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Regular readers will have spotted recurring Diary Dates for CASPN Site Clearances in our monthly listings. These clean ups are held on a monthly basis, at a different site each month, and staffed entirely by volunteers, under the instruction of Dave Munday from CASPN.
I was fortunate enough to be in the area this month, when a clearance was undertaken at a site I’ve not previously visited; the Courtyard House settlement at Mulfra. I went along to take a look around the site, and to see what was going on during the clearance.
The site lies on the southern slope of Mulfra Hill, which itself is topped by Mulfra Quoit, a neolithic burial chamber with extensive 360-degree views across the West Penwith peninsula.
A public footpath leads to the Courtyard site, but this was somewhat overgrown, and embarrassingly I had to be cut out of the brambles by one of the volunteers, who then pointed out an access path from the farm, which they had permission to use, across two open fields (not public). There is a single courtyard house discernable, with several other structures nearby. Dave told me that there is an enigmatic larger enclosure a short distance to the west, but currently totally inaccessible due to the undergrowth.
The picture above shows how little of the site is visible through the ground cover, which consists of tough moor grasses, brambles, bracken and gorse.
The CASPN volunteers are very dedicated to keeping the sites in their care in as good order as they can, and tools are provided for any volunteers that turn up. In fact, it wasn’t too long after I’d taken the photo above before a pitchfork was thrust into my hands and I was invited to help move the cuttings into a designated area (atop a cluster of nettles) to rot down naturally.
Despite it being a fine day, only five volunteers turned out, but CASPN can always make use of more hands, so if you’re in the area, check out their web site for dates and locations, and go along to lend a hand. Last minute information (weather, access routes etc) is usually posted on their Facebook page.
I have recently returned from another of my regular trips to Cornwall, which as usual, involved several visits to heritage sites. What follows is a short description of one such visit, which coincided with an Open Day (actually an Open Weekend, but I only attended for part of the second day) at Frying Pan Field, the site of Carwynnen Quoit.
The weekend of 6-7th April 2013 saw ‘Quest for the Quoit’ a neolithic exhibition of crafts and an archaeological test pit dig at the Frying Pan field near Troon. Also included in the weekend were geocaching, poetry, and various walks and talks.
I arrived at the site in good time on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, and was greeted by Pip Richards, Project Director, who I’d met when visiting the site last year. I had specifically come on this occasion to hear Jacky Nowakowski, Senior Archaeologist at Cornwall Heritage Environmemnt Service, talk about the quoit, its history and last year’s dig findings, but as her talk wasn’t scheduled to start for a while, I took a look at the four test pits that had been started the previous day, and some of the finds that had come from them.
One pit was much more interesting than the others as some stones had been uncovered. Possibly nothing, but also possibly part of a wall or other structure. More investigation will be required here in future. Many of the finds from the four pits were of pottery, from C18th dinner plate fragments and a rather nice medieval piece of pot edge, back through to Iron Age. Several flints were also found.
At this point I noticed a crowd gathering uphill at the gazebo tent constructed to provide some shelter, and joined the 30 or so other hardy souls for the start of the talks. Pip introduced Jacky, and the talk was under way. Jacky gave us some highlights of the history of the quoit. Those I noted included:
- First recorded by Edward Lhuyd Welsh antiquarian, who visited Cornwall in 1700.
- First illustrated in 1750 by William Borlase.
- Collapsed in 1830s and reconstructed.
- Collapsed again in 1967, possibly due to a minor earth tremor.
- The Sustainable Trust purchased the field in 2009 with the aim of restoring it to its former glory and for use as a community resource.
- Test pits in July 2012 gave a picture around the collapsed stones, allowing planning for a larger excavation in September. Stones were recorded and moved to one side ready for the excavation.
- Three uprights of 2 tons each and the capstone at just under 10 tons make up the main components of the monument.
- Excavation in September 2012 uncovered the footprint of the tomb and socket holes, and an unexpected stone pavement.
Jacky made the point that the ground under the monument was much better preserved than expected, given the 1830s restoration. Many artefacts were found during the excavation, dating to the early Neolithic period – pottery, burnt flint, greenstone pestle etc. Radiocarbon dates are eagerly awaited for some organic material retrieved from one of the post holes. It was felt that the way the monument collapsed actually aided the preservation, as the ground was covered by the large stones, thus blocking access to treasure hunters etc.
