MSO9187 - Group of Bronze Age cairns at Dunkery Beacon (Monument)


Five cairns of probable Bronze Age date are visible on the summit of Dunkery Beacon. For further details regarding individual cairns, see appropriate child records.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

Dunkery Beacon and adjacent mounds. Listed under `Burial Mounds'. Scheduled. [1] There are remains of beacons amongst the large scatter of loose stones on top of Dunkery. The ruins of three fire-hearths about 8 feet square built of rough unwrought stones form an equilateral triangle, in the centre of which is another hearth considerably larger than the rest. From these beacons the hill aquired the name Dunkery Beacon. About a mile away and more than 200 feet lower are the remains of two other hearths. [2] The barrows may have been the subject of antiquarian excavations on 2nd November 1807, although nothing was apparently found. [3] The Dunkery group of cairns is recorded on Monarch under two site numbers, 35990 and 35995 an action which has led to some uncertainty in the past. To avoid this and also the inconvenience of a split site, the records have been reorganised so that all five cairns are considered as a single group under reference 35990, utilizing Grinsell's numbering and with a concordance with the scheduled monument features (SO 49a, b and c) within the group. However, in HBSMR detailed information for individual cairns etc has been recorded under relevant Child records. The east to west ridge of Dunkery is 4.5 kilometres long. The westernpart rises from 470 metres to 510 metres Ordnance Datum; eastward of this there is a slight saddle beyond which the ground rises to the knoll of Dunkery Beacon, at 520 metres. The highest point in Somerset, it possesses the most wide ranging views in the south west, extending to Dartmoor, the River Severn, and the Brecon Beacons. Geologically of Middle Devonian sandstones, the ridge is now covered with a thin layer of peaty soil supporting a dense growth of heather.Surface stones are in evidence where there has been erosion. There are a number of cairns on the western part of the ridge, spaced in linear fashion, but none in the area of the saddle. On Dunkery Beacon the group is compact, occupying less than 0.25 hectares, with two on the spine of the ridge, and the others to north and south below the crest. Within the cairn group two possibly original quarry pits occur within a few metres of MEM22810, to the northeast and southeast. These are 10 to 15 metres across and up to 1 metre deep. To the east of MEM22810 there is a recent quarry, perhaps to supply the large quantity of stones required for the construction of the 1935 memorial cairn. A curious anomaly affects cairn MEM22809. A cropmark around the cairn can be seen on two sets of aerial photographs flown on the same day in April1982 [5-6]. No cropmark occurs on RAF, Ordnance Survey or Meridian aerial photographs. The image consists of a light coloured band about 6 metres wide, 20 metres from the perimeter of the cairn and concentric with it from the southwest, through the north quadrant to the southeast. In the southwest it ends on (or beneath?) cairn MEM22806, and on the southeast ends against cairn MEM22803. There may be a narrow break in the north but this is very indistinct. The overall diameter is approximately 60 metres. The area is entirely heather covered and the mark cannot be corroborated by any ground evidence. Immediately north of MEM22809 there is a 12 metre wide hollow or "ditch" up to 0.5 metres deep, and beyond a faint rise perhaps 9 metres across and 0.1 metres high. Although this rise or very low broad "bank" corresponds positionally with the cropmark, it is traceable for only 30 metres and at the northnorthwest end fades into a natural hollow of broad dimensions which occupies an extensive area to the west and southwest and is crossed by the aerial photograph mark. Around the northeast and east sides of cairn MEM22809 the ground is fairly flat with no bank or rise, and no inner hollow. If the band represents tightly packed stones at ground level it could disregard natural undulations and hollows but be quite undetectable in present conditions. Generous swaleing might provide an answer. It cannot be reconciled to any temporary recent feature such as a pathway as the course is unnatural and even if specially mowed in the heather, no visitor would keep to it. It is also crossed by old vehicle tracks. Should the cropmark be found to have archaeological significance as a hengiform feature, if originally complete a constructional sequence may be postulated. MEM22809 would be the first, MEM22803 the second and MEM22806, which seems to spread over part of MEM22803, the third cairn. Because of its size cairn MEM22803 now dominates the landscape but is not necessarily on the highest point of the initial ground level of this compact group. Grinsell [7] records a map of 1687 on which Dunkery Beacon is depicted as a round tower, while a century later Collinson refers to four beacon hearths on the top of Dunkery, three of them 8 feet square. All could have been accommodated on cairn MEM22803, though any cairn would provide a reasonable base. Since 1935 the memorial cairn has precluded the use of the site as a beacon but there is ample evidence for the use of MEM22809, and to a lesser extent MEM22806 and MEM22811. No fire hearth structures are identifiable(Collinson's reference [2] to two other fire hearths a mile distant might be to the Joaney How/Robin How area). With the exception of the enigmatic MEM22810, the group generally is in poor condition. Although unlikely to suffer great damage, the popularity of the area is such that gradual attrition is unavoidable and rescue excavation of cairns MEM22806, MEM22809, MEM22810 and MEM22811 might be considered in the medium term. [8] The five cairns on the summit of Dunkery Beacon were surveyed in August 2004 in response to a request by The National Trust to cover some of the monuments to protect them from further visitor damage. Scheduled. Three of the cairns have suffered superficial damage as the loose stones are regularly incorported into, and taken from, various stone piles and patterns. The largest summit cairn is suffering some structural damage due to visitor activity. The new survey depicts the cairns as they were in October 2004, although even during the short time at the site, changes were observed in the state of the stony mounds due to visitor actions. [9] At least four of the five cairns of probable Bronze Age date on the summit of Dunkery Beacon are visible on aerial photographs as earthworks or structures. The cairns have been transcribed as closely as possible during the Exmoor National Mapping Programme survey, but in spite of their size they are not clearly visible, due in part to the vegetation cover of this area and the erosion caused by visitors to the site. To the north of MEM22803, the possible cropmark feature described by [8] as a 'curious anomaly' encircling the cairn MEM22809 (which is not clearly visible as an earthwork on any available aerial photograph) has been transcribed. However, it is unclear from the photographs alone whether this feature is indeed archaeological in origin, or simply an artefact created by the passage of visitor's feet or the vehicles which [8] feels have left tracks across the 'cropmark'. That some of the vehicle tracks appear to cross the interior of the cairn with no corresponding tracks on the exterior may indicate the latter interpretation. [10-16] This area is now ringed with a heather covered low bank. It is adjacent to a well used path. [17] No change or major disturbance. Some surface movement of stone. [18] A plan by JD Hearn of Minehead of the cairns on and around Dunkery Beacon includes one to the southeast (his site A) which still (Easter 1979) has traces of a double retaining circle. It is published in [19] with a plan in the folder in the back. [20] The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the northeastern Scheduled area a score of 3. [21] The northeastern Scheduled area was surveyed in April 2015 as part of the 2015 Exmoor Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment. It was given a survival score of 3. [26]

