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We are pleased to be able to report the new discovery of a possible inscribed stone in Cornwall. 

It was noticed by a friend of the Heritage Journal during a recent family walk approximately 2.5 kilometres south of Tintagel. The stone has been reused as a gatepost and is currently part of a stile construct on a public footpath, hidden in plain sight!

There appears to be faint lettering and Ogham script on the stone and a later incised cross symbol near the top of the stone. Initially, it was thought that the inscriptions may be a trick of the light (as at Kea, near Truro where at certain times of day the outline of a sword is visible on an upright stone in the churchyard), but viewing the stone from different angles confirmed the inscriptions, which are also faintly traceable with a finger.

The discovery has been reported to, and accepted by, the Cornwall HER for further investigation. Once confirmed, we hope to be able to report back here with the official description and location details.

I recently watched a shockingly atrocious, but never-the-less entertaining, American pseudo-archaeology program called What On Earth. The description for the latest series reads as follows:

“Thousands of advanced satellites and drones orbit Earth, invisible to us yet scanning every inch of our planet. They capture our world in unprecedented detail, revealing areas that until now have remained a mystery. In an all new season of WHAT ON EARTH, experts look to this state-of-the-art imaging technology to discover bizarre phenomena and strange mysteries including an inaccessible cave of bones on an island off the coast of Africa, a bizarre concrete structure sitting off the coast of the Baltic sea, and a crater in Mexico with extra-terrestrial connections.”

One of the subjects of this particular episode (S09E01) was the – strangely never named in the program – Chun Castle, an Iron Age hill fort in Penwith, Cornwall. 

Built during the Iron Age, in the third century BC, it is over 2000 years later than the nearby neolithic quoit. Although it is in a ruined state, its size is still impressive.  The fort is 85m in diameter, and consists of a central area, surrounded by two concentric granite walls with external ditches. The outer ditch was 6.1m wide, and the outer wall is now 2.1m high, but may originally have been 3.0m high. The inner wall (now mostly destroyed) was some 4.6m to 6.7m thick, and could originally have been some 6.1m high. There were originally some Iron Age huts in the inner area, though no trace of these now remain. 

Possible reconstruction of Chun Castle by Craig Weatherhill

Claims made in the program included the fact that it was built in ancient times to protect the cliff-top tin mines and engine houses (built in the 18th century!) nearby, on behalf of, yes, you guessed it – King Arthur!! An American archaeologist ‘investigated’ the site, and stumbled across what “the Germans (what do they have to do with Cornwall?) call a Hunebed – a burial tomb”. Why not call it a quoit, the local name for such dolmens? More nonsense was spouted about pagan ceremonies for the dead taking part at the quoit, with ceremonies for the living possibly being held in the nearby henge (the castle site). The late local historian Craig Weatherhill who dearly loved this site must be spinning in his grave at this piffle!

Whilst this is all patently nonsense, and Professor Mark Horton should be ashamed of being associated with the program, I must admit to wondering if there could indeed be any credence in the idea of Chun Castle being built on an earlier henge site. I know that a few years ago Sir Barry Cunliffe was involved in negotiations to investigate the monument with an archaeological excavation. Sadly, funding could not be obtained for the dig at that time and so we must wait until a future time for such questions to be definitively answered.

Over the weekend, certain portions of FaceBook were abuzz with stories of a possible alien visitation at the Merry Maidens stone circle near Lamorna in Cornwall. There was a report of a metallic structure which had appeared in the centre of the circle sometime before sunset on Friday. Video footage showed a metallic obelisk similar to those which have been reported in the news recently at various sites around the globe. Sites which included Utah, California, Romania, the Isle of Wight and Dartmoor among others. 

The Merry Maidens Obelisk

With my fact-checking hat on, I paid the site a quick visit on Saturday morning, but unsurprisingly, no obelisk was to be seen. What was present in the centre of the circle was a plate on the floor, bearing a QR code. 

