CORNISH ANTIQUITIES VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF MODERN RESEARCH.
BY WILLIAM C. BORLASE, M.A., F.S.A., M.P.
It is often said of a man, that the longer he lives the more vividly can he recall the incidents of his childhood. What is true of the individual seems to be true in a sense also of the race to which we belong. Down the "ringing grooves of change" human history is ever pressing onward through the present, and yet, despite all the momentous issues which might seem more than enough to engross our full attention, the remote past stands out before us in clearer relief than it ever did before. Not a year goes by which does not leave behind it some fresh facts to add to our store of knowledge of what primitive man was like in periods which have been regarded, until very recently, as too far off to come within our range of sight at all. It has been left, indeed, for the patient and dispassionate investigators of this nineteenth century, not only to point out what was the condition of the early inhabitants in this or that locality, but also, from the mass of correlative material brought together from all quarters of the globe, to enable us to form a tolerably definite conception of what man in the abstract must be like when, resting on his own resources, he calls into requisition his infant genius to deal with that infinitely vast and too often stubbornly hostile portion of Nature, external to himself, with which he finds himself for ever face to face.
In all those recent researches, the result of which has been to raise the study of antiquity to the level of a distinct and definite branch of science, English writers have taken a prominent and a distinguished place. With the works of Mr. Tylor and Sir John Lubbock in our hands, we can now compare for ourselves the manners and customs, whether of kindred or independent origin, of men in all ages and all parts of the world, while similarly, with those of Mr. Evans and Canon Greenwell, we can trace what progress he has made in culture in the several districts to which they refer. In the one case books of travel have been laid under contribution for local habits and traditions; in the other, the spade has been taken up to aid the pen in chronicling events which took place in countries where centuries had yet to roll ere history showed her face.
I have spoken of the study of antiquity—or, as it is now called, "archæology"—as a definite branch of science, but in so speaking I must not be understood to imply that it is one which is by any means complete in itself. It is but a means to an end, that end being the construction of history in those early times which would otherwise be non-historic. What its students claim for it is that it should be acknowledged as a genuine source of ancient history, to which it must ever stand first in the relation of a pioneer, and secondly in that of a handmaid. That the history of any people, constructed out of such materials as archæology unaided can afford, can be otherwise than fragmentary is not to be expected. The annals of Egypt and Assyria, notwithstanding the almost overwhelming numbers of paintings and tablets from which they are derived, are still so many disjointed pieces of a mighty and once perfect whole.
When, however, we attempt to build up the early history of our own land we are met by a still greater discouragement, for we find that in that case not only will the result be fragmentary, but that it will be meagre as well. Of the primitive inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland there can be little to be told. The contemporary Latin poets speak of them very much as our fathers spoke of the inhabitants of Van Dieman's Land, or as we speak of those (if there are any) in the country between Ottawa and the North Pole. They were outer barbarians dwelling at the edge of the habitable earth, and they had done nothing to attract towards them the notice of the literary world. Their position with regard to the civilized nations of ancient times was not unlike that of the young gentleman who is said to have advertised in the Guardian newspaper that having no education, no means, and nothing to wear, he stood in need of being adopted; indeed, it seems quite certain that until they came in contact with the Roman world, and had been finally adopted by the Roman Cæsars, the ancient inhabitants of Britain had made little or no advance whatever in the process of self-improvement or civilization.
Amongst Englishmen, however, whether they still reside at home, or whether they have become semi-detached, as in the colonies, or wholly detached, as in the United States, there exists a laudable desire, growing out of and centering in the old ancestral home, to know all they can know of the primitive occupants of their native land. The pursuit of archæology gratifies such a desire in so far as it enables us to ascertain the habits and modes of life in use in these remote ages. The structural works are imperishable records of their domestic and sepulchral usages. A comparison of these with those of other countries may some day throw light on their immediate origin by leading us to follow the thread of their early migrations. Similarly their implements and ornaments, and the patterns on these and on their pottery, may here and there afford a clue to the comparative age of the remains and the state of culture in the several districts.
