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Living in Cornwall, the sheer amount of prehistoric remains all around never fails to amaze me! Take, for example, the small hamlet of Dowran in the parish of St. Just in Penwith.

Dowran, such as it is, can be seen from the northeastern flightpath into Lands End Airport, and was first recorded in 1245 when it was spelt ‘Doueron’. It lies in the shadow of Bartinney Hill, atop which lies an enclosure containing eight round cairns known as Bartinney Castle.

Image © Google Earth.

The name Dowran is Cornish and is derived from the Cornish language ‘dowr-an’ meaning ‘watering place’.

Many of the fields around the hamlet and farm have their very own unique names, many of them in Cornish, Burrow Field, Hammon Moor, Henas, Croft Leskeys, Radannack, Park Skeber, The Spearn, Stalmac, Strakeshaw amongst others.

The hamlet is surrounded by ancient sites including traces of an Iron Age enclosure, an early Medieval enclosure, and evidence of a Bronze Age barrow and there have been a number of finds of Mesolithic flint tools.

On the image below, from the Cornwall Council Mapping website, the red dots indicate the Prehistoric entries on the Heritage Environment Record. As you can see, for what is relatively empty farmland, there was a lot of activity here in the past!

Image © Cornwall Council

Many fields in Cornwall are named particularly in Penwith and the late P.A.S. Pool wrote a small book on the subject called appropriately, ‘Field names of West Penwith’, published by Agan Tavas and available from their website.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.

Brown Willy is Cornwall’s highest hill, with a summit reaching 1,378 feet above sea level. Located among the rocky outcrops and desolate reaches of Bodmin Moor, with cairns that date back to the early Bronze Age, Brown Willy has been considered a sacred place for thousands of years.

But the true name for Brown Willy was recorded in 1280 as ‘Bronwenely’ derived from the Cornish language ‘bron wennyly’ meaning ‘swallows hill’, a much better name and far different from the Anglicised name we see now.

The summit cairn, which has never been excavated, is thought by some to be the resting-place of an ancient Cornish king.

Brown Willy’s cairn aligns with the neighbouring Rough Tor and the nearby Stannon stone circle, suggesting that their construction had some kind of astrological purpose.

The Aetherius Society even believe that Brown Willy is a holy mountain and make an annual pilgrimage here on the 23rd November.

Heavy rainfall occasionally gathers over Bodmin Moor after travelling downwind for a long distance, resulting in flash floods such as the one which occurred in Boscastle in 2004. The phenomenon is known in meteorological circles as the ‘Brown Willy Effect’.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren

Varfell is a hamlet situated in Ludgvan Parish west Cornwall. It was recorded as ‘Varwell’ in 1568 after the 16th-century Varwell family. The hamlet was the ancestral home of the famous Cornish chemist, Sir Humphry Davy 1778 to 1829, inventor of the miners’ safety lamp.

Varfell Farm is the world’s largest producer of daffodil bulbs and until recently was home to the National Dahlia Collection, where it enjoyed a long and successful growing period of over 20 years under the management of Mike Mann with the help of Dahlia breeder Mark Twyning.

Varfell and its daffodil farm

The nearby Giant’s Grave linear earthwork may be an early medieval linear earthwork and is comparable with both the Bolster Bank in St Agnes parish and the Giants Hedge, which runs from Lerryn to Looe.

This earthwork has borne the name for many years as the Tithe Award refers to it as an `ancient road called Giant’s Grave’.

It consists of a bank up to 10 feet high, but is sadly much mutilated by agricultural activity. At one time there was a ditch on the south side. It has been proposed that this may the best surviving section of an earthwork that ran from coast to coast, effectively isolating the Penwith peninsula.

Excerpt from 1888 OS Map Cornwall LXVIII.SE

A large circular mound just over 50 feet in diameter is visible as a cropmark on aerial photographs in a field east of Varfell. The date and function of this feature is unknown. It may be an agricultural feature, post-medieval in date.

Toponymy by the late Craig Weatherhill.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.

The race to record the historic archaeology of Seaford Head, East Sussex in the face of ongoing coastal erosion

The Iron Age hillfort at Seaford Head has stood watch over the English Channel from its clifftop location for two-and-a-half millennia.

Sadly, it is now doomed to collapse into the sea with parts of the site already lost and climate change accelerating its downfall.

Archaeologists are now in a race against time to unlock its secrets.

A team from University College London have spent recent weeks surveying the ancient monument with drones and producing 3D models of it in the hope of not only learning more about Seaford Head but producing a template for the hundreds of other historic monuments along the British coastline set to disappear beneath the waves.

Seaford Head courtesy of UCL

Seaford Head fort, which also contains a Bronze Age burial site and dates to around 600 to 400 BC, perches atop the Seven Sisters headland of the same name between Brighton and Eastbourne.

