Neolithic period 4000 to 2500 BC
A chambered tomb is a megalithic structure used for communal burial during the Neolithic period. Megalithic means ‘made from large stones’ and these sites consist of a number of large stones set upright supporting a massive horizontal capstone to form a small chamber which was used to house the remains of the dead. Some may originally have been set within a stony mound or cairn. In Celtic areas they are known as quoits or dolmens.
Only recently recognised as a site type, tor enclosures are formed by a series of massive walls linking natural outcrops to enclose an imposing, usually granite, hilltop. Dating from the early Neolithic period, they are particular to south western Britain and are comparable to the causewayed enclosures found elsewhere in the British Isles.
Bronze Age 2500 to 800 BC
During the Bronze Age the dead were normally cremated and the remains placed in a pottery vessel (funerary urn) which was set into the ground beneath a circular mound. Round barrows are round mounds of earth and stone, and are the lowland equivalent of the stony mounds known as 'cairns' of the upland zone. Round barrows are often surrounded by a ring ditch from which the earth for the mound was dug. While barrows are often isolated, many occur in groups that have accumulated over generations. These are known as 'barrow cemeteries'. Barrows can occur anywhere in the landscape.
During the Bronze Age the dead were normally cremated and the remains placed in a pottery vessel (funerary urn) which was set into the ground beneath a circular mound.
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Cairn means simply a ‘stony mound’, and they are the upland equivalent of the earth and stone round barrows of the lowland zone. Cairns may incorporate a variety of ‘architectural’ features such as cists and kerbs, and excavation shows that they often went through a series of developments to reach the final phase visible today.
Hut Circle Settlement
A prehistoric settlement consisting of stone-walled round houses, usually dateable to the Bronze or Iron Ages. The houses, sometimes solitary but more often in groups, are now visible only as low stony banks, but even so, it is often possible to recognise different constructional techniques in the walling and to identify the doorways. They survive only in moorland areas and are often associated with the remains of contemporary field systems.
Setting large stones upright is one of the features of the megalithic culture which flourished in Britain in the late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Standing stones can occur singly or in pairs, and are often associated with other megalithic sites, particularly stone circles. They seem to have played an important role in the ceremonial and ritual life of the times, and may have served a variety of purposes, perhaps as memorial stones or grave markers, way markers or territorial boundary stones.
Stone circles are probably the most dramatic manifestation of the megalithic culture of the late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Very few are perfectly circular and their function, as expressed in their layout and design and their landscape context, has sparked controversy and debate in recent years. They are often found in association with other megalithic monuments in 'sacred landscapes' on windswept uplands which may broadly be interpreted as places set aside for the performance of ceremonial and ritual.
Iron Age 800 BC to AD 43
Cliff Castles are found all along the ‘Celtic Fringe’ in Cornwall, Devon, Wales, Ireland and Brittany. They were constructed by building one or more ramparts and ditches across the neck of a coastal promontory and have much in common with hillforts, including the fact that both site types appear in the fourth millennium (from 500 BC) and go out of use in the first century AD, around the time of the Roman occupation. Like hillforts, their purpose is being re-evaluated in the light of information from recent excavations and studies – they do not seem to function primarily as settlements, and their coastal location suggests they may have played a particular role in maritime trade.
‘Fogou’ is a Cornish word meaning a cave, and Cornish fogous are prehistoric underground passages constructed by excavating a trench and lining its sides with either large stone blocks or drystone walling, and then roofing this passage with large flat slabs. Fogous are often found in association with later Iron Age or Romano-British period settlements, but modern investigations have done little to solve the enigma of their function – they may be ritual structures, or have been used for storage or as a place of refuge.
At the top end of the hierarchy of later Iron Age settlement are the hillforts. Defined by one or, more usually, two or three imposing ramparts, these sites are interpreted as central places overseeing large tribal territories. The ramparts may have been intended to impress rather than to have functioned as a defensive barrier as few signs of warfare ever come from excavation. They were constructed from around 500 BC and appear to go out of fashion in the years following the Roman Conquest.
Romano-British AD 43 to 410
Courtyard House Settlement
Courtyard houses are only found in the far west of Cornwall. They consist of a large open courtyard defined by a massive drystone wall with structures built around the perimeter. Usually a large round or oval dwelling-house faces the entrance and lean-to structures occupy the walls along either side. These ‘long rooms’ are sometimes sub-divided and are interpreted as stores, barns and byres. They seem to be a peculiarly localised response to changes taking place during the Romano-British period.
Salt Making Site
Quantities of coarsely made local pottery eroding from a cliff on the Lizard were the first indications of a Romano-British salt making industry in Cornwall. The salt was obtained by evaporation of sea water in shallow pans set above a flue. Since the initial discovery at Trebarveth a number of other similar sites have been recognised on the Lizard, for instance above Ebber Rocks to the north of Black Head, but not, to date, in other parts of the county.
Mediæval 1066 to 1540
Mediæval bridges were constructed from the local stone (granite or slate) in one or more pointed or rounded arches spanning a river, with two low parapet walls either side of the carriageway, topped off with coping stones. The bridges are often quite narrow and the parapets may be offset to provide refuges to allow pedestrians to avoid wheeled traffic. The bridge piers were often set onto triangular ‘cutwaters’ which deflected the flow of the water.
A castle is a structure that is fortified for defence against an enemy and generally serves as a military headquarters dominating the surrounding countryside. The mediæval castles of Cornwall are of motte and bailey type, and were introduced by the Normans. They consist of a large mound (or motte) topped by circular stone tower or keep, usually a replacement for an earlier wooden structure. The Motte is attached to a walled area (the bailey) where barracks blocks, workshops, stables and other domestic buildings could be securely sited.
The term ’chapel’ has many meanings, but is here taken to refer to a building or a room used specifically as a place of Christian worship during the mediæval period. A chapel may be a separate building, or part of a church or private residence. Chapels can have specific functions, as oratories for instance or as a places devoted to special services. In the post-mediæval period the term came to indicate a place of worship for members of various dissenting Protestant churches, as Baptists or Methodists.
A church is a place set aside for the public worship of the Christian god. Cornish Churches were often constructed on sites that had been in continuous use since the original establishment of Christianity in the 5th or 6th centuries. Most churches were extensively repaired or rebuilt in the 15th century, and again during the Victorian period, though many retain traces of earlier architecture.
The numerous holy wells in Cornwall may be a reflection of a prehistoric, pagan, reverence towards water spirits and other natural forces. Many natural springs were provided with a well house or covering during the mediæval and later periods. The holy well is generally associated with a saint or hermit, and the water is believed to have healing properties They are still respected, protected and maintained by local people.
A landed estate or territorial unit, originally associated with a feudal lordship, consisting of the lord's demesne and the lands within which he has the right to exercise certain privileges, exact certain fees, etc. The term was loosely applied to any large estate during the later mediæval period.
A mediæval amphitheatre, usually circular in plan, used for the performance of miracle plays – religious dramas which lasted over a period of two or three days, and described biblical events or dramatised the live of the saints.
Usually associated with areas of common grazing, a pound is a place where stray animals ( ie animals owned by persons who did not enjoy rights to the common) could be penned in until reclaimed. Pounds were often circular in shape and constructed of strong stock-proof stone walls.
Religious Houses refer to both the buildings and to the communities within them. It may take a different form depending on its history or location. Institutions for both sexes may have been known as priories (under a prior/prioress) or abbeys (under an abbot/abbess), or nunneries if they housed only women. Monasteries followed the 6th-century Rule of St. Benedict which provided regulations on daily life. The dissolution of the monasteries from the mid-1530s closed every religious house in England.
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