The Miniliths of Exmoor: Lanacombe

Lanacombe I stone setting, © ENPA 2012

(Lanacombe I stone setting; © ENPA 2012)

Since 2005, a series of archaeological survey and excavations have been carried out on Lanacombe as part of a broader programme of investigation into the Exmoor stone settings. Efforts on Lanacombe have focused upon the small-scale excavation of recently damaged standing stones (Lanacombe I and Lanacombe III), and a more extensive investigation of their surrounding landscape (Lanacombe II, Lanacombe IV, Lanacombe V).

Soil resistance survey of 1.8 hectares of Lanacombe has revealed a series of linear boundaries in and around the stone settings, seemingly aligned upon a series of small, yet structurally complex, cairns (Cairn at Lanacombe I, Cairn at Lanacombe III, Cairn north of Lanacombe I). Excavation has revealed that these boundaries were marked by a motley of wooden posts, small clearance piles, shallow scoops and linear stone spreads - notable as much for their variation as ephemeral character. Together they appeared to mark out a series of rectangular parcels comparable to more monumental prehistoric field systems previously recorded on the moor at Codsend.

As well as stone settings, small, rather innocuous looking cairns are a common feature on Lanacombe. Visible at the surface as very small, shallow, dispersed accumulations of stone, two of these were excavated (at Lanacombe II) with every expectation of finding little more than haphazard jumbles of clearance. Instead a pair of multi-phase structures were revealed; complex elliptical cairns sharing a long axis, that had been laid out around central boxes of orthostats. Despite being only 12 metres apart (from box to box) the mode of construction in each case was different (one involving the use of a stone revetment and turf; the other a complex onion-skin arrangement of leaning stones). So too was their subsequent history – one remaining resolutely boat-shaped whilst its neighbour was enlarged to a circular form with a rough kerb of rounded boulders. On the basis of a sequence of radiocarbon dates, construction of the cairns seems to have been initiated around 1536-1420 calibrated BC.

One of the most intriguing features to be excavated on Lanacombe was a semi-circular high-resistance geophysical anomaly, discovered some 25 metres to the southeast of the Lanacombe III stone setting. This corresponded to a post and stake-built structure occupying a circular clearing some 10 metres in diameter with activity dated by radiocarbon to the 18th - 17th centuries calibrated BC. Within the clearing were postholes and remnants of a compacted floor surface upon which 11 pieces of worked flint had been deposited.

Mark Gillings