Despite being known to archaeologists for centuries, it has only had investigative work done on it twice, in the late 19th century by Augustus Pitt Rivers and again in the 1980s. These surveys have done little more than date the fort and barrow.

This latest survey is not designed to reveal those mysteries, so much as identify them and decide what further archaeological work should be done and can be justified with constrained resources.

A key plank of the survey work is drone photogrammetry, which involves taking multiple aerial photographs of the site, merging them using advanced software and georectifying them so that they are to scale and measurable. This allows archaeologists to create a 3D model of the site and identify sites of potential interest.

The drones are also used to survey the cliff face itself which, due to previous collapses, already provides a cross-section of the fort. Whatever the results, time and tide are working against his team. On average, the coast at Seaford is retreating by 20 inches a year.

That figure, however, masks a pattern of cliff falls followed by months or even years of stasis. The UCL team cannot predict when the chalk might next give way but it could take with it another large section of the fort. 

In March 2021, a large section of the Seaford Head cliff face collapsed following heavy rain, leaving behind an enormous mound of debris reaching into the seawater. Elsewhere on the clifftop, large cracks have appeared, portending further losses.

The site has now been placed on the Heritage at Risk register.

Climate change is likely to accelerate this process. Increasingly rough weather conditions and rising sea levels are all expected to eat away at Britain’s coastline and the ancient monuments dotted around it. 

Because of the precarious nature of coastal heritage, the study undertaken by Archaeology South-East at Seaford Head is designed to produce results quickly and cost-effectively.

The pilot project is also intended to spark a discussion among a general public perhaps unaware of how much of its heritage is about to plunge off a cliff face.

With sea defences potentially costing millions of pounds, as well as sometimes being disfiguring, few at-risk sites realistically can be saved from disappearing.

The project will produce a podcast series, bringing in institutions such as the National Trust, as well as films discussing the protection of heritage.

Links:

University College London Seaford Head website news:  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology-south-east/seaford-head

Phys Org website and Seaford Head article: https://phys.org/news/2021-12-drones-capture-coastal-heritage-lost.html

Standing proud on a hillside in Dorset, the Cerne Abbas Giant has long been a cause of much speculation. Is he a prehistoric figure? Is he Iron Age in date – Hercules has been suggested as the model for the figure. Or is he more recent? An ancient fertility symbol, or a pastiche political cartoon from much later?  

The investigation of the hill figure’s history is being undertaken by the National Trust in celebration of their having overseen the site for the last 100 years. 

Soil samples taken from the deepest levels of the chalk giant’s elbows and feet  before the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 have been found to contain microscopic land snails shells that did not appear in England until the 13–14 Centuries. And analysis of recent LIDAR scans of the figure strongly suggest that the giant’s famous ‘appendage’ is very much a later addition.

The samples taken last year were subjected to OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) analysis to determine the date(s) of the giant, and the figures are now available – but the National Trust are teasing us as the results will not be released until midnight tonight.

Given our focus upon the prehistoric, I suspect that our interest in the Giant at Cerne Abbas will be reduced after the announcement. My personal guess is that it will be dated as late medieval at best, if not later! We shall soon see…

News has come to us about the latest project from Golden Tree Productions, a community interest company that develops and delivers constructive cultural projects that uncover and celebrate Cornwall’s distinctiveness and diversity. They are the team behind the recent Man Engine project, which was displayed to a total of 146 thousand people in a 10-day tour around Cornwall in 2016.

Their latest project, ‘Kerdroya: Cornish Hedge Community Heritage Project’ is currently in planning, and the idea is that local master hedgers will work with community groups and schools between April and November 2019, passing on knowledge and skills to create a diverse team of ‘Hedge Stewards’. A number of hedges will be restored and rebuilt in the local styles and will comprise a Cornwall-wide trail culminating at Colliford Lake on Bodmin Moor in November 2020. This final site will take the form of a classical labyrinth (similar to those found in the Rocky Valley near Tintagel).

Rocky Valley Labyrinths

Built of traditional Cornish hedging with a 56m diameter, Kerdroya, the Cornish Landscape Labyrinth will be a major new piece of public art to last for generations to come, where visitors will have a fully immersive experience as they walk a single, meandering path through stretches of artisan stonework celebrating the aesthetics of distinct hedging styles from the previously restored Cornwall Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) sections. At its heart, a 10m circular space will open out to breath-taking views across the moorland and lake.

Artist’s impression of the Colliford Labyrinth

It is intended that the Kerdroya Cornish Landscape Labyrinth will open in November with construction work starting in April. Although some funding is being provided by investment from Cornwall AONB, Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Cornwall Council, both corporate and individual sponsorship opportunities are available. A new website for individual sponsorship pledges will open next week, March 2nd.

 

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.

Perfect timing, NOT!  Just as America pulls out of the Paris Accord comes news of proposals to develop more coal mining – and opencast to boot – in Northumberland. Unsurprisingly there’s a lot of opposition from environmental groups. Of particular interest is the name of the developers – The Banks Group.

