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Simply put, a quoit (in megalithic terms) is the Cornish name for what elsewhere would be called a dolmen, cromlech or portal tomb. There is a useful article on the etymology of the name on Wikipedia. Cornwall is blessed with several excellent examples of this monument type, being a construct consisting of several large stones placed upright to support a capstone or ‘table’, creating a chamber ostensibly used for burial practices in the neolithic period. There is some evidence that these may have been covered with mounds of earth, but most of the Cornish examples are now bare of any such mounds, and several are in a state of collapse.

In this short series over the next week or so, we shall take a brief virtual tour of a baker’s dozen of Cornish Quoits, moving in a line roughly N and E to SW across the Duchy: five in the area of Bodmin Moor, seven in West Penwith and another in between:


1. Hendraburnick Quoit

We start with a site that is called a ‘quoit’, but which is somewhat disputed. Hendraburnick ‘Quoit’ “is a long, rounded and flattened epidiorite stone, propped up and laid to rest upon a platform of smaller slate stones at one end, and naturally occurring slate bedrock on the other.

In other words, not a quoit at all. It is probably better categorised as a ‘propped stone’, of which several are known across Cornwall. It is, however, a site of interest as an investigation begun in 2013 uncovered a multitude of finds including flint arrowheads, a faience bead, and most spectacular of all, a plethora of rock art. Although the stone was known to contain a number of cup marks (which sparked the investigation), the number of cup marks (over 100!) plus the extent of other rock art carvings on the stone was a surprise to the investigating team, who came to a conclusion that the site may have been used for moonlight or nighttime rituals.

The ‘quoit’ lies on private land and cannot be viewed without the prior agreement of the landowners.

Further information: 

Tom Goskar’s Blog
PAST – The Prehistoric Society – see pp12-13
The PostHole
Cornish Archaeology Soc. Newsletter – membership protected
Time and Mind – paywalled (but see Sci-Hub 😉 )
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal

2. Trethevy Quoit

The largest of the Cornish Quoits, Trethevy is an imposing sight, with the capstone seemingly defying gravity, resting at a jaunty angle on the uprights below it.

There have been discussions in the past around the fact that the quoit may not be as originally designed, but that it has undergone ‘reconstruction’. This has not been proven as yet. Another possibility is that the stones may have slipped at some point in the past. There is also an enigmatic hole at the highest point of the twelve-foot capstone – a photographic opportunity waiting for the sun (or moon?) to be in the right spot?

Owned by English Heritage, but managed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust, who now own the field in which it sits, an opportunity arose to carry out a geofizz survey. This identified a possible platform of stones around the quoit, particularly to the west side.

This platform, comprised of greenstone and extending some 20m by 12m, was confirmed by excavation last year. A preliminary report of the excavation was contained in the Cornwall Archaeology Society newsletter 151, October 2019.

Further information:

Cornwall Heritage Trust
Cornwall Heritage Trust Quoit Info Pack (PDF)
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal


May 2020

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