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Having recently published some resolutions for 2013, which suggested getting out to see and hear more about our prehistoric heritage, here are some more dates for your diaries of events that we can heartily recommend attending.
For the 7th year running, The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) will be holding their “Pathways to the Past” event across the weekend of May 25th-26th. The weekend consists of guided walks around the sacred landscape of West Penwith, with a couple of talks thrown in for good measure! We attended one of last year’s walks, and found it highly entertaining and educational! Full details of this year’s events can be found in full on the CASPN website, and include the following:
- 25th May 10:00-12:30 – “Curiouser and Curiouser!” A guided walk taking several sites including the Treen entrance graves, Bosporthennis Quoit and entrance grave, and the Treen Common circle enclosure. Meet at Gurnard’s Head.
- 25th May 14:00-16:30 – “A Stank Around the Gump” A guided walk around Portheras Common and Chun Downs taking in both well known and lesser known sites in the area, such as barrows, circles, a tor enclusure and field systems. meet at North Road layby,
- 25th May 20:00-22:00 – “Art of the Ancestors” An illustrated talk on Palaeolithic cave art, at the Count House, Botallack.
- May 26th 11:00-12:30 – “Living on the Edge: The Purpose and Strategies of Penwith’s Cliff Castles” An illustarted talk exploring some of Penwith’s most interesting monuments. At the Count House, Botallack.
- May 26th 14:00-16:30 – “Sanctuaries: a lan and a circle” A guided walk exploring the church at St Buryan, it’s site and furnishings, followed by a walk to the Bronze Age circle at Boscawen-un and its outliers. Meet at the church.
- May 26th 20:00-21:00 – “Place Names of West Penwith” An informal talk with Craig Weatherhill chatting about his latest research in to the original meanngs of some of Penwith’s intruiging place names. At the North Inn, Pendeen.
If you plan to attend one or more of these events, why not drop us a line and let us know what you thought of them? Alternatively, if you know of a similar series of events near to you, let us know and we’ll publish the details here for all to see.
To search for other events put Diary Dates in the search box.
We recently published some ideas for resolutions for 2013, which suggested getting out to see and hear more about our prehistoric heritage. To that end, throughout this year we’ll be bringing news of various events around the country which we think worthwhile visiting.
First up, our friends at Carwynnen Quoit have announced a series of events taking place throughout the Spring, so start planning your trips down to the SouthWest now!
A full listing of events can be found on their web site Events page but some that have caught our eye are as follows:
- 2nd-9th March: “The Giant’s Quoit – A Fallen Cornish Icon” An exhibition at the Cornwall Centre, in Redruth.
- 7th March: “Archaeological investigations at Carwynnen Quoit” A talk by Jacky Nowakowski, Archaeologist Team Leader for Historic Environment in Cornwall, again at the Cornwall Centre, in Redruth.
- 5th-7th April: “A Celebration of Neolithic Technology” The Sustainable Trust will be putting on this exhibition at the Frying Pan Field, site of the Carwynnen Quoit.
- 13th-26th May: “The Giant’s Quoit – A Fallen Cornish Icon” Another chance to see the exhibition, this time at Heartlands in Pool.
- 6th-8th June: “The Giant’s Quoit – A Fallen Cornish Icon” Another chance for thousands to see the exhibition, at the Royal Cornwall Show, at Wadebridge, in the Heritage Marquee.
- Spring 2014 (Date to be confirmed): “The Restoration” a Celebration of the resurrection of the Quoit at Frying Pan Field.
If you plan to attend one or more of these events, why not drop us a line and let us know what you thought of them?
To search for other events put Diary Dates in the search box.
By Alan Simkins
Our brief Cornwall break continues…
As regular readers will be aware, I’ve visited the National Maritime Museum a couple of times since last Spring, to check on the progress of their reconstruction of a Bronze Age boat, based upon the design of a boat uncovered at Ferriby in East Yorkshire. This is true experimental archaeology, using only hand tools that would have been available at the time.
