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Duloe is both the smallest and largest stone circle in Cornwall. Hidden away in a field, accessed via a driveway between some cottages some 60 yards north of the church gate, the circle consists of 8 stones in an elongated oval just 37×39 feet in diameter. The stones used are some of the largest found in Cornish circles (the largest here is some 8 feet high), and consist mainly of gleaming white quartz.

Duloe Circle. © AlanS

Although actually oval in shape, this ‘circle’ was first recorded in the C14th, but only fully recognised as an important ancient site in the early C19th. Murray’s Handbook for Devon and Cornwall (1856) describes the circle:

A hedge bisects it, one stone lies prostrate in the ditch, five only stand upright, and three appear to be wanting to complete the circle. The stones, which are rough and unhewn, are principally composed of white quartz, and one is about 9 ft. in height.

In 1861 a modern hedge which dissected the circle was removed but the restoration, which unearthed a ribbon-handled funereal urn, sadly also dislodged and broke the largest stone. However, two further original stones were recovered from the hedge and replaced in the circle.

Plan (after Tregelles)

Lukis and Borlase in their 1885 Prehistoric Stone Monuments of the British Isles: Volume 1, Cornwall (Society of Antiquaries) described the circle thusly:

a remarkable monument, on account of the great size of its stones. It is situated in a grass-field, close to the village of Duloe, and is 36 feet 6 inches in diameter. Seven stones are erect and one is prostrate. They are placed at distances of from 8 to 12 feet apart, and are all blocks of quartz; the highest stone is 8 feet 8 inches high, and 7 feet 6 inches in greatest width. The lowest is three feet. The fallen stone, the largest of the circle, has been artificially split into two parts, and is partially buried in a pit, which appears to have been excavated when it was thrown down for the purpose of converting it into building materials or gate-posts. The ground on which the monument stands is level. The monument is so small and differs so much in character from all other circles, that it is probably the enclosing ring of a cairn which has been entirely removed.

The intruiging thought that this may have been a cairn or barrow is interesting, and to some extent the existence of the urn, which contained human remains, gives this theory some weight as circles as a rule not usually contain funerary remains. There are no known outlyer upright stones either, which are usually present in many other Cornish circles. The 8 stones also (roughly) represent the points of the compass, so there is possibly also an archeoastronomical element to it’s use.

Duloe Circle © AlanS

When discussing the definition of a stone circle, to see whether Duloe fits the description, the Victoria County History states:

“The question immediately arises What is a stone circle ? And in trying to answer it we can hardly do better than accept the definition given by the late William Copeland Borlase, F.S.A., that when the stones are set up on end, at some distance apart, and enclose a level piece of ground, it constitutes a ‘stone circle’, but when the stones are set on their edges, contiguous to each other, and enclose a rock, mounds, or an area of uneven ground, it is a ‘ring barrow’ and sepulchral in character. Most of the Cornish circles belong to the former class, but whether they are sepulchral or not is still an open question, and though one indeed, that at Duloe, appears to be undoubtedly sepulchral, for the rest such evidence as there is points to a ceremonial use rather than to burial.”

The circle can be clearly seen on a Google Maps satellite image.


November 2011

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