“A wide ride, higher on the down, bisects the conifer plantation along the crest and continues southward from Dagger Hill towards the cairns, standing in clear ground, on the apex of the down; these, in the days when men rode past them and knew their distinctive pimples from afar, were called ‘Red Barrows‘, Eric Hemery, p.512.
“If you go down to the woods today…,” well Soussons Plantation anyway, you will come across a small clearing amongst the conifer trees. Here there are four vegetation-covered mounds of varying sizes dating back to the Bronze Age which as Hemery stated are known as ‘Red Barrows’. In 1898 a report of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee stated that; “There are four tumuli on the highest point of Soussons Warren Hill, the largest of which was apparently once surrounded by a circle of stones but of these but one only now remains. These tumuli show some signs of having been dug into, but if so the operations were of a very superficial character, and the mounds should be properly explored.” – TDA, 1898, p.98.
Three years later in the August of 1902 the Dartmoor Exploration Committee did explore the four tumuli, the expenses of which were kindly funded by the Teign Naturalist Field Club. As can be seen from the map below the barrows are close together and run in a line from south to north and are numbered 1 to 4. It was found that numbers 1 and 2 were earth mounds whilst 3 and 4 were stone cairns. The hand of later man certainly had made its mark in one way or another. The earthen mounds were riddled with rabbit holes, a legacy of the old Soussons Warren whilst much of the cairn stones had been removed. Again, probably the result of the rabbit warren insomuch as the stone was used for wall building. In the centre of barrow 1 was a depression which suggested that a previous ‘investigation’ had been carried out. Quite possibly this was the result of some treasure seeker (known today as Night Hawks) working on the idea that great wealth had been buried there. This was a common notion at one time based on the principle that such impressive monuments would only have been built for a person of high standing. Therefore there was every chance that they would have been buried with all their worldly treasures. Sadly, although what they may have found would have been worthless in their eyes today a wealth of archaeological information can be gleaned from such finds and can be regarded as ‘valuable treasure’.
Disregarding the earlier intrusion, a ten feet square hole was dug down to a depth of six feet where a four foot by three foot pit was discovered. In this was found a small flint flake along with some charcoal. It was then decided to extend the excavation by digging 4 trenches in each cardinal direction from the central pit in the hope of finding further burials. This strategy paid off as about ten feet from the northern edge a small round kistvaen was unearthed. This contained fragments of burnt bone including a small piece of human skull accompanied by a flint flake. In the southern trench a small sherd of pottery was found which was dated to the Bronze Age. After moving away several hundred cartloads of earth it was decided to abandon the work on barrow 1 and move onto barrow 2. Once again four trenches were dug in all cardinal directions with an additional one running north west which in effect removed a good half of the barrow. Yet again there was superficial signs of disturbance but after digging through this a central pit was discovered. Once again it contained wood charcoal and small fragments of burnt bone. It was suggested at the time that the area of paved stones was used fro cremation purposes. Next to the pit at a depth of around 4 feet was a paved area constructed of flat stones. between and under which was more charcoal and burnt bone. Whilst digging down to the paved area two small pieces of bronze were found but due to the rabbit damage it was impossible to say whether they were in-situ. Roughly nine feet from the western edge of the barrow a flint arrowhead was unearthed.
Work then moved onto the cairns numbers 3 and 4 which revealed that they were just heaps of stone just above ground level and were devoid of any finds. Whilst in the area another feature was investigated. This was another cairn located at the head of a triple stone row which 31 foot in diameter which also examined without success. – TDA, 1903, pp. 141-2. Jeremy Butler has a different view on barrow number 3 as in his opinion it could well still contain the “remains of the original occupier.” – p.18. Oddly enough Eric Hemery mentions that in one of the barrows; “a fragment of a human skull and some human hair of recent origin. This was regarded, and I think rightly, as clear evidence of the practice of witchcraft.” – p.512. As can be seen from the 1903 report no human hair was found. I think he may have got this mixed up with the Soussons Cairn Circle which is over a kilometre to the south of Red Barrows in which some human hair was found. When the surrounding trees are eventually felled it will be interesting to see the Red Barrows in association with what was the original Bronze Age ritual landscape.
Butler, J. 1991. Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Vol.2. Exeter: Devon Books.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Robert Hale.
Transaction of the Devonshire Association. 1898. Fifth Report of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee,- Vol.30. Plymouth: W. Brendon & Son.
Transaction of the Devonshire Association. 1903. The Exploration of Red Barrows – Vol.35. Plymouth: W. Brendon & Son.