The original plan was for the boat, started in April, to be launched sometime in October, but several delays meant that this deadline was missed. On my last visit in October, a possible date in November was mentioned for the launch, but this was always overly ambitious, given the work left to do. A new date of early spring this year has now been set for the flotation.
And so, on the last day of 2012 I visited again (the museum having a policy of limitless revisits in a 12 month period) to gauge the state of play. Luckily, although the group was on a Christmas break, one of the volunteers had popped in to finish off his last paddle, and after a brief discussion invited me behind the barriers to take a close up look, for which I’m very grateful.
At first glance, it didn’t look as if much real progress had been made, but on closer inspection a great deal has been accomplished. The second of three layers of planks have been added to the sides, and much of the yew stitching to hold the planks together has been completed, including the caulking. This has been done using a mixture of moss, wood shavings and sheep fat, and looks to be very effective.
The completed vessel will be just over 49 feet long, and weigh approx 5 tons. There are 7 struts along its length, and it will be powered by 16-18 rowers, using 5′ paddles made of ash. A total of 20 paddles have been prepared.
The project has been managed by professional boatbuilder Brian Cumby, under the control of Exeter University, and with a team of 15 volunteers. Month by month time lapse videos of the build are available via YouTube.
By Alan Simkins
It’s that time of year again, when I take a short holiday break in Cornwall, and subsequently there will be a short series of posts about our exploits there. First up, a short look at the Higher Drift Stones.
This pair of standing stones, also known as the Triganeeris Stones, or the Sisters, lie in a field just south of the A30 some three miles west of Penzance.
The field is often in crop, and so is inaccessible, but if you time your visit right, it’s possible with care to get up close to these stones which stand some 18 feet apart, aligned NW to SE. The smaller stone is around 7.5 feet tall, and it’s larger sister to the south a foot taller at around 8.5 feet. The larger stone has a natural diagonal crevice on it’s south face, which is home to a large colony of snails!
W.C.Borlase excavated the site in 1871, and found a pit had been cut between the stones (offset and slight north of centre), but no finds were recorded by him. Despite this lack of evidence, the stones are assumed by comparison with similar stone pairs, to be of Middle Bronze Age date (1000-1500 bce).
Why sisters? This alludes to the common legend found at many Cornish sites where young women are ‘turned to stone’ for dancing or playing on the Sabbath. In this case, as with the Boscawen Un circle further to the west, the musician is thought to be the ‘Blind Fiddler’ or Tregonebris Longstone, which lies half a mile to the west of the Drift Stones. Payne, in Romance of the Stones, suggests that the name Triganeeris could either indicate a farming origin connected with pigs, or more intriguingly via a Welsh linguistic connection, a place to dwell, or to die.
The nearest ancient site to the Sisters is not the Blind Fiddler mentioned above, but the Tresvennack Pillar. This 11.5 feet tall stone sits approximately a quarter of a mile to the southeast, across the other side of the Lamorna Valley. It’s entirely possible that the sites are, or have been in the past, intervisible.
A guest post by Pip Richards, of the Sustainable Trust.
The Sustainable Trust’s archaeological investigations at Carwynnen Quoit have produced a tantalising look at life in Neolithic times. Run as a community archaeology project and reported by Jacky Nowakowski and James Gossip of Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment, the excavation revealed the full extent of the original footprint of this megalithic monument. Massive socketholes for the three principal granite uprights were discovered. Members of the Cornwall Archaeological Society were among the team whose major discovery was a largely intact and well-preserved artificial chamber “floor”.
This paving was made up of two elements, one of which was a narrow strip of compacted small stones which formed a hard- standing surface arranged in a doughnut-like circuit. This circuit wrapped around, and contained within, a pavement made up of larger stones. Both surfaces would have been protected by the suspended capstone when it was in place, but, at the front end of the monument (in the north-west), a fine narrow strip of the pavement extended well beyond the shelter of the capstone.