We first mooted the idea of using QR codes at ancient sites for informational purposes back in 2011, and reported on a commercial application of such codes a year later. In this case though, the QR code at the Merry Maidens is not for informational purposes, but for entertainment. 

When scanned, the code points to a web site, http://plan8.earth/monolith, which when used with a Facebook app currently in development, will display the obelisk reported as an Augmented Reality (AR) image. 

It remains to be seen (pun intended) whether this technology will be widely implemented, or just used as a ‘proof of concept’ experiment in this single case. Either way, it is to be hoped that no damage will be caused to any of our ancient heritage sites, and that no modifications or physical installations will be made to the sites without the requisite permissions.

And so our series on Cornish Quoits comes to an end, with the last two (plus a small bonus) of our baker’s dozen in the extreme south-west.

 

12. West Lanyon Quoit

Half a mile or so from it’s much more famous neighbour lies West Lanyon Quoit. Only one upright and a collapsed capstone remain, after the quoit was dug out of an earthen mound (barrow) when the landowner directed his servants to remove the earth from the barrow for compost.

The cromlech was discovered in 1790, and the following account (by Rev Malachi Hitchins) was published in the Archaeologia in 1803 (Vol XIV, quoted in Cotton’s Celtic Remains p 37 ):

The gentleman who owns the estate of Lanyon happening to be overtaken by a shower took shelter behind a bank of earth and stones, and remarking that the earth was rich he sent his servants to carry it off when having removed near one hundred cart loads they observed the supporters of a cromlech from which the covering stone was slipped off on the south side but still leaning against them. This covering stone is about 13 feet long by 10 broad. The south supporter on which it still leans is 6 feet high and 5 wide, that on the west is nearly of the same height and about 9 feet wide. The east supporter, since cleft and carried away, was 10 feet wide and with the other two formed almost a triangular kistvaen with a space of about a foot at the north end uninclosed. As soon as the gentleman observed it to be a cromlech he ordered hismen to dig under it where they soon found a broken urn with ashes and going deeper they found half a skull, the thigh bones and most of the other bones of a human body lying in such a manner as fully proved that the grave had been opened before and the flat stones which formed the grave had been all removed out of their places. The cap stone and the two remaining supporters are in the middle of a hilly field two or three furlongs W of the much more frequented Lanyon Quoit.

Further information: 

Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society Transactions
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

13. Chun Quoit

Chun Quoit is the most westerly of the extant Cornish Quoits, and the end of our journey. Affectionately known as the ‘megalithic mushroom’ due to its appearance atop Chun Downs, Chun Quoit is structurally very simple, consisting of four inward leaning uprights, topped by a bulbous capstone. It is considered the most complete, but also the smallest remaining example. Like many other quoits, Chun sits upon a low stony mound or platform and may have at one time been buried beneath a mound of earth to form a tumulus.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

Bonus: Bosullow Quoit

Not a genuine quoit, but a piece of ‘farmer artwork’. This replica stands at a road junction on Bosullow Common, about a mile or so from both Lanyon and Chun Quoits. The capstone rests on three uprights, and the whole stands less than a metre tall.

An interesting distraction/tribute.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief visit to the Cornish Quoits.

Nearing the end of our series on Cornish Quoits, and nearing the end of the land, we continue with three more Penwithian quoits.

 

9. Mulfra Quoit

Well placed at the summit of Mulfra Hill, with excellent all-round views, before the capstone collapsed this would have resembled the box-like construction of Chun Quoit which we’ll visit at the end of our journey. The outstanding feature of the 3.2m by 3.0m capstone here is a chamfered ridge on the base which would have fit snugly inside the uprights to support the capstone. Only three uprights remain, it is unknown whether there would have originally been more.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

10. Bosporthennis Quoit

Pronounced ‘Bosprennis’, three of possibly four original upright stones survive. The capstone is somewhat damaged, having been removed and unsuccessfully trimmed for use as a possible millstone. The area around Bosporthennis is rich in antiquities, and a quoit in the area is mentioned in Hunt’s Popular Romances of the West of England:

In Bosprenis Croft there was a very large coit or cromlech. It is said to have been
fifteen feet square, and not more than one foot thick in any part. This was broken in
two parts some years since, and taken to Penzance to form the beds for two ovens.

