Stones of Nationally important Prehistoric cist reunited

Drizzlecombe on Dartmoor in South Devon, UK. The cap stone can be clearly seen upended behind the cist. Wiki Commons

The stones of the recently excavated Whitehorse Hill cist have been returned to their original location on northern Dartmoor by Dartmoor National Park Authority’s Archaeology and Conservation Works teams.

The cist excavation revealed a collection of nationally important artefacts including beads, worked leather and textiles and cremated human remains.

Dartmoor National Park Authority

The base stone of the cist had been taken to the Wiltshire Conservation Service laboratory in Chippenham to have the grave’s contents investigated by micro excavation. It was during this process that excitement mounted as more and more unique artefacts were uncovered.

The side and cover stones were left at the site and on Monday 12 December, with the help of a MOD all terrain vehicle, the base stone was returned to Whitehorse Hill.

Cists are stone built chests used for the burial of cremations or inhumations, and are found in the south west of England and elsewhere but are rarely found with their original contents.  Some 200 cists are known on Dartmoor.  They may be sunk into the ground or inserted into barrows or mounds.  On Dartmoor the Whitehorse Hill cist is the only known example set within a peat mound.

Dartmoor National Park Authority

The cist was first discovered over 10 years ago when one of its side stones fell out of the peat mound which had been concealing it. Since that time the peat has slowly eroded away from the sides and the top of the peat mound and after several attempts to protect the cist, a Scheduled Monument, the decision was taken by Dartmoor National Park Authority and English Heritage to excavate it in order to recover any surviving archaeological and environmental information before the site and its context were lost.

It was also an important opportunity to better understand archaeological preservation within upland peat at a time of changes in upland management.  This was the first excavation of a Dartmoor cist for nearly one hundred years.

Whilst the contents of the cist are currently the subject of scientific study and remain the cause of much interest nationally, the site and its stones are now able to be seen by walkers happy to make the trek out to the site.

The project was jointly funded by the Dartmoor National Park Authority and English Heritage, with contributions from a number of other local funders including the Dartmoor Trust, Dartmoor Preservation Association, Duchy of Cornwall, Devon County Council, Dr Jeremy Butler and Helpful Holidays.

The project was managed by Dartmoor National Park Authority with excavation work being carried out by archaeologists from the Historic Environment Projects Team, Cornwall Council, led by Andrew Jones, with assistance from English Heritage and Plymouth University specialists.

For further information from Dartmoor National Park Authority

Jane Marchand, Senior Archaeologist and Whitehorse Hill Project Manager
Mike Nendick, Communications Officer
Dartmoor National Park Authority
Tel: 01626 832093

For information from English Heritage

Phil McMahon, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Dartmoor
Tel: 0117 9750699
Vanessa Straker, Science Advisor for South West England
Tel: 0117 975 0689
Jonathan Last, Head of Research (Prehistory)
Tel: 02392 856732
Simon Mays, Human bone specialist
Tel: 02392 856779
Renée Fok, Press Officer
Tel: 020 7973 3297

Further information can also be obtained from:

Andrew Jones, Excavation Director, Historic Environment Projects, Cornwall Council
Tel: 01872 323691
Helen Williams, Senior Conservator, Wiltshire Conservation Service
Tel: 01249 705554


The cist, located within peat at 600m altitude on one of Dartmoor’s highest tors, offered high potential for good preservation of any remaining contents. The excavation also provided an opportunity to better understand archaeological preservation within upland peat at a time of change in upland management.
The cist’s isolated location and elevated position well away from other known archaeology was unusual.  This also caused some logistical problems in getting the necessary equipment and archaeologists up to the site. The MOD was of great help providing transport and the use of their observation post on Hangingstone Hill as an overnight store during the excavation phase.

Dartmoor National Park Authority’s purposes under the Environment Act 1995 are:

  • to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park;
  • to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public.

In carrying out this work, we are also required to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Park.

HeritageDaily Archaeology News Press Release – News for Archeology by Archaeologists


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