Background to archaeology


Because of their long history of occupation and use, the Pebblebed heaths have a rich archaeological history, with over 168 historic features noted in the County Council’s Historic Environment Record. 

From the prehistoric peoples who built the large number of barrows and cairns (burial mounds) on the heaths to  WWII military uses, traces of the footprints of human occupation are evident across the heaths. Some of what we know about the local archaeology dates back to the 1930s and the early excavations of George Carter during the 1920s-1960s.  Amongst other things he discovered the curious pebble platforms at Aylesbeare.

The most important site is the designated Scheduled Monument Iron Age hillfort of Woodbury castle. Additional features of great note include Scheduled Monument burial barrows and cairns, of which 21 have been identified.  

Roads of Roman origin run through the area as do many parish boundaries, hollow ways and field systems dating from the late Saxon period. Other features enriching this cultural landscape date from various historical periods and include quarries, boundary banks, ridge and furrow and artificial landscape features including planted mounds.


Military activity from the Napoleonic wars left behind pebble mounds, pits, trenches and hearths. Later occupation on parts of Budleigh and Bicton Commons during WWII by British and American military forces, particularly on East Budleigh Common on the site of Dalditch Camp,  is evidenced by the remains of buildings and infrastructure, excavations and smaller features such as pits and trenches

A number of projects are currently investigating archaeological sites of interest. In recent years Prof. Chris Tilley and team from the Department of Anthropology, University College London, have been investigating the platforms first discovered by George Carter. This is believed to be a ceremonial complex connected with adjacent the barrows, perhaps with mortuary rites taking place here. The platforms are of a size that can comfortably accommodate a body and might have been used as places of excarnation. Investigations are also being undertaken of the Seven stones site on Mutter’s Moor.

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