The group then moved down to the test pits, where some of the more recent finds were handed around the audience and the preliminary results of the weekend’s dig were discussed. The well received lecture ended at the stones themselves, with Jacky battling a strong wind to display various plans and photographs from the top of the capstone, which made a handy platform for the latter part of her talk.
With Jacky running slightly over time, those of us still around were advised of the next talk about to commence up at the gazebo, which involved discussion of the use of fungi to transport fire in the Neolithic. I didn’t attend this, which I assumed would cover similar ground to a recent Ray Mears TV program, but Sally Herriet had a small area outside the gazebo and was telling people about her attempts at preparing hides, using prehistoric techniques and materials for different uses, and I was drawn in to listen to her.
I found Sally’s experiments very interesting, including the use of various parts of the carcass, including brains, to prepare and soften the hide. She also had some samples of hides prepared in different ways – some were soft as a car chamois leather, others were stiff as a board, and possible uses for this could have included defense in battle, as shield, though some of the samples felt as if they may shatter if hit too hard!
The commencement of a botanical talk and fieldwalk to find various wild flowers drew away much of Sally’s audience, and the rest of the day was scheduled to include a storytelling session, and a ramble around the neighbouring woods, at which point I took my leave.
In summary, a very entertaining and educational day, which could have been better attended – the wind was bitingly cold – but those 40-50 people I saw while I was there all obviously enjoyed the event. The Sustainable Trust are working very hard to make the project as inclusive as possible, and there is a lot of local interest, as well as a growing interest from further afield, for which the Trust are to be applauded. I look forward to returning once again in the near future to see what progress has been made toward a full restoration. Check out the latest news on their dedicated web site at http://www.giantsquoit.org.
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.
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.
We recently revisited Carwynnen Quoit in Cornwall to report on the latest changes there in the efforts to get the quoit restored. Hot on the heels of our visit comes the following press release from the Sustainable Trust, issued today:
The Sustainable Trust, a small Registered Charity based on Clowance at Praze an Beeble, has received £42,707 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out archaeological investigations at Carwynnen Quoit.
As the Quoit is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a high level of professional input is required before it can be restored it to its original iconic shape. Heritage Environment will be running two archaeological digs, training members of the public in methods of excavation and recording.
The project will enable people of all ages to discover more about Neolithic life and times. A series of educational and outreach events are planned beginning with an open day at Carwynnen on Saturday July 7th between 10am and 4pm. The initial archaeological evaluation will take place between Thursday 5th July – Monday 9th July. A series of test pits will be dug around the collapsed stones to establish preservation of buried archaeology and to establish the key areas of archaeological potential as well as the edges of the monument.
The monument consists of a ‘portal dolmen’, known locally as ‘The Giant’s Quoit’ or ‘The Giant’s Frying Pan’. Only about 20 portal dolmens are known nationally, mainly concentrated in west Penwith. Despite having collapsed and some disturbance by cultivation, the portal dolmen called The Giant’s Quoit at Carwynnen is still one of an extremely ancient and rare group of monuments. It will retain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, function, longevity, funerary and ritual practices, social organisation, territorial significance, collapse, reconstruction and overall landscape context. Funding towards the project has also come from the Cornwall Heritage Trust, Cornwall Archaeological Society and the Tanner Trust.
The Sustainable Trust is concerned with landscape heritage. It manages 90 acres of woodland in Cornwall. Crenver Grove, 35 acres on the original Clowance Estate is open to the public for education and leisure.
Pip Richards, Director of the Trust said “ We are extremely grateful for the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund to continue this project. Many people, both locally and nationally, are looking forward to the restoration of the monument. It is such an important site in a relatively unspoilt historic landscape, it will be a pleasure to work towards finding out its secrets. Writers, artists and photographers are particularly encouraged to become involved in the project. “
The Trust can be contacted on 01209 831718 or through www.sustrust.co.uk
The Wrekin in Shropshire is visited by countless thousands of people and erosion due to footfall is an ongoing problem. Particularly affected is “The Barrow between Heaven and Hell’s Gate” close to the summit. Volunteer restoration teams have recently been at work to protect it.
