MMO1635 - Prehistoric tor enclosure on Little Hangman (Monument)


A substantial earthwork visible on aerial photographs encircles the cliff top of Little Hangman. It has been interpreted as a probable Tor Enclosure (or Tor Cairn) dating to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

A substantial earthwork identified from aerial photographs, encircling the cliff top of Little Hangman, has been interpreted as a probable Tor Enclosure, dating to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. The earthwork, centred on SS 5850 4806, follows a roughly circular route around the summit of Little Hangman. It varies in width from between 5 to 7.5 metres, and the total area enclosed is approximately 1200 square metres. On the northern, seaward side, a natural geological shelf has been incorporated into the earthwork. A site visit revealed edge set slabs of stone visible in the earthwork, and there are indications that the summit of Little Hangman was quarried to provide this material. Similar sites have been recorded on both Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and Dartmoor in Devon, but were previously unknown on Exmoor. The precise function of Tor Enclosures is uncertain, and further study is required to ascribe a precise date and function to this site. [1-4] The enclosure discovered during the Exmoor NMP (National Mapping Programme) survey on the conical coastal hill of Little Hangman [4] was interpreted as a prehistoric enclosure and tentatively ascribed to the Neolithic period [5]. Given its potential importance, in May 2009 English Heritage’s Exeter Archaeological Survey and Investigation team, at the request of the National Trust Regional Archaeologist and the Exmoor National Park Archaeologist, carried out a large scale analytical survey of the site using differential GPS equipment and enhanced by graphical methods, a photographic record of the site was also taken [6]. The northwestern sector of the site could not be surveyed due to dense gorse cover. The survey and investigation of the site showed that the enclosure is incomplete; the enclosing scarp is clear on the south and east sides, its possible progression around the west side of the hill top is masked by gorse and to the north the ground shelves away steeply to the sea. Inside the enclosure the natural ground continues to rise steeply to the centre as a small flat topped summit. As such, the only level ground available is directly inside the enclosing scarp and on that afforded by several platforms and scoops, some caused by natural rock formations but others created artificially, some are the result of quarrying but this does not appear to account for all of the platforms. In particular, those clustered along the seaward side of the site seem less indicative of quarrying. The precise date and function of the enclosure remains open to debate, but a prehistoric origin appears likely. [5,6] The enclosure is most probably of prehistoric date and has features to suggest it is a tor enclosure. This is an incomplete enclosure. There is a scarp (1 metre in height) on the south and east sides of the summit which backs onto a level area. To the west the enclosure is masked by thick bushes. The northern ground falls steeply to the sea. It is assumed that the enclosure extends to the west but taken as what is visible, the enclosure is tear shaped and at it’s widest measures 116 metres east to west and 60 metres north to south. The enclosure contains artificially created platforms, usually interpreted as quarry scoops, however the concentration of levelled areas on the northern side suggests the site may have been important for the views it provided along the coast. Some of the platforms may be prehistoric occupation sites. There are two upright stones set above the main earthwork in a steep scarp. The northern stone measures 0.35 metres long, 0.2 metres high and 0.02 metres thick. The southern stone measures 0.55 metres long, 0.30 metres high and 0.04 metres thick. Their function is unknown. [7] This site was surveyed in detail by the RCHME in 2009. It was described as incomplete, partially masked by vegetation and merging with the steep cliff side. The interior contains natural rock formations and artificially created scoops or platforms, concentrated on the northern and southern sides. The summit has two level areas deliberately created by enhancing natural rock outcrops. At least some of the platforms and level areas were thought to have origins in the earlier prehistoric period for non-permanent occupation, when people used Little Hangman as an important feature in the Neolithic landscape. The site has features that argue strongly that it is a tor enclosure dating from the earlier Neolithic period. [8-10] Two Ordnance Survey benchmarks are depicted on the tor on the 1st and 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey maps. There is also a triangulation pillar at the summit. [11,12] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [13]

Sources/Archives (13)

  • <1> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/89114 653 (4 May 1989).
  • <2> Article in serial: Silvester, R.J.. 1979. The Relationship of First Millennium Settlement to the Upland Areas of the South West. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 37. p 37.
  • <3> Verbal communication: Various. 1993-. Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Team staff comments. R Wilson-North, email 11 October 2007.
  • <4> Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 54 NE. MD002165.
  • <5> Report: Hegarty, C. And Toms, K.. 2009. Exmoor National Park National Mapping Programme (NMP) Management and Summary Report.
  • <6> Unpublished document: English Heritage Field Investigators Comments. H Riley and R Pullen, May 2009.
  • <7> Article in serial: Wilson-North, R.. 2011. From Barrows to Burnt Mounds. Exmoor Review. 52. 85-89. P.85.
  • <8> Survey: Riley, H.. 2009. Little Hangman Survey Drawing.
  • <9> Unpublished document: Sinton, P, Riley, H. and Pullen, R.. 2009. Enclosure and platforms on Little Hangman hill, Combe Martin, Devon. 1:500.
  • <10> Report: Riley, H.. 2016. Little Hangman and Challacombe Common, Exmoor National Park: Two possible earlier Neolithic enclosures on western Exmoor.
  • <11> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1868-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <12> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1902-1907. County Series, 2nd Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <13> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 1460177, Extant 27 October 2021.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Local List Status (Candidate)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 54 NE105
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 1460177



Grid reference Centred SS 5851 4805 (100m by 100m) Aerial Survey
Map sheet SS54NE

Finds (0)

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Related Events/Activities (3)

Related Articles (1)

Record last edited

Oct 27 2021 2:29PM


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