The Cairn Survey and Repair Project
The Cairn Survey and Repair Project started back in 2005 in partnership with the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA) Conservation Team, Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) and English Heritage. It was recognised by English Heritage that some of the (mainly) Bronze Age summit cairns on Dartmoor were slowly being changed into odd shapes by people and that, if unchecked, this could lead to fragile archaeology being disturbed. These cairns, although apparently just piles of rocks are around 4,000 years old, and many are scheduled historic monuments. Although historically the purpose of the cairns is unclear, it is considered that their primary function was to mark burials or territories. Some of the cairns have been excavated and finds have included human hair, Beaker Pottery, worked flint, a small amount of bronze and a possible copper spearhead.
Dartmoor’s summit cairns are distinctive features on the landscape which naturally attract visitors. Over time, people have added stones to the cairns or removed them, creating hollows within the cairn itself. If the quarry hollows continue to develop, it could lead to the exposure of potential surviving buried archaeological features and their subsequent destruction. The repair work will go some way to towards ensuring that any buried archaeology stays buried and is not disturbed or contaminated by modern materials.
Initial plans were to deal with 21 cairns but as the work was completed well ahead of schedule, the volunteers have gone on to survey and repair a further 28 cairns. The project creates many volunteer opportunities for different groups such as scouts and other youth groups, businesses seeking team building projects and students requiring work experience to engage with the DPA conservation team’s projects and regular volunteers for the cairn project have often been joined by visiting volunteers or students.
Andy Crabb, archaeologist, who has been involved with the project says:-
“Of all the various tasks and jobs I have to undertake as part of my duties, the Cairn Repair Project is definitely one of my favourites. The quality of the work undertaken by the group is of the highest order and the surveys in particular are second to none. The success of the project has been entirely due to the close working partnerships that have evolved between the volunteers and the organisations involved. And the reality is we are all doing the work for the simple reason that we all greatly appreciate Dartmoor and want to help preserve it.”