Pete Lambert, from Shropshire Wildlife Trust explained: “We are covering it with matting and then sowing it with grass seed to protect it from further damage. It was starting to become very exposed so we needed to seal in that bit of archaeology.”
The Wrekin was once home to the Celtic Cornovii tribe which built the fort and called it their capital. It sprawled the summit of the hill and covered about 20 acres. Mr Lambert added: “Hell Gate, the earthwork entrance created by the Cornovii, has also suffered extensive erosion and is being restored“. More here.
The so-called Roman Ridge is a 2,000-year-old earthwork near Rotherham which pre-dates the arrival of the Romans in Britain and is believed to mark territories or grazing areas for cattle on the southern borders of the Brigantes tribe. It once stretched 12 miles but now only short stretches remain, including part that has been damaged due to the construction of a ramp by mountain bikers.
It is now to be repaired after English Heritage signed an agreement with its owners. Anyone that witnesses any further damage being caused to it is asked to report it by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking towards Carn Meini from Foel Drygarn Hillfort
Image credit Moss
Building modern shelters, or walker cairns from the stones of bronze age burial cairns, is a destructive process and we have written about it before, but as always there are others who restore the damage done to the cairns. This time it is students from Pembrokeshire College restoring the three great burial cairns sited on top of Foel Drygarn hillfort, which is situated within the Presceli hills.
Army Preparation Course students have helped to repair a Scheduled Ancient Monument in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.The group of 14 from Pembrokeshire College joined the National Park Authority’s Archaeologist and Rangers to help reinstate damaged Bronze Age burial cairns on the Preseli Hills… More here from NewsWales.
Image credit and © C. Brooks
“Two thousand trees are going to be planted on the bottom slopes of Glastonbury Tor, in a hark back to the area’s traditional roots. On Saturday, 20 November, volunteers and staff at the National Trust will begin the three-week project in one of the southern fields. Organisers hope the mass-planting will “be an eye-catching reminder of yesteryear”.”
By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action
Time and the lack of written record, have tied a tight blindfold between us and prehistory, but occasionally we get the chance of a small nudge in the right direction. Following the recent collapse of its capstone, Tirnony portal tomb, in County Derry, is to be excavated in advance of restoration. The Belfast Telegraph carries this report;
As you’ll read in the article, this is indeed a rare chance. Excavation involves destruction and is, therefore, a tool that must be used sparingly; a delicate balance has to be struck between the desire for information and the need for preservation (a conflict between pressures, to borrow a phrase from Jung, that; “cannot be solved by an either-or but only by a kind of two-way thinking: doing one thing while not losing sight of the other”).
Certainly, the archaeological component of all the “saddle-up boys” development activity of recent years, while it did increase our ‘record‘, seemed to have drifted well away from the consideration of ‘need for preservation’. The same need that is lost to sight, I’m convinced, by allowing the uncontrolled use of metal-detectors; wonderful, easily destructible, knowledge does rest in the ground. Here at Tirnony, for instance and in contrast, the archaeologist Paul Logue can set out his team’s hopes to; “find out more about how this tomb was built, when it was built and how it was used.”
If you do happen to be interested in the portal tombs of Ireland, Wales and Cornwall, there’s a smart and very exhaustive study by Tatjana Kytmannow, available as a British Archaeology Report (BAR 455, 2008). It’s fascinating. The monument group has been dated, from finds analysis, to the Early Neolithic; to a period in the region of 4000 – 3500 BC and, interestingly, given the emphatic thrust to the contrary in one of the comments beneath the Telegraph article, she notes that;
“There are very simple dolmens in Portugal, Spain, Brittany, and western France which are all early, earlier than passage tombs, but there are no close parallels which possess the same defining criteria. While the idea (of) erecting large monuments of stone was most likely introduced, portal tombs are only found in Britain and Ireland and have most likely developed there.”
There is to be an archaeologist’s blog at www.ni-environment.gov.uk, which should be worth checking out from time to time. It’s a good website to look through, in any case.