This is the first time that the original footprint of a monument of this type and great antiquity has been revealed by excavation in Cornwall. It shows that wider Megalithic architectural styles in far south-west Britain accommodated tremendous variety.
The provision of artificial pavements at such ancient sites would have guided movement into and around these open chambers, and their presence suggests formal design which may well have invited proscribed access – that is, guiding the visitor the right way to approach and to enter and leave the monument. These discoveries bode well for the future restoration of Carwynnen Quoit and will help guide future discussions about how the reinstatement of the monument will proceed.
Numerous finds of flint, some prehistoric pottery and worked stone objects were found across the entire excavation trench. Amongst the best finds were a unique greenstone pestle, the tip of a greenstone axe, flint blades and worked fragments of prehistoric pots (possibly Bronze Age) as well as a few sherds of Neolithic pottery. Another interesting find were numerous small granite balls, purposely rolled and many no larger than ping pong balls.
Much of this evidence points to the commemorative role of Carwynnen Quoit over 5-6,000 years ago, and its major purpose as a community monument: for it was conceived, built, maintained and remembered by, and for, the prehistoric communities who once lived in the immediate neighbourhood. Carwynnen Quoit may well have acted as a major community landmark and a place where homage was paid to the ancestors. Tokens of that homage were sometimes left behind and indeed some may well have been removed. The artefacts found show that this place was visited frequently and over a long period of time,and so as its significance for communities finally waned and the monument was abandoned, it became a forgotten place in the landscape.
We have enjoyed massive support of friends, family, media and the local community who have made the Carwynnen Big Dig such a big success. The open day on Sunday 30th September attracted well over 350 people and we conducted 7 site tours to large groups who were able to see at first-hand the excavation team at work. An archaeology week was held with children from the local primary school, with hands-on experience of the dig, poetry and neolithic art workshops.
All the information on the Carwynnen Quoit project will soon become available at www.giantsquoit.org The investigations have been funded mainly by the Heritage Lottery Fund along with a series of events, already posted on the site, running until June 2013. For Facebook users we have a page at Carwynnen Quoit as well as the Sustainable Trust page. The next events are a writing meeting on November 26th,’Sound Bites and Short Writes’, and a Cornish Language talk by Pol Hodge, on December 7th, entitled ‘The Celts are Coming’. Ring Pip on 01209 831718 for details or mail email@example.com
On Wednesday last week I visited Carwynnen Quoit, or at least the site of Carwynnen Quoit, as the recent excavations were being back-filled when I got there. I had arranged to meet with Pip Richards, Director at The Sustainable Trust, and was introduced to James Gossip, Archaeologist at Cornwall Council, who has been directing the excavations.
The back-filling was well under way when I arrived, but luckily I had visited the site on the previous Sunday in order to take some photos of the excavation, parts of which were flooded following heavy rain, and where I found the various stones neatly sorted by size and potential use – packing stones, uprights, the capstone, ‘field clearance debris’ etc.
James outlined some of the early thoughts from the dig and I was allowed to handle some worked flints from the site, which indicated very early use. The quoit is of course of Neolithic date, but there is some evidence of Iron Age field systems around the quoit, and a lot of Iron Age and Medieval pottery was found on site, indicating that the site has been in use over an extended period of time – including as a site for Victorian-era picnics, of which photographs exist. If there are IA field systems, then this also raises the possibility of an early settlement site nearby.
The main aim of the recent work had been to identify the sites for the quoit uprights, and in this the excavation has been successful. It is hoped that the quoit will be re-erected/restored/reconstructed (take your pick) within the next three years – i.e. by 2015, though a lot of work will have to be done before then. One of the conditions of restoration is that the Sustainable Trust (owners of the site, thanks to a HLF grant) must be able to guarantee that there will be no possibility of another collapse within a 100 year period! Quite how this will be monitored, or what penalties will be incurred if it falls after 95 years have not been made clear… But thankfully, the use of concrete to stabilise the uprights will not be considered.
There is some history here, as the quoit (first?) collapsed in the 1830′s and was reconstructed at that time. This lasted until 1967 – thus beating the 100 year rule!