Sources/Archives (26)

  • <1> Unpublished document: Various. Scheduled Monument Notification . Ministry of Works (1961), 81.
  • <2> Monograph: Collinson J. 1791. Hist. and Antiquities of Somerset. P.5.
  • <3> Monograph: Barrister, A.. 1811. A Tour in Quest of Geneology, through several parts of Wales, Somersetshire, and Wiltshire. Sherwood, Neely and Jones. 137.
  • <4> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 35990 and 35995.
  • <5> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RCHME SS8941/1/1097-8 (20 April 1982).
  • <6> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. ENPA Infra-red 2248-9 (20 April 1982).
  • <7> Article in serial: Grinsell, L.V.. 1969. Somerset Barrows, Part 1: West and South. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Nat. 113. 19.
  • <8> Unpublished document: Quinnell, N.V.. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 5 August 1987.
  • <9> Unpublished document: Fletcher, M.J.. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 4 October 2004.
  • <10> Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 84 SE. MD002185.
  • <11> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Oblique Aerial Photograph. SS 8941/3 (15431/17) (15 May 1996).
  • <12> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. CPE/UK/1980 (F20) 4171-2 (11 April 1947).
  • <13> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Oblique Aerial Photograph. SS 8941/32-3 (24028/17-18) (9 August 2005).
  • <14> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Oblique Aerial Photograph. SS 8941/9 (15450/13) (15 May 1996).
  • <15> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Oblique Aerial Photograph. SS 8941/6 (15431/20) (15 May 1996).
  • <16> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/73109 956-7 (29 April 1973).
  • <17> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. SM Weston, Field Monument Warden, 18 August 1982.
  • <18> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. SM Weston, Field Monument Warden, 12 May 1986.
  • <19> Monograph: Vowles, A. 1946. Dunkery.
  • <20> Article in serial: Grinsell, L V. 1980. In Burrow, I, Minnitt, S and Murless, B. Somerset Archaeology 1979. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. 124. 115.
  • <21> Report: Bray, L.S.. 2010. Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment 2009, Exmoor National Park.
  • <22> Report: Fletcher, M.. 2004. A New Archaeological Survey of: The Summit Cairns on Dunkery Beacon.
  • <25> Photograph: Unknown. DUNKERY BEACON AT CUTCOMBE FROM SOUTH. OS65/F136/5. B/W. MICROFILM.
  • <26> Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015. Archaedia.



Grid reference Centred SS 891 415 (81m by 60m) (4 map features)
Map sheet SS84SE

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (6)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Related Articles (1)

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO147
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO10176
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO10177
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO10178
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO11200
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO11555
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 84 SE14
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • National Trust HER Record
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 35990
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest
  • Somerset SMR PRN (Somerset): 33530
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 15349
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 15349
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 15350
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 15351
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 33485
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 33486
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 33487

Record last edited

Jul 23 2021 2:57PM


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