One advantage this branch of study certainly possesses over other sources of primitive history. The materials it brings in evidence are true and unerring, however imperfect or mistaken our interpretation of their testimony may be. The monk of the middle ages might wilfully misstate the annals of his time to the glorification of his party amidst the jarring elements of church and king, or for the venial motive of presenting his patron with a readable romance founded on the heroes of popular tradition; but no ancient inhabitant of this or any other country ever set up a pillar, or a circle, or a cromlech with any such intention. In these rough stone monuments there is a stern reality, a crude witness to truth, as far removed as possible from the flimsy Arthurian fables coined centuries after date by some Welsh or Breton ecclesiastical scribe. The crucial point must lie, however, in the interpretation we set on the tale which these memorials of the past can tell us—an interpretation which, to be anywhere near the truth, can be arrived at only after a careful and critical examination of their surroundings and contents.
Now in the remarks I am going to offer you this evening I have two objects in view; first, to express to you, with all deference, the sincere pleasure which it is to me, as a chip, at all events, of an antiquarian block, to see the resuscitation, under the auspices of the Mayor of Penzance, and under the direction of Mr. Millet, of a society whose object is in great part antiquarian, in so important and so distinct a centre as the Land's End district; and, second, since you know that I for my part have been called from the past into the present, and can no longer hope (perhaps for years to come) to prosecute the path of study I once laid out for myself, in order that I may have the opportunity of giving you a resume, as brief and as free from technicality as the subjects will permit, of some few of those results at which I have arrived, after having personally explored (in addition to huts and villages) more than 200 of our Cornish tumuli. Before doing so, however, I must first of all ask you to look back a little in order to clear the ground, so that we may all be fairly posted up to date with regard to the subject in general.
There are periods, indeed, in the pursuit of all scientific inquiries when it is well to pause and mark the progress made. Let us see, then, how far our knowledge of Cornish antiquities has progressed since Dr. Borlase wrote his work on the subject in the middle of the last century. In the first place, it will be apparent that great changes have taken place since then in the whole tone and method of research. It is scarcely too much to say that while the antiquary of those days worked downwards from theory to fact, we are striving now to work upwards fact by fact, contenting ourselves in many instances with leaving to those who shall come after the work of drawing conclusions. The age in which Dr. Borlase lived was that immediately succeeding the dawn of scientific investigation. His lights and those of his contemporaries were two, and two only. They were the Bible and the classics. All questions of ancient history were to be solved by an appeal to these; what was not to be found in the one was sure to be found in the other. Just consider how much is open to us which was inaccessible then. The hieroglyphics of Egypt, the cuneiforms of Assyria, the whole of the mighty literature of the Veda, the bamboo tablets of Ceylon, the sacred books of Persia, the Chinese classics, the Scandinavian Sagas—even our own native annals in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland—all alike were closed books to the antiquary of the last century. Considering all this, the work which he did accomplish was wonderful, and his labours, no less than his ingenuity, are deserving of our thanks and praise. In almost every case he was a divine, well schooled, therefore, in the antiquities of the Hebrew people, a fact which accounts for his occasional readiness to ascribe our monuments to a Semitic origin. Stukeley held, for instance, that Abraham's grandson was the first colonist of these islands, and that the native priests were of the patriarchal religion. It would have been needless to remark that such a theory, being based on mere assumption, and utterly unsupported by evidence, was wholly untenable, had it not been that during the last year or two we have witnessed an attempt to revive it in what is known as the Anglo-Israel question. As I hear that this view has found favour with a portion of the public, and as a newspaper and various pamphlets are being distributed broadcast over the country for the sake of propagating the notion, in deference to its supporters I will only add that if there is one thing with regard to their origin which English people may rest assured of, it is that they are not the children of Israel.
In the next place, no one could make any pretence in the last century to a knowledge of antiquity unless he was well versed in the classics. This not only led some antiquaries to accept with respect the wonderful stories contained in some of those ancient authors, such as Pliny, but it prepared the way also for them to receive with less hesitation than they would otherwise have done the late fables of Geoffrey of Monmouth, a monk of the twelfth century, who, lamely following in the wake of Virgil, derived the pedigree of the British Princes through Brute or Brutus from Italy, and by consequence ultimately from Troy.