This description does not match the extant cromlech in any way, so must refer to a lost monument. One wonders how many more have been lost in this way?

Correspondence in the Cornish Telegraph in 1871 confirms that the capstone of the existing quoit had fallen ‘long before the living memory of anyone in 1865’.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

11. Lanyon Quoit

Possibly the most photographed monument in West Penwith, Lanyon Quoit is sadly, despite appearances, possibly the most damaged of the Cornish quoits. The stones were (poorly) restored in 1824, after collapsing in a storm in 1815. The quoit was described prior to its collapse in Hitchin’s History of Cornwall:

At Lanyon… the incumbent stone of this monument is about nineteen feet long; but its thickness, which is not proportioned to its area, is rather irregular. In the middle, and on its eastern edge, it is sixteen inches; at each end rather less; but at the western edge it is full two feet. The two principal supporters of the incumbent stone were either not originally placed in a true perpendicular, or they have since been forced from it by the prodigious weight which they have been compelled to sustain. At present they have an inclination in their summits towards the verge of the incumbent stone, and consequently they recede from each other in the same proportion. There is however no danger of their ultimately giving way (sic). For as the stone by which they are pressed, has its under surface somewhat inclined towards a concave form, the weight must chiefly rest on the outward extremities of the supporters, and therefore prevent them from falling asunder, as much so as if the supporters had been exactly perpendicular, and the incumbent stone strictly flat and horizontal.

This monument, which is more elevated than anyone besides of this kind which the county can produce, being sufficiently high for a man to sit on horseback under it, stands on a low bank of earth, that is raised about two feet above the surrounding soil.

Given that the monument now requires anyone over 5’9″ to crouch when passing under it, it is clear that the reconstruction caused grave damage to the height of the supporting stones. As stated on Wikipedia (link below), on 19 October 1815, Lanyon Quoit fell down in a storm. Nine years later enough money was raised by local inhabitants to re-erect the structure, under the guidance of Captain Giddy of the Royal Navy. One of the original stones was considered too badly damaged to put back in place, thus there are only three uprights today and the structure does not stand so high as it once did. The reconstruction also placed the structure at right angles to its original position. There is a faint carving on one of the uprights, ‘1824’, the date of the reconstruction.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

We continue our series on Cornish Quoits, moving westward as we head toward West Penwith, with a brief look at three more quoits.

 

6. Carwynnen Quoit

In the space of the last 200 years, the Giant’s Quoit at Carwynnen has collapsed and been rebuilt twice! Both times earth tremors were responsible for the collapse, the last happening in the 1960’s, resulting in the pile of rubble shown below, augmented by subsequent field clearance.

Carwynnen Before Restoration

The field in which the quoit is sited was purchased by the Sustainable Trust in 2009, and plans were laid to rebuild the quoit. During the excavation of the site, the “floor” of the monument, an intact stone pavement was found to be made up of “a narrow strip of compacted small stones which formed a hard-standing surface arranged in a doughnut-like circuit. At the front end of the monument, a fine narrow strip of the pavement extended well beyond the shelter of the capstone“. The full story of the excavation can be found on the ‘Giant’s Quoit’ link below.

Carwynnen After Restoration

Further information: 

The Giant’s Quoit
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

7. Sperris Quoit

Some 300m NE of Zennor Quoit (see below), Sperris is in a poor state, consisting of a single upright and three fallen stones. The capstone is missing, presumably used in construction of the dilapidated mine workings nearby. Despite it’s proximity to Zennor, this can be a difficult site to find, although recent clearance work by the Penwith Landscape Partnership has made it a bit more accessible.

