Dartmoor kistvaens

Dartmoor kistvaens are burial tombs or cists from the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, i.e. from c 2500 BC to c 1500 BC.[1] Kistvaens have been found in many places, including Dartmoor, a 954 km2 (368 square miles) area of moorland in south Devon, England. The box-like stone tombs were created when the ancient people of the area lived in hut circles. Cists are often to be found in the centre of a cairn circle although some appear solitary which could be the result of the loss of an original slight mound.[2] There are over 180[3] known cists on Dartmoor although there could be up to 100 that remain buried underneath unexplored cairns.[4] In the South West there are no cists to be found on the Quantock Hills, only 2 to be found on Exmoor and 58 to be found on Bodmin Moor.[3] The Dartmoor cists are unique in that about 94% have the longer axis of the tomb oriented in a NW/SE direction[5][6] It appears that Dartmoor cists were positioned in such a way that the deceased were facing the sun.[7]

In August 2011 an untouched cist, on Whitehorse Hill, near Chagford, was the first to be excavated on the moor for over 100 years.[8] This burial yielded some rare Bronze Age artefacts made of organic materials.[9]

Kist off merrivale row-4
Kistvaen to the south of the Merrivale stone rows
IUCN category II (national park)
Drizzlecombe kist 5
Kistvaen in Drizzlecombe on Dartmoor in South Devon, UK. The cap stone (which was originally used to seal the tomb) has been upended, and can be seen on the right of the image, behind the box-like structure of the cist.
Map showing the location of Dartmoor
Map showing the location of Dartmoor
Position of Dartmoor within England
LocationDevon, England, United Kingdom
Coordinates50°34′N 4°0′W / 50.567°N 4.000°WCoordinates: 50°34′N 4°0′W / 50.567°N 4.000°W
Area954 km2 (368 sq mi)
Governing bodyDartmoor National Park Authority


The word "kistvaen" is derived from the Cornu-Celtic Cist-veyn or Cist-vyin; in Welsh the word is Cist-faen. All these names mean "a stone chest" (cist is a chest or box, maen is a stone). Kistvaens are formed using four or more flat stones for the sides and for the ends, and a larger flat stone (the "capstone") for the cover. Some kistvaens are surrounded by circles of erected stones. In general, if a body was to be buried without cremation, it was placed into a kistvaen in a contracted position. If on the other hand a body was cremated, the ashes were usually put in a cinerary urn, and then the urn was placed in a kistvaen.

However, the majority of the known Dartmoor kistvaens were opened at some time in the past, and whatever they used to hold is missing. The cists were probably robbed in the hope of finding treasure. Kistvaens were known by many common names, including "money pits", "money boxes", "crocks of gold", "caves", "Roman graves" and so on. The idea that ancient tombs might contain valuable items is a very old one; one of the first mentions of searching tumuli in Devon dates back to 1324. Permission to search was granted by Edward II of England.[7]

Currently archaeologists usually use the word cist when talking about kistvaens, but in the past 120+ years other terms have been used, including "chest", "maen" or "vaen", "a stone" "a stone coffin" and so on.[10]


Tombs of the dead were traditionally regarded as sacred places by the people of Dartmoor. However the various treasure-related common names for these burial sites caused some people to break the taboo that tombs must be revered and not disturbed. As a result of this tomb-raiding, stories came into being which purport to show that a graverobber's inappropriate and greedy actions will be punished in supernatural ways.

One of the legends is about "the parson", although this may possibly have been someone's nickname rather than the title of a real man of the cloth. Either way, the story says he made a map of all of the nearby kistvaens, showing the locations as black dots. Very soon his map had more black dots than a ladybird has on its back. The lure of the kistvaens was so great that the parson (and a few other people who agreed to help him) opened every kistvaen that was marked on his map.

After this, the parson was seen counting money every night. His wealth did not make him happy, and neither did it last long. One night a huge electrical storm moved over the moors. Furious lightning was followed again and again almost immediately by very loud thunder. Nobody could sleep for the noise of the storm.

Surprisingly the next morning there was very little damage to be seen. Actually all the houses around were intact, except for one house — the house of the parson. His house was in ruins, and it was still burning. Some neighbors even thought they smelled burning brimstone. Presumably the devil himself had made the parson pay for desecrating the kistvaens.[10]

The Money Pit kistvaen story

This story features a very friendly, good-natured farmer. Once he had a dream about a kistvaen close to his farm. In his dream he saw that the kistvaen was filled with money. Next day he went there, and with a huge effort he managed to move the capstone, and started to dig.

As he dug, a huge raven circled overhead, mocking him, and encouraging him to dig deeper and deeper. Eventually the farmer put his hand inside, and pulled out a small piece of flint, shaped in the form of a heart. He took his find home. After this incident, his personality changed radically: he became mean and angry, and he lost all his friends. His life became miserable. About a year later, his young son found the flint in the house, and took it outside to play with it. Then the boy went out onto the moor to look for something else to play with, and he dropped the flint as he went along.