For another theory these classical scholars were responsible, which has proved as lasting and as popular as it was ingenious. With the Commentaries of Julius Cæsar in their hands, and with mysterious monuments—mysterious only because their history was unknown—before their eyes, they put two and two together, and pronounced them the temples and altars of the Druid priesthood. As the view gained ground in the several localities in which such monuments existed, the name reached the ears of the peasantry, and a pseudo-tradition grew up around them which has held its own ever since, until within the last year or two, in deference to the acknowledged insufficiency of proof, the authorities at the Ordnance Office have caused it to be dropped, as I hear, in making the new survey. Not that the existence of the Druids, first as a kind of priesthood, and afterwards as a powerful body of sorcerers, is doubted for one moment by those who have given the subject a thought. The passages in Cæsar are clear and explicit, although his statement that they were men of learning and used the Greek alphabet may be taken as the hearsay of a general, himself learned in the philosophy of his age, and interested to find any approach to it in the wise men of a tribe with whom he was brought in contact. In addition to this, there is the testimony of other Latin authors as to the fact of the existence of the Druids; and last, but not least, their name occurs in the native Irish chronicles, handed down by tradition as the appellation of a class of wizards hanging about the courts of tribal chieftains, and in all cases opposing with might and main the introduction of Christianity under Patrick.
It is true that, acting in their capacity of magicians or "white-witches," as we should have called them in Cornwall, these persons might have chosen for the scenes of their incantations the circles, or the rude pillar stones, or the cairns and cromlechs. The civil authorities certainly used these spots as places of meeting, and it is very probable that the Druids did the same. What, however, is rightly maintained with regard to their connection with them is that, until some direct evidence is forthcoming to associate the two, it is incorrect, and may prove misleading, to call them "Druidical Remains." Not one scrap of such evidence has as yet been forthcoming either in Cornwall or elsewhere. The primary object of their erection I shall presently notice.
Since then, in our iconoclasm, we have broken down the old landmarks by refusing to see in the ancient inhabitant of our country either a Hebrew or a Trojan, and by dismissing the Druid from the steps of his altar and the precincts of his sacred circle, it remains for us to ask, "What has modern research done to show who the primitive inhabitants of Great Britain really were, and by whom and when these monuments were erected ?"
With regard to the first question, we will take the opinion of those who have devoted themselves to the study of race and language; with regard to the second, we will consult the monuments themselves.
It is the science of language which has settled for us the question as to who were living in this country at the time of the Roman invasion. They spoke the Keltic language—an important branch of the great Aryan family of languages. Sanskrit, the language of Hindustan, stood to theirs in the position of an elder sister, while younger members of the same family circle were to be found in the Iranian, the Greek, the Latin, and the Teutonic. They were, therefore, of Aryan origin. The high lands of West Central Asia have been pointed out as the seat of their most primitive home. Whether that is so or not is beyond the range of a paper like this. Remarkable, indeed, would it be if, as some ethnologists see reasons for thinking, their cradle land was that very Afghanistan which, while we have now been engaged in invading with hostile intent from the south-east side, our forefathers were peaceably quitting on the north-west at a date which must be reckoned at nearly twice as many centuries before the beginning of our era as we are living after it.
Granted, then, that at a period which we need not try to fix, a wave, or a succession of waves, of Aryan population reached these islands, the question naturally arises, Did they find the country without inhabitants? It is exceedingly improbable that they did. If, then, there was a previous race settled here, are there any traces of them? Can we with any assurance point to any of our ancient monuments and say, "These are of pre-Aryan origin"?
Endeavours have been made to gain materials for answering this and similar questions—(1) by a study of the skulls discovered in barrows, (2) by a systematic division of the pre-historic period into three successive ages, founded on the use made in those respective ages of stone, bronze, and iron implements.
Careful measurements of pre-historic skulls are held to justify the assertion that two distinct types of man were in the earliest times living side by side in England. The one were the long-heads, the other the round-heads—not to be confounded, by the way, with their namesakes in later times. The difficulties of this branch of investigation are, however, so great that I shall be content to drop it, with the mere indication of the result; and I can do so the more reasonably since, although skulls are commonly met with in the northern and eastern parts of England, they are so rarely met with in Cornish barrows, owing to the prevalence of incineration, that I am not aware of one single one having been preserved, and only of some half-dozen having ever been unearthed.