Further information: 

Cornish Archaeology Soc. Journal 6 – membership protected
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

8. Zennor Quoit

In 1861 Zennor Quoit narrowly escaped destruction; more details are given in an extract from the Cornish Telegraph of 4th September of that year.

A farmer had removed a part of one of the upright pillars, and drilled a hole into the slanting quoit, in order to erect a cattle-shed, when news of the vandalism reached the ears of the Rev. W. Borlase, Vicar of Zennor, and for 5s. the work of destruction was stayed, the Vicar having thus strengthened the legend that the quoit cannot be removed.

We can be grateful to Dr. W Borlase (great-grandfather of the Rev. Borlase mentioned above) for a sketch of the quoit before the capstone had collapsed into its current position.

Zennor Quoit in 1769, drawn by WIlliam Borlase. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The local legend mentioned above states that the quoit possesses mystical powers and that any stones removed from the structure will soon mysteriously find their way back in the middle of the night. As related by C Taylor Stephens to Robert Hunt:

“I was in the neighbourhood of Zennor in 1859, and by accident came across the Zennor cromlech, and was struck with the mode of its construction (not having heard of its existence before), and thinking it bore some resemblance to the Druidical altars I had read of, I inquired of a group of persons who were gathered round the village smithery, whether any one could tell me anything respecting the heap of stones on the top of the hill. Several were in total ignorance of their existence. One said, ‘Tes caal’d the gient’s kite; thas all I knaw.’ At last, one more thoughtful, and one who, I found out, was considered the wiseacre and oracle of the village, looked up and gave me this important piece of information,–‘Them ere rocks were put there afore you nor me was boern or thoft ov; but who don it es a puzler to everybody in Sunnur (Zennor). I de bleve theze put up theer wen thes ere wurld was maade; but wether they was or no don’t very much mattur by hal akounts. Thes I’d knaw, that nobody caant take car em awa; if anybody was too, they’d be brot there agin. Hees an ef they wus tuk’d awa wone nite, theys shur to be hal rite up top o’ th hil fust thing in morenin. But I caant tel ee s’ much as Passen can; ef you ‘d zea he, he ‘d tel he hal about et.'”

The stones now seen in front of the quoit are the remains of the cattle shed subsequently built by the farmer mentioned above.

In 1882, another member of the Borlase family was mentioned in a report of a field trip to the quoit by the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society:

Mr. Borlase, one of the members, met with a man who had made a find beneath the Zennor Quoit. The man explained that about a year ago, finding that other people were searching about, he and his son thought they would have ‘a bit of a speer too.’ After removing some of the earth, they came upon a flat stone, which they ‘shut’ (blasted). They then removed more earth and came upon another flat stone, which they also ‘shut.’ Underneath it they found what Mr. Borlase said was an ancient whetstone, which no doubt was buried with the dead, in order that he might have something to sharpen his weapons with in ‘the happy hunting grounds’ to which he was supposed to have gone. Mr. Borlase had found similar stones, with urns containing the ashes of the dead, in different barrows. Under this quoit he found part of an urn. Mr. Borlase expressed a hope that there would be no more ‘shutting’ near the quoit, because it ought to be regarded as sacred as the grave of a father.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

We continue our series on Cornish Quoits with a brief look at the remaining quoits in the Bodmin Moor area.

 

3. Lesquite Quoit

As can be seen below, the quoit is collapsed, the capstone leaning against one of the two remaining uprights. According to local folk traditions, the stones were thrown here from Helman Tor by the devil while playing with them.

A small ‘salvage’ excavation in 1973, during the installation of a water pipe, revealed very little in the way of finds.

