For those who do not hail from Cornwall firstly let me explain why there are ants crawling all over this page for Emmet’s Post. The word Emmet derives from the old Anglo Saxon word æmette which mean ‘ant’ and is used by the Cornish to rudely describe holiday makers or ‘blow ins’, which would never happen in Devon 🙂. However, in this instance the word ‘Emmet’ has nothing to do with ants and refers to a boundstone set upon an ancient barrow known as ‘Emmet’s Post‘.
Firstly, let’s deal with the boundstone, it is one of a series of markers that delineate the boundaries between the lands which once belonged to Lord Morley and Sir Henry Lopes, Crossing, p.428. The granite pillar stands just under one metre tall and has the letters ‘S’ and ‘M’ incised upon one side and ‘L’ and ‘M’ on the other.. These letters refer to ‘Shaugh Moor’ and ‘Lee Moor’ denoting the areas of land upon which it sits and is one of a series of markers erected in 1835. Hemery suggests that the place-name Emmet’s Post derives from a personal name; ‘Emmet’, apparently the family once lived at nearby Shaugh Prior, p.211, the ‘Post’ element simply refers to the granite pillar. Maybe this location was one once frequented by or had some special association with the Emmets?
OK, the main item of interest for this page is not the granite pillar but the prehistoric bowl barrow upon which it sits. In 1890 the Devonshire Association’s twelfth report of their Barrow Committee Mr. Worth had very little to say about the barrow, he simply noted; “Emmet’s Post, stands on a fair-sized tumulus, which at least looks ancient.” He also suggested that there was an alignment of the barrow with the nearby stone row both of which mark the sunset on the Winter Solstice, p.456.
What is a bowl barrow? According to English Heritage it is: “A round barrow featuring a mound surrounded by a ditch, with no intervening berm. The ditch may be accompanied by an external bank.” This particular barrow has a diameter of twelve metres and stands at one and a half metres high. The tell-tale oval depression in the centre of the mound could suggest that some time in the past it has been the subject of antiquarian ‘investigation’.
However, it is not only the early antiquarians who have damaged the barrow, in 2000 a survey carried out by Exeter Archaeology determined that about one metre of the barrow’s base had been removed when the haul road was widened. This apparently caused no serious damage or exposed any finds or features.
In 2009 an archaeological programme of works was carried out at Emmet’s Post on behalf of Sibelco UK and funded under the English Heritage’s HEEP (Historical Environment Enabling Program). This work comprised of excavating twenty six evaluation trenches in order to establish the archaeological potential of a 5.2 hectare area around Emmet’s Post which had been proposed for mineral extraction. The findings of this project were basically that it had been a waste of time as no features earlier than the post-medieval period were found along with a lack (nil) of finds.
On the 1st of September 2014 Oxford Archaeology began an investigation into the monument in order to establish how it was constructed and used/re-used. The excavation period was scheduled to end on the 26th of September 2014. On September 21st 2014 an invitation was issued for the public to visit the site and see for themselves the excavation progress. The team from Oxford Archaeology and a member of Devon County Council conducted several tours of the site on which around 150 visitors took part. The project was funded by Sibelco the mineral company who are extracting kaolin and sand in the area. “The aims of the excavation project are to characterise the full extent of the barrow and potential ditch, possibly identifying buried surface deposits and phased construction horizons. Environmental remains will add to the regional studies of the wooded prehistoric landscape that was very different to that today.”, Andrew Josephs, Sibelco Archaeologist.
Why all the fuss about one barrow? It seems that this unfortunate barrow has been made a ‘sacrificial lamb’ for the benefit of the greater good. In 2001 the mineral companies agreed to give up all tipping areas within the Dartmoor national park provided they could merge the Lee Moor and Shaugh Lake pits. This would mean the loss of the bowl barrow hence the new excavation ahead of its demise.
Fortunately I was working in the Plymouth area on the penultimate day of excavations so took the opportunity to see what was happening at the barrow. Luckily the first person I met was Olaf Bayer who is the site director for the project. He kindly talked me through their findings so far which was exceedingly interesting. I will not go into all the details here as for fear of stealing his thunder when the report is finished. Suffice it to say they have a good idea how the barrow was constructed over various phases and as far as other Dartmoor examples go the barrow is fairly unique. There were two distinct types of stones used when the barrow was built, one from a nearby local source and the other from slightly further afield. In a landscape setting the barrow would have been best viewed from shell top. It has also been confirmed that the so-called alignment that Worth talked about was incorrect as the barrow is off skew with the stone row. As far as finds go they have found a few early pot sherds and everything else has been modern stuff such a bottles and a crisp packet. I would just like to thank Olaf for the time and information he kindly gave me whilst visiting the site, especially as the deadline was fast approaching.
If anyone is wondering what’s happened to the actual Emmet’s Post it is now being stored at the mineral company’s depot at Cornwood. Apparently it will be re-erected somewhere on their land but the actual location has not yet been decided.
So, before its demise the barrow has added to the understanding of prehistoric Dartmoor and when the excavation conclusions are made there will be further information added to the archaeological record. Just maybe, one day when you are cleaning your teeth the kaolin in the toothpaste could well have come from under the Emmet’s Post bowl barrow?
Worth, R. H. 1988. Worth’s Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.