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The many ages of Dartmoor
Merrivale stones (Adrian Oakes)
The prehistoric settlement at Merrivale is some 4,000-years-old

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 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.

Wistmans Wood
Prehistoric Wistmans Wood on Dartmoor

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

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.

Hound Tor
Granite tors dominate Dartmoor - such as Hound Tor

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

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 also 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.

Looking at Devon's fiery past
11 May 10 |  Nature & Outdoors
Dartmoor stones dated at 3,500BC
26 Apr 10 |  History
The magic of Wistmans Wood
28 Sep 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Ancient settlement found on Dartmoor
11 Nov 09 |  History
Final day reveals cross surprise
31 Dec 09 |  History
The mystery of the three hares
30 Sep 09 |  History
Webcam: Dartmoor countryside
01 Dec 09 |  People & Places
A-Z of Devon history
08 Oct 09 |  History




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