Excavations at Clovelly Dykes (1903)


Author(s): Baring-Gould. Sabine Origin: other
Topic(s): archaeology Year published: 1903
Location(s): Clovelly Dykes Pages:

The Rev. S. Baring Gould has most kindly responded to the Rector’s request, and has sent the following account of his excavations at the Dykes for insertion in our magazine. “Clovelly Dykes are the largest series of embankments forming a camp in Devon. History is absolutely silent concerning them. They have been somewhat interfered with about what was probably the entrance by a road being cut through them, and by the construction of a farm and its outbuildings; consequently the plan of the entrance cannot be definitely determined.

As far as can be judged it was raised in the ‘Iron Age’, which began about B.C. 800, but may have been, and probably was occupied in times of war and trouble to a much later period. In fact iron cannon balls of the times of the Commonwealth have been found in and about it. That the original constructors of the camp employed slings has been abundantly proved by the discovery of great numbers of rounded pebbles used as sling stones. That they also employed flint for weapons and tools is probable, for although no flint weapons or arrow heads have been found, yet a certain number of flint flakes have been unearthed, flakes struck off from nodules of silex brought from Dorset, in the construction of tools or weapons of that material. Flint would not have been brought there from a distance except for that purpose, or for use in striking lights, and the flakes found were certainly not hit off in fire kindling. They were of the character usually discovered where there was a manufacture of flint arrow heads. Flint was employed for this purpose all through the ‘Bronze Age’, and also in that of iron.

The defenders of the Camp dug holes in the ground, and made fires in these. During the recent exploration one of these fire holes was discovered full of charcoal. One of the most valuable relics of an early age for determining the period to which a camp belongs is the pottery. But in excavating at Clovelly Dykes singularly little was unearthed. Nearer the surface than the original floor were fragments, indeed, but all comparatively modern. The recent excavation of the Camp was very barren of results. This is due to the fact that for centuries the area within the dykes has been ploughed and reploughed so that the soil has been turned over and over again. The moats must have been very deep and the banks considerably higher than they are at present. In one moat the bottom was not reached though a trench was sunk 6ft. below the present surface. It was found that to form the moat the rock had been cut through.

Undoubtedly the top of the banks was originally further protected by a stout palisade of wood. Though no relics of this palisade were found at Clovelly Dykes, remains of one have been unearthed, charred by fire, in other and similar camps.”

S. Baring-Gould.


Extracted from the Clovelly Estate Company Archive, courtesy of Hartland Digital Archive.