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Prehistoric Heritage lovers visiting Cornwall this summer have some wonderful treats to look forward to. Of course, there are the copious sites to visit, from the West Penwith peninsula, across the Lizard and on to the delights of Bodmin Moor further east.

But the area’s museums also have something special to serve up this summer too.

The Penlee Gallery, Penzance

Situated in the grounds of Morrab Gardens, the Penlee Gallery is a small museum, largely given over to displaying historic works of art from local artists. However, this summer they have an addition in the Penwith lunula, a crescent shaped gold collar dating from the early Bronze Age (2500bc). It was discovered in 1783 by a John Price, though the location is uncertain, being attributed to Paul parish (where he lived), or more possibly the Gwithian area northwest of Hayle.

In a letter to a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Price described it being found: ‘in the hundred of Penwith, in this county, by a husbandman, in collecting manure nigh the remains of a circus which from description he apprehends to be composed of earth & not stone.

A much later account, written in 1860, describes how it was first found in Gwithian, taken to the author’s grandfather (an apothecary in Camborne) to be assayed, and was then sold to Mr Price.

On Price’s death in 1797, the lunula passed to his son. By 1838, it was in the possession of Edward Trafford Leigh, a coin collector who was rector of Cheadle in Cheshire. Leigh had bought it to prevent its export to America. He sold it to the British Museum for 25 guineas in 1838 (an early example of PAS Outreach, perhaps?) – it has remained there ever since, but has rarely been on show. It returned to the Penwith area last year, when it was on loan to Penlee for a few weeks. Now it has returned once again for a more extended loan, and will be on display for the foreseeable future.

The National Maritime Museum, Falmouth

A new exhibition, running for 6 months from April at the National Maritime Museum: 2012BC: Cornwall and the Sea in the Bronze Age allows visitors to step back in time, to over 4500 years ago.

The exhibition provides a full picture of prehistoric Cornwall’s maritime heritage, confirming the county’s importance for trade within Europe at that time. A number of artefacts have been loaned from various museums, including the master copy of the Nebra Sky Disc, the oldest representation of the cosmos anywhere in the world. The gold on the disc has been identified as Cornish, coming from Carnon Down mines near Devoran. Cornisg Tin was also used in the disk’s construction, showing how well Cornwall was connected in those times.

In addition to the exhibits, visitors will be able to watch an archaeological experiment, the recreation of a Bronze Age log boat which will be taking place during the exhibition. The prehistoric boat will be built to scale using replica tools, such as bronze axes. The Bronze Age sewn-plank boat is unique to England and Wales and will be stitched together with yew tree fibres and use moss as caulking, to stop the boat from leaking.

I’ll certainly be visiting both of these in my forthcoming trip to Cornwall later next month.


April 2012

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