I asked James about publication of an excavation report – the final decision on how this will be done is yet to be made. There is the probability of a paper in Cornish Archaeology followed by a full monograph document on completion of the project, once the quoit has been reconstructed.
There is considerable public interest in the project – a recent open day saw over 350 people visit the site (which is accessible via a narrow country lane, and has no parking facilities), and there is an active Facebook Group. A dedicated website, like the quoit itself, is currently under construction (see links below). As we recently highlighted, a writer’s group has been formed and associated with the project, and other community based activities will be forthcoming.
And finally, a foretaste of what may be. During my Sunday visit, I noticed a small construction on the capstone. Someone had obviously been visualizing what the finished article could potentially look like:
I am indebted to Pip and James, for taking time out from directing operations to talk to me.
Yesterday (Monday) I failed to visit Chun Quoit, approaching from the West across Woon Gumpus Common, due to a combination of flooding of the pathways, and my wearing insufficient footwear for the conditions. I can only hope that the scheduled guided walk this coming weekend has better luck.
Today (Tuesday), I had arranged to meet a friend of mine who had attended a guided walk earlier in the year, talking about the archaeology of Gunwalloe Church Cove on the west coast of the Lizard peninsula. He was kind enough to give me his own take on the earlier talk, which covered a history of continuous habitation in the area from the Neolithic through to the Medieval period. His knowledge of the area (having farming relatives nearby) was extensive, and I’m grateful to him for giving up his time today.
A three year excavation was completed this summer on ‘the Castle’ above the church,thought to have been a possible Iron Age cliff fort. Just north of the ‘Castle’ is a large bay, but in Medieval times this did not exist – the current ground level extended across the current bay and was thought to have held a village. Some evidence of middens can be seen in the current cliff faces. The whole area around Church Cove was important at the time of Domesday, but today there is just a single farmstead and a small house alongside the golf course.
On the other side of the Lizard, and to the North is Falmouth, home of the National Maritime Museum, which I’d visited earlier in the year, and where a project has been underway to reconstruct a Bronze Age log boat. It had been hoped that the boat would have been completed in September, but that was not to be, so I returned to check on progress.
It is still hoped that the boat will be completed this month, launched and rowed across the bay as a completion of the project, but given the current lack of planking for the hull, I’d be surprised if this were the case. Measurements of the hull were being taken today, and oars were being roughed out, so progress continues.
Some months ago we wrote about the Courtyard Houses of West Penwith.
Today (Sunday) I visited the settlement of Bosullow Trehyllis to see some of the people from CASPN at work during an organised clearance day.
On a fresh October day the sun was shining though the wind was fresh, which belied the low turnout of only 5 or 6 people. I spoke with CASPN’s Dave Munday about the clearance. He told me that English Heritage had put pressure on the landowner (but offered no assistance?) to improve the settlement. CASPN had provided material help in the form of Asulox, a safe proven chemical treatment for bracken, which was applied by contractors earlier in the year. The full benefit should be seen next summer, though the site lays on private ground and is not normally publicly accessible. Today’s efforts were aimed toward cutting back the gorse and brambles which were taking hold.
The settlement of some 6 or 7 houses is part of a wider landscape, with Chun Quoit (Neolithic) to the SW on the far side of Chun Downs, remains of roundhouses (Bronze Age) on the nearside of Chun Downs, and Chun Castle (Iron Age?) atop the downs. On the horizon to the SE, Lizard Point can be seen, and to the west is the Atlantic Ocean.
CASPN arrange clearance days throughout the year both on West Penwith and the Lizard, in conjunction with the site owners and relevant authorities where applicable. A current schedule of sites and dates can always be found on their web site. Gloves and stout footwear are advised, other tools are provided. We would be pleased to hear of any similar groups you may know of in other parts of the country.
We have been following the story of the planned reconstruction of Carwynnen Quoit, in Cornwall, with interest for some time now, with stories in May 2009, May 2012, June 2012, and most recently last month.
