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Historic environment

Exmoors mires are an important repository of archaeological information for a number of reasons.

Aerial view
Firstly, they are generally located in moorland areas; environments in which human activity has historically been light in comparison with the more densely populated and hospitable lowlands.

This means that the remains left behind by those who have lived and worked in these areas in the past are much more extensive and diverse than is the case in many other areas. This is well illustrated by the archaeology of the mire restoration areas on Exmoor which ranges from 8000 year old Mesolithic hunter gatherer sites to preserved Bronze Age farming and settlement landscapes dating to 3500 years ago to the remains of World War II military training activities.

Also, the mires themselves have enhanced archaeological significance due to the waterlogged environments they provide for buried archaeology. These have exceptional preservative qualities, enabling the survival of a range of organic materials including wood, other plant materials and leather for thousands of years. Mires thus provide access to aspects of the lives of long-dead people and societies that we do not normally have from other sources. They become especially important when the special status 'watery places' had in the eyes of prehistoric societies is considered; many important archaeological discoveries have been made as a result of the deliberate deposition in the past of materials ranging from precious metals to sacrificial victims in bogs.

Finally, the peat of which mires are made grants them further archaeological importance as it contains and preserves abundant grains of pollen from the plants that grew in the vicinity during the course of the mire's development. This means that a record of vegetation change through time is preserved which archaeologists can use to answer questions such as whether the landscape was wooded or open at a given time, or whether people were growing crops nearby. Similarly, the remains of the microscopic animals that lived and died in the mire are often preserved. Many of these are of species that are only able to live in very specific environments which means that by recording them, archaeologists can build up a picture of how climate has changed over time.

By returning mires to healthy condition, restoration will maintain the preservative qualities of mires and safeguard them as repositories of archaeological information for future generations. However, the work of undertaking re-wetting, involving as it does the movement of vehicles and the installation of dams, has the potential to damage or destroy fragile archaeological features. The Exmoor Mires Project mitigates this threat through an extensive programme of archaeological monitoring and survey which identifies and characterizes the archaeology of the each mire restoration area and, through the application of a variety of cutting edge techniques, enhances our knowledge of it.

Partnership initiative of the year 2012

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