When we come to the consideration of the three ages we find it is one which we cannot pass over quite so easily. It is true we cannot vie with Devonshire in producing evidence of Palæolithic man, but several of our museums contain some implements of what would be called the Neolithic age. Then, again, although our cairns are, as a rule, unproductive of weapons or ornaments, they have in several instances been found to contain bronze daggers; while bronze celts and gold ornaments of the same period have been found at various places, especially in connection with hill and cliff castles. Whether, however, these are evidences of the succession of one race to another, or whether they belong to the same people at different stages of culture, it would be difficult to determine. With regard to some districts in England where unburnt interments are usual and where a distinct type of burial mound (unknown in Cornwall) exists, the evidence would seem to be in favour of the existence there of a pre-Aryan people unacquainted with the use of metal. That Cornwall in a non-metallic age can have presented many inducements to settlers can hardly be supposed, and the paucity of remains of a very early type seems to warrant the view that it was thinly populated. If the best authorities are justified in supposing that the bronze age commenced in England somewhere between 2000 and 1000 b.c., it would certainly be very tempting to suppose that the use of this mixed metal might have been the result of the Aryan immigration. This, however, is mere speculation. It is a fact that the bronze I have discovered in tin-bearing Cornwall contains a larger percentage of tin than either that of Egypt or Assyria—a fairly conclusive piece of evidence that the tin-streams were worked for its production and that the implements were not imported. Indeed, stone moulds and lumps of pure copper and tin have been found side by side with the implements, proving, if proof was necessary, that such was the case.
With regard to the question of their age, our primitive antiquities must now speak for themselves, and, for convenience sake, I will divide them into two simple classes. The structural remains still extant in Cornwall are, then, either (1) such as have been constructed for the use of the living; or (2) such as have been constructed for the interment of the dead. The reason why I omit the addition of a third or "sacred" class will appear as I proceed. Under the first head I shall notice the huts and the hill and cliff castles ; under the second will come the pillar stones, the circles, the lines, the cromlechs, and the cairns and barrows.
Firstly, the huts. These are divided into two classes; the first may be simply termed hut circles, and to the second I prefer to give the name of hut clusters.
(1). The hut circles. These little structures, which are clearly the basements of primitive dwellings, are most frequently met with in the eastern parts of Cornwall, as, for instance, on the sides of the rugged tors of Rowtor and Brown Gwilly. They are usually twelve to fifteen feet in diameter, and consist of low walls faced on either side with blocks of stone set on edge, and rising two or three feet above the surface. Upright stones of four or five feet high form the jambs of the doors, and the roofs must have been constructed by poles meeting in the centre, and supporting layers of turf or furze. In some of the examples on Dartmoor, where they are of common occurrence, a small beehive structure at the side seems to have served as the fireplace. They almost invariably have a southern outlook, and occupy the slope of a hill, at the foot of which runs a stream. Lines of low stone fences are always to be found in their vicinity, and in some instances the huts themselves form portions of the enclosures, which are doubtless intended for cattle. They are often associated with fortifications. At the Gurnard's Head, within the lines of a cliff castle, there are several, as also at Castle Karn Brea and Bartinny. Those at Rowtor are immediately under the ramparts of the fortification, whose double lines join tor to tor, and those at Sharpy Tor were similarly within a convenient distance of that on the Cheesewring Hill. On examination their floors have been found to be strewed with ashes, but I am not aware that any pottery has as yet been discovered in them. On the Downs, about a quarter of a mile to the southward of the Rowtor group, is a large circle of the type which has been known as Druidical or Sacred. There is not a vestige of a hut dwelling near it, nor of the usual cattle pounds, and its use was clearly not domestic. It measures forty-five paces in diameter.
Now I think that in the absence of any pit-dwellings in Cornwall (for such was the construction in some parts of England where stones were not easily obtainable for walls), we may fairly regard these rude detached hut basements as the most primitive examples we possess of the surface habitations of domesticated man. From their surroundings we may also infer that they were occupied by a pastoral people, herding their flocks in pens on the mountain side, or driving them into the strongholds when danger threatened; that these people were in a low state of culture, possessing, with great strength, little masonic skill, and that what civilization they may have acquired was probably retarded by the necessity of self-defence, if not by their own marauding habits; that they lived, in short (like we know the ancient Irish did), under the protection of. their several district tribal chieftains, who were generally at war with each other. From their proximity to remains of the mega-lithic type, such as circles, &c., we may infer also that their connection with them was more than mere accident. Lastly, although their origin is buried in obscurity, certain degrees of rudeness are observable in their construction; and the presence of some of them within the lines of Karn Brea Castle, an earthwork of the times of the British wars, together with the discovery of coins of that period there, leads to the conclusion that they were still the recognized dwelling-places of the people down to the times immediately preceding the Roman occupation.
(2). The hut clusters. These remarkable groups occur only in the western district. Subterraneous structures or vaus are frequently connected with them, as also are beehive huts. The beehive hut is a circular building, formed without mortar, of overlapping courses of stone, which gradually approach each other from the several sides until a single slab completes the centre of the roof, and serves the purpose of a rude keystone, both in inversely supporting and consolidating the walls on which it rests. In some cases there was probably a central hole to let out the smoke. Two fine examples of beehive huts are found at Chapel Euny and at Bosporthennis.
