Roughtor settlement north-west
Introduction to site
To the north-west of Roughtor ridge, in open grassy moorland, is a settlement of over 120 hut circles, small enclosures and fragments of field systems. Laid out in a broad north-south band, the majority of the round houses are linked by the stony banks of a series of six small irregular enclosures. Where entrances are distinguishable they tend to face downhill, between the south and west quadrants. Limited excavation has produced evidence for at least three phases of occupation during the Early and Middle Bronze Age, representing over 1000 years of settlement in the area.
Access and Facilities
Roughtor settlement north-west lies in open access moorland. It is most easily reached from the car park at Roughtor from which it is a hike of about 500m.
The site is free to visit, and is open any reasonable time in daylight hours.
There are refreshment facilities available at Rough Tor Farm, on the road to/from the car park at Roughtor Ford.
There are no public transport links directly/close to the area of the site. There are bus services to Camelford. Visit the Traveline website for customised sustainable transport options.
View our interactive Access to Monuments map to find this and other nearby sites.
Considering the absence of extensive tracts of prehistoric fields with these houses (as seen on other parts of the moor), this settlement probably represents an economy based on stock rearing, possibly involving transhumance - the seasonal movements of people and livestock between lowland and upland territories. The small enclosures probably functioned as corrals, and there may also be small garden plots beside some of the houses for growing a few summer crops.
Fragments of larger, slightly more regular, enclosures can also be recognised on the hillslopes to the north and east, and these are cut by a series of straight linear boundaries representing subsequent changes in land use, possibly related to changes in the subsistence strategy or economic base of the community. Although there is no direct evidence here to confirm their precise relationships, excavations nearby at Stannon have shown that the main phases of settlement and the boundary banks are broadly contemporary.
Numerous stone cairns are scattered across the hillslopes and a small number occur close to or within the settlement enclosures. The majority of these are thought to be Early Bronze Age burial monuments, but a few, especially those close to houses, may have been created during the initial clearance of the area selected for the settlement, or perhaps represent stones left over from the construction of houses and enclosure walls. It has been proposed that some of the smaller cairns were constructed as family shrines whilst the larger cairns in the area were more community focussed. It would be expected however, that the majority of the burial cairns would be Early Bronze Age in origin and the fullest development of settlement occurred in the Middle Bronze Age. Establishing a reliable chronology for the complex patterns of archaeological features in this area presents a major challenge; a programme of small scale trenching and carbon dating would reap handsome dividends.
By the end of the Middle Bronze Age it appears that permanent settlement and cultivation on the moorland slopes was no longer possible; the villages and fields were abandoned and the area reverted to seasonal grazing. This is thought to be the result of long-term fluctuations in the climate - the Bronze Age representing a period of optimum climate when it became possible to grow cereals at higher altitudes than was previously possible. The clear skies and cloud-free sunrises and sunsets which accompanied this phase might have encouraged an interest in the movements of Sun, Moon and stars which was expressed in the megalithic monuments.
Recent research however is failing to find convincing evidence to support the climate change model, and archaeologists are beginning to look for other explanations. Some have pointed to the lack of evidence for cereal pollens in cores taken from local peat bogs as evidence that cereals were not in fact being grown on the moor at all in the Bronze Age, and that the fields were designed for some other function, presumably related the control of stock.
Illustrations and Plans
Plan of prehistoric settlement and field systems to the north-west of Roughtor (Johnson and Rose 1994)
- Johnson, R. and Rose, P, 1994. Bodmin Moor: An Archaeological Survey. Vol.1: The human landscape to c1800. English Heritage. ISBN 0953 3796.
- Preston-Jones, A. 1994. An Archaeological Assessment of Roughtor, Bodmin Moor. Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.