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24 September 2014

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You are in: Devon > History > History features > Prehistoric Dartmoor

Stone circle at Grey Wethers

Stone circle at Grey Wethers

Prehistoric Dartmoor

Dartmoor has had a turbulent history - it was once roamed by dinosaurs, and was scarred by volcanoes and earthquakes.

Take a step back in time in your imagination - 370 million years back, to be precise - and just think what it must have been like on Dartmoor at the time of its origins.

The creation and moulding of Dartmoor's famous granite rocks began at this point, during the Devonian era of time.

A lot has happened on Dartmoor since then: dinosaurs once roamed its vast expanses, and giant redwoods grew majestically where Dartmoor Prison in Princetown now stands.

Then, there were the years of turbulence - of volcanoes, earthquakes and ice-ages, and we know that Dartmoor has been beneath the sea - not once but twice, and possibly on even more occasions.

For much of its history, Dartmoor has been pretty much uninhabited.

Wistmans Wood

Dartmoor's prehistoric Wistmans Wood

After the chaos of earthquakes and volcanoes, Dartmoor became almost entirely covered by trees following the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago.

Wistmans Wood on Dartmoor is Devon's oldest woodland. This prehistoric wood is now only a tiny fraction of what it used to be, but a visit really does take you back in time.

It was following the Ice Age that people really started to inhabit Dartmoor, to use the natural resources and to hunt for wild animals.

They would make clearings in the trees to attract the animals to graze.

This practice began the spread of peat blanket bog which nowadays covers much of the higher moorland.

An old mine working

A relic of Dartmoor's mining history

The deterioration of the agricultural land, and the onset of a wetter climate, forced Dartmoor's settlers to move away from the higher moor. They left behind a legacy of prehistoric field boundaries and homes.

Settlers started to return during the 9th and 10th centuries AD, when the climate improved again. There is further evidence of re-colonisation following the Norman Conquest of 1066.

For much of its history, the people of Dartmoor have depended on indigenous materials - such as granite and tin - for their livelihoods and sustenance, as well as livestock such as sheep. Quarrying played a major role for centuries.

Thankfully, much evidence of early habitation on Dartmoor remains and is looked after by the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

There are over 1,200 scheduled sites on Dartmoor, with evidence of life on the moor in past times.

These include cairns (burial sites), ceremonial sites and over 75 stone rows - in fact, 60 per cent of all the stone rows in England can be found on Dartmoor. One of the most dramatic is the stone row at Grey Wethers.

You can find out more about Dartmoor by visiting the park authority's website, which is linked from this page.

last updated: 08/02/2008 at 14:33
created: 08/02/2008

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