The most perfect examples of hut clusters are found at Chysoister, in the parish of Gulval, and a description of one of these which I explored in 1873 may serve for all the rest. The hillside on which they stand slopes towards the south, and is levelled into terraces for agricultural purposes. Five or six clusters occur close together, so that the whole must have included a large village or town. The ground plans are almost all precisely similar. They are ovals, averaging in length from seventy-five to ninety-five feet from out to out. The chambers nestle in the thickness of a surrounding wall, whose base is supported, as in the case of the cairns, by stones set up on edge. This wall sometimes reaches a height of nine or ten feet, and in some places shows signs of a passage-way or rampart around it. The gateway is about twelve feet wide, and narrows as it passes into the central court. The first hut on the right as one enters is (in the case of the one I explored) a circular one, fourteen feet in diameter. It is paved throughout, and in the centre is a pile of ashes and pottery, showing the place of the hearth, by the side of which was a stone seat, apparently the old accustomed settle by the long-extinguished embers. The next chamber is divided into two parts by a partition, each part measuring fifteen feet long by six or seven feet broad. In these huts was no sign of pottery, but a little beehive hut in the corner shows signs of having been subject to great heat, and there was much broken pottery of a culinary type on the floor. The hut immediately opposite the entrance was largest of all. It measured twenty-six feet long by eighteen feet broad, and was paved throughout. At the side of the entrance was a hollowed stone, probably a mould for tin. The south side of the cluster seems to have been occupied by a long hut or shed, along the length of which a drain was carried, at the lower end of which smelted tin was found. A small hut buried in the thickness of the wall, from the signs of heat among the stones, might have served as the "castle" or furnace.
Similar hut clusters to that at Chysoister occur at Mullion, Bosullo, Chapel Euny, and other places in the vicinity. At Chapel Euny there is a specially good example of a cave or vau. I may here notice the examination of it, which I carried out between the years 1863 and 1868.
I may say that it possesses an additional interest from the fact that it contains in itself a beehive hut. For the greater part of its extent it was entirely filled with dry earth. The beehive hut is fifteen feet in diameter, and the long passage is forty feet in length, and between six and seven feet high. At the further end of the latter a curious little chamber runs up to the surface, just large enough to crawl through. From amongst the earth with which the long chamber was filled were taken out a fragment of Samian ware, an iron crook or fish-hook, an iron spear head, a spindle-whorl, together with quantities of whetstones, mullers, ashes, teeth of animals, red pottery, black pottery of three kinds—all wheel-made, and apparently parts of culinary vessels. Lastly, in the centre of a drain in this long passage was found a quantity of fused tin, very rich in quality.1 On the surface, close to the cave, were the remains of a hut cluster like that at Chysoister. Now, when we come to compare these caves and hut clusters with similar remains in other districts we find that subterraneous buildings exactly corresponding to our caves occur in Ireland and Scotland (one especially, at Arbroath, in Forfarshire, being almost identical with that at Chapel Euny); while the ground plans of some hut clusters examined by Mr. Elias Owen in Carnarvonshire have their counterparts in our own. With regard to the race by whom these buildings were erected, we have not sufficient evidence to show whether they were the work of the primitive inhabitants at a later state of culture than that of the hut circles, or whether they were the abodes of a party of settlers—pre-historic adventurers, perhaps, in Cornish tin mines. I am myself inclined to take the latter view from the fact that the structure known as the temple at Crendi, in Malta, is also similar in ground plan (and that plan is a very remarkable one), and because a friend has informed me that structures apparently like them occur around the north shores of the Mediterranean. With regard to their construction and the occupation of their inhabitants, we may conclude that the masonry of their builders, though without mortar, was of no mean order, and was sufficiently remarkable to be highly characteristic; that smelting, and consequently mining, was the employment of some of them, while others were engaged in agricultural labour, or in grinding at home the products of the artificially-levelled fields which always accompany them ; that all this time, however, they were far from secure from hostile encroachment, and were compelled either to enclose themselves with a rampart or seek the vicinity of some friendly camp; that iron was in use amongst them, not only for weapons, but for other implements also; that they made their own wheel-pottery of various qualities, but were also acquainted with the Roman fictilia; that Samian ware and late Roman coins have been found in their dwellings; and that, in short, and apart from this latter circumstance, they display just that superiority over the hut dwