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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.

Test Pit, showing the stone structure uncovered.

Test Pit, showing the stone structure uncovered.

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.

Jacky addressing the remains of the crowd from the capstone, at the end of her talk.

Jacky addressing the remains of the crowd from the capstone, at the end 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.

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