Time Periods

The Roman Ramble

There is very little archaeological evidence for Roman presence on Dartmoor. However, that does not mean they weren’t there. Some of this invisibility is explained by poor preservation of finds and by the early fieldwork that concentrated on obvious stone structures. Recent archaeological projects and the improved recording of finds made by members of the public are starting to paint a very different picture, one which shows that the Romans valued the mineral resources of Dartmoor, and carried out mining here.

Roman soldiers and miners

Aerial photography has proved very useful in pinpointing Roman settlements. A number of Roman forts have been found on the fringes of the moor, for example at Okehampton and Sourton Down.

In the centre of the moor evidence for Roman activity is restricted to a few potsherds and some scatters of coins. It is reasonable to assume that land was used for grazing but there seem to have been few settlements.

Intriguingly, analysis of sediment deposits in Dartmoor rivers suggests that tin working may have increased in the 4th-7th centuries AD. Finds of bun-shaped tin ingots off the South Devon coast and in Cornwall may be linked to Roman tin working.

Discovering Roman sites through archaeological finds

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (http://finds.org.uk) is a project to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public. Over a number of years the Scheme has seen a huge increase in the reporting of Roman coins found by metal-detectorists and a number of significant finds have been made on the fringes of Dartmoor. These finds not only show the extent of Roman activity around Dartmoor but also that this activity occurred over hundreds of years.

Roman occupation in Devon was restricted to a few concentrations; Exeter, and some military forts on the edge of Dartmoor. The local high status Devonians continued to live in Rounds (like the Irish and Cornish ringforts), but it seems even they did not frequent the moor.

Ghostly legions and legends

Legends of Roman ghosts and Roman names attached to unknown features might have some basis in reality, but may well arise from a desire to give history to a fairly blank landscape. Although, a few hoards of Roman coins have been found in some of the places in which these legends are based, so it may be they have some ancient folk memories attached, of legionaries marching in formation across the bleak moor…