Published 30 November 1985

Report from the Dartmoor air photo survey undertaken by the RCHME, a precursor to the National Mapping Programme.

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project, please contact the Historic England Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Remote Sensing Team please contact us via email using the link below.

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