Remember how they had another open cast mine and came up with a cheap way of avoiding having to fill in the hole and leaving the landscape as they found it? They left the slag that had come out of it in situ and moulded it into a human form, sort of, (slag heaps with an enigmatic grimace, some say) and then transferred the ongoing upkeep cost to the community.

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About it, the Arts correspondent of the Guardian gushed:There’s a slumberous dreamlike delicacy to this work of art that dares to proclaim the wonder of the human body, that fertile marvel”. A successful wheeze then!
So could they now be planning a similar stunt? They say Many of Northumberland’s best-loved environmental assets only exist due to previous surface-mining activity in the area and the comprehensive Discover Druridge and Restoration First initiatives we developed as part of the Highthorn planning application will enable us to make significant local infrastructure enhancements that will provide major long-term benefits to wildlife, visitors, local people and businesses.”
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So might that mean Northumberlandia, dubbed the Slag of the North or Slag Alice, the world’s largest human figure, will soon have a companion? Reports that there’ll be an even larger figure, equally anatomically unrealistic, of a naked man are nonsense. But it is thought that he will be named Cock o’ the North.

Eight years ago we published this, for the attention of Mr John Gormley, then Ireland’s Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It concerned the building of a Motorway within Irelands greatest monumental landscape, and the pretence it could be justified by refence to newly penned conservation codes. We think it’s something Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust should be reminded about. If existing irrevocable conservation principles prohibit new damage at Stonehenge new codes or new interpretations of old codes would be blatant breaches of existing irrevocable conservation principles, however presented.


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Come kindly JCBs, roll over Ireland! 

As the man in the pub said: “I wouldn’t ask him to mind my chickens, and Bertie Ahern put him in charge of our heritage and environment. He has no bottle, afraid of the hawks.”

Hey John, stick this at the front of your weasly worded Codes, it was penned by one of your countrymen more than three years ago, before proud important you and your proud important predecessors conspired and blinkered to let it happen without a squeak. It says more about development and heritage than anything in your Codes ever could –

“TARA, here I am. I have come all the way from Kerry to be with you before the vultures, with bulldozers and JCBs, open your lower belly. They are impatient to inflict the wounds.

You are abandoned, forsaken and rejected. All the powers that be – Meath County Council, the Government, NRA, An Bord Pleanála and the High Court – have walked out on you. We pay them to protect you but they betrayed us. We trusted them too much.

Tara, I know you sympathise with the people who are forced to commute to Dublin five days a week. But why are they not angry with Meath County Council for not putting in a bypass at Dunshaughlin and a proper one in Navan 20 years ago? There were so many other options for this road.  But that was a different generation, other times.  This generation prefers soulless symbols – motorways, shopping malls, four-wheel drives, big trucks and, of course, the euro. I expected all the people in Ireland to have run to protect you. It would have been unacceptable, I thought, to run a motorway through the Tara/Skryne Valley, opening up a wound that no plastic surgery can cure. But this generation was not touched, nor incensed. How sad. Will you forgive us?

The day Environment Minister Dick Roche sanctioned the motorway, I was watching the evening news in a pub. One man said, when he saw Mr Roche on TV, “Isn’t he a pity? I wouldn’t ask him to mind my chickens, and Bertie Ahern put him in charge of our heritage and environment. He has no bottle, afraid of the hawks.” Poor Mr Roche. Maybe he has no power. An Bord Pleanála, which is not comprised of elected representatives, makes all the big decisions. Or does it? Who has real power today?

Democracy, the people’s participation in the ordering of their own lives, is now perceived as a meaningless facade that hides the ruthlessness of corporate self-interest. The suspicion that political ideologies and institutions are becoming irrelevant because politics is being reduced to following ‘the laws of the market’ is creating political unease among people and cynicism among the young about voting. Tara, what else can your support groups and friends do now? Are all avenues closed? Has your hour come? Will we call the lone piper to play a dirge?”

Tommy O’Hanlon
Tarbert
Co Kerry

The Oswestry carve-up of the public’s heritage (courtesy of the developers, Shropshire Council and  English Heritage/Historic England) continues apace. The latest reminder of just why development shouldn’t be happening near the hill fort comes here, a list of no less than 14 reasons its setting should be sacrosanct. Each of them is compelling but we thought we should highlight one in particular. Dirty tricks are well known chez Shropshire but this one doesn’t even try to hide itself.

Oswestry carve up 3.

….. A “hub for artefact finds” with “over 100 findspots reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme” yet here’s a photograph of a man from the BBC and the leader of HOOOH and the Director General of the Council for British Archaeology contemplating a sign that now ensures no further finds will be unearthed until permission has been well and truly secured. How is that different from telling the police you’d rather they didn’t dig up your patio? Answers to Historic England.

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Oswestry carve up 2.

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