One community aspect of the reconstruction project that is a little different from the ‘norm’, is the creation of a local writer’s group, to help record thoughts and ideas about the quoit and adjoining area, and the restoration work itself. An early example of the group’s work recently appeared on their Facebook page and is entitled ‘The Musket Ball’, after one of the finds from the preliminary excavation in July. We reproduce it here, with permission:
The Musket Ball. by Clare Dwyer
Ancient structures, such as stone circles, burial mounds and others, were regarded with superstition and not a little fear since pre-Christian times. Many stories grew up around them. Some were seen as gateways to other worlds belonging to fairies and evil spirits. A common story was that of young men being lured through these gateways and when they returned they found that many years had past in the world above, whilst to those young men it was only a few hours. During the Middle-Ages some of the stones of the stone circle at Avebury were pulled down and buried at the behest of the local priest. This was not unusual as most of these structures were seen as the work of the devil, or of the giants and witches of an earlier age.
The musket ball found at the site of Carwynnen Quoit could easily belong to someone who had fired at the Quoit in just such a state of fear and superstition. During the reign of James I, a wave of witch hunts swept the country as the king had an inordinate fear of witches and as witches were said to only to be able to be killed by fire, drowning or being shot (like were-wolves) with a silver bullet, then perhaps someone thought any spirits lurking around the Quoit could be slain by a good honest musket ball.
The Puritans of the sixteenth century were great believers in the devil and the many creatures we now believe to belong to the world of fantasy and were inclined to see them in almost everything of which they disapproved – and they disapproved of an awful lot. Carwynnan Quoit would have represented much that they feared and hated.
Just imagine that you are travelling home across the moor in the dusk, with the darkness beginning to descend. The wind is blowing and as it blows through the Quoit it makes strange noises which sound like moaning and wailing. How frightening that would be and imagine how much you would be shaking. If you were carrying your musket you might want to fire it at the spirit making those awful sounds and with trembling hands you load your musket, but you drop the musket ball and there it lies for five hundred years until it’s unearthed by the archaeologists who are excavating the site around the Quoit.
Or maybe you were just trying to shoot a rabbit for the pot!
I will be visiting the quoit again next week, to witness some of the backfill work and hopefully have a chat with Pip Richards, from the Sustainable Trust who own the site. Look out for an update soon!
The Quoit’s Facebook page has regular updates and photographs of the progress of the project, and a project website is also under construction which will include news, events and links to affiliated groups such as the Writer’s Group.
The Sustainable Trust are progressing with their initial work to excavate the GIANTS QUOIT at Carwynnen. A full scale archaeological dig is being undertaken by volunteers, overseen by Historic Environment, until 3rd October. This work will inform us of the best way to restore the Quoit, as well as providing us with valuable insight into the way our ancestors lived 5000 years ago.
The public are invited to an open day at the Quoit on Sunday 30th September between 10am and 4pm There will be guided tours of the excavations and an exhibition of the history of the Cromlech. A digital photographic workshop will run between 10.30am and 3.30pm for amateur photographers wishing to improve their skills. If you have ever wanted to write poetry or prose, there will be the opportunity to seek advice at 2.30 from Gary, who is leading the Giants Quoit Writing Project.
On Saturday 29th at 2pm, local botanist, Phil Harris will lead a walk around the field identifying plants and mapping their positions.
Pip Richards, Director of the Trust, stated “This is one of the most interesting Neolithic sites in the area. We are privileged to have been able to facilitate this unique opportunity to excavate underneath this Cromlech, which has remained covered since 1966, and we look forward to restoring it in the future. The Trust is delighted with the response from the public. We look forward to hearing about and seeing more of its history throughout the project.”
The Sustainable Trust is a local charity caring for two large historic Groves on the Old Clowance Estate. It works to maintain our heritage for future generations.
For more details ring 01209 831718 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: parking is limited. Car sharing or a short walk over from Treslothan Church is to be recommended.