Further information: 

Cornish Archaeology Soc. Journal 15 – membership protected
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

4. Pawton Quoit

A massive capstone rests horizontally on three uprights with a further three uprights making up the rest of the chamber. Estimated at 14 tons, this makes it the heaviest capstone in Cornwall. The quoit sits atop a mound made up of small quartz pebbles. This may include field clearance detritus.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

5. The Devil’s Quoit (or Coyt)

Described in Gilbert’s Parochial History of Cornwall:

In the parish of Columb Major stands Castell-an-Dinas. Near this castle, by the highway, stands the Coyt, a stony tumulus so called, of which sort there are many in Wales and Wiltshire, as is mentioned is the ‘Additions to Camden’s Britannia,’ in these places, commonly called the Devils Coyts. It consists of four long stones of great bigness, perpendicularly pitched in the earth contiguous with each other, leaving only a small vacancy downwards, but meeting together at the top; over all which is laid a fiat stone of prodigious bulk and magnitude, bending towards the east in way of adoration (as Mr Llwyd concludes of all those Coyts elsewhere), as the person therein under it interred did when in the land of the living; but how or by what art this prodigious flat stone should be placed on the top of the others, amazeth the wisest mathematicians, engineers, or architects to tell or conjecture. Coit, in Belgic-British, is a cave, vault, or co[r?]n-house, of which coyt might possibly be a corruption.” –Gilbert’s Parochial History.

The quoit was destroyed in 1870, and commemorated with a plaque from St Columb Old Cornwall Society in 1980.

Further information: 

Youtube visit
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

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
Wikipedia

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
Wikipedia

By Alan S.

The final video for now from our tour of Cornish antiquities visits the Carn Euny courtyard house settlement.

Continually occupied for over 800 years, the final phase of the settlement consisted of three large courtyard houses, several smaller oval buildings and a fogou. The fogou was discovered in 1857, and excavated in the 1860s by William Copeland Borlase.

Further information:

Carn Euny – Cornwall Heritage Trust
Carn Euny – Historic Cornwall
Carn Euny – Wikipedia

We hope you’ve enjoyed these videos as much as we enjoyed making them. Previous articles in the series can be found here. If there are other Cornish ancient sites you’d like to see featured, please leave a comment.

By Alan S.

I first visited Mulfra Vean courtyard house settlement in Penwith back in 2013, when CASPN were running a clear-up at the site. At that time the site was very overgrown and difficult to understand.

Since then, CASPN have continued their regular clear-ups, and these have recently been augmented by an additional volunteer team from the Penwith Landscape Partnership (PLP) as part of their Ancient Penwith project, one of 13 projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund with additional funding from Cornwall Council and other sources, running over a 5 year period.

My most recent visit to Mulfra Vean was prompted by my attendance in October last year at a one-day introductory course to archaeological surveying, held by PLP. The object of the day was to prepare volunteers to participate in producing surveys of sites in Penwith, starting with Mulfra Vean. Although ill-health at the time prevented me from committing to participate in the surveys themselves, I did volunteer to assist in the digitisation of any survey drawings. As I was aware that a significant effort had now been put into the survey, I visited the site to see what progress had been made.

I was met by Jeanette Ratcliffe, the current Ancient Penwith Project Officer, providing maternity cover for Laura Ratcliffe-Warren. Jeannette was kind enough to show me the current state of the survey plans drawn up by the volunteer team to date and gave me a short tour of the site.

The settlement is currently dissected by a footpath which ascends Mulfra Hill, and the current effort is focussed to the west of the path, where one courtyard house and the possible outline of another have been laid bare. This part of the settlement was excavated in 1954 by Rev. Crofts, who sadly passed away the following year without publishing his results. Luckily Charles Thomas obtained his notes, and the results were eventually published in the Cornwall Archaeology Society journal.

Survey by Mr. W. E. Griffiths, 1954 as published in Cornish Archaeology No. 2 1963.

The features to the east of the path have long been hidden beneath dense undergrowth, but the brushcutters have recently been put to good use here, and details of the site can now be seen. First is an enigmatic double bank earthwork, which may possibly be related to medieval mining activity. To the north is another courtyard house, and this will no doubt be investigated further once the western survey is completed.

The current plan is to commence digitisation of the survey drawings by the end of January, for inclusion in a planned web portal which will show the results of all 13 projects in due course. Keep an eye on the PLP website for updates on this and the other projects.

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