On that same day the farmer changed once again, reverting to the "jolly farmer" he had always been until the unfortunate day when he opened the kistvaen.[11]


  1. ^ Newman, Phil (2011). The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor. Frome: English Heritage. ISBN 978-1-84802-033-7.
  2. ^ Butler, Jeremy (1997). Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities: Vol. 5. - The Second Millennium B.C. Tiverton: Devon Books. ISBN 0861149106.
  3. ^ a b Newman 2011, p.51.
  4. ^ Of the cairns excavated by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee 12% contained buried cists which would suggest around 100 cists remain concealed, Butler 1997, p.173.
  5. ^ Worth, R. N. (1967). Spooner, G. M.; Russell, F. S. (eds.). Worth's Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0715351486.
  6. ^ Butler 1997 p.176
  7. ^ a b Allen, John Romilly; John Charles Cox (January 1895). "DARTMOOR KISTVAENS". London, Bermose and sons Limited. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  8. ^ "Prehistoric burial chamber on Dartmoor excavated". Archaeology Daily News. 10 August 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-03-29. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
  9. ^ Jones, Andy. "'The Whitehorse Cist, Dartmoor'". Historic England Research. 7: 31–35.
  10. ^ a b "The tomb raiders". legendarydartmoor.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-05-31.
  11. ^ "The Money Pit". legendarydartmoor.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-05-31.


  • Worth, R. N. (1967). "Dartmoor Barrows and Kistvaens". In Spooner, G. M.; Russell, F. S. (eds.). Worth's Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0715351486.
  • Butler, J. (1997). The Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities. V: The Second Millennium B.C. Devon Books.
  • Newman, P. (2011). The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor. English Heritage.
  • Jones, A.M. (2016) Preserved in the Peat: An extraordinary Bronze Age burial on Whitehorse Hill, Dartmoor, and its wider context. Oxford: Oxbow books.

External links

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.


A cist ( or ; also kist ;

from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.

A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.


Drizzlecombe or Thrushelcombe is an area of Dartmoor in the county of Devon, England, containing a number of Bronze Age stone rows, cairns and menhirs.

There are three principal stone rows each with an associated barrow and terminal menhir. Most of the artifacts are on the southwest slope of Hartor Hill. The tallest menhir, which at 14 ft (4.3 m) high is the largest on Dartmoor, was re-erected by Sabine Baring-Gould, R. Hansford Worth and others in 1893.Drizzlecombe is located on the western side of Dartmoor, about 4 miles (6.4 km) east of the village of Yelverton, to the west of the upper reaches of the River Plym.

Nearby is the large but damaged cairn known as Giant's Basin; many of its stones were removed by warreners to build their rabbit-warrens at Ditsworthy, lower down the river. Higher up the slope and overlooking these monuments is a village of stone hut circles, akin to the one at Grimspound. To the north-east lie the extensive remains of Eylesbarrow tin mine and north-west is the concentric Yellowmead stone circle. The area also includes the Neolithic Dartmoor kistvaens, or tombs.

Eden point

Eden Points are a form of chipped stone projectile points associated with a sub-group of the larger Plano culture. Sometimes also called Yuma points, the first Eden points were discovered in washouts in Yuma County, Colorado. They were first discovered in situ at an ancient buffalo kill site near Eden, Wyoming by Harold J. Cook in 1941. The site, named after discoverer O. M. Finley, eventually yielded 24 projectile points, including eight Eden points, eight Scottsbluff points and one complete Cody point, both other sub-groups within the Plano group. Eden points are believed to have been used between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago by paleo-indian hunters in the western plains.

Eden points are the most common paleo-indian projectile points found today. They have been discovered across the western plain states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.


A kistvaen or cistvaen is a tomb or burial chamber formed from flat stone slabs in a box-like shape. If set completely underground, it may be covered by a tumulus. The word is derived from the Welsh cist (chest) and maen (stone). The term originated in relation to Celtic structures, typically pre-Christian, but in antiquarian scholarship of the 19th and early 20th centuries it was sometimes applied to similar structures outside the Celtic world.

One of the most numerous kinds of kistvaen are the Dartmoor kistvaens. These often take the form of small rectangular pits about 3 ft. (0.9 m) long by 2 feet (0.6 m) wide. The kistvaens were usually covered with a mound of earth and surrounded by a circle of small stones. When a body was placed in the kistvaen, it was usually lain in a contracted position. Sometimes however the body was cremated with the ashes placed in a cinerary urn.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Rock shelter

A rock shelter — also rockhouse, crepuscular cave, bluff shelter, or abri — is a shallow cave-like opening at the base of a bluff or cliff. In contrast to solutional cave (karst) caves, which are often many miles long, rock shelters are almost always modest in size and extent.


A tomb (from Greek: τύμβος tumbos) is a repository for the remains of the dead. It is generally any structurally enclosed interment space or burial chamber, of varying sizes. Placing a corpse into a tomb can be called immurement, and is a method of final disposition, as an alternative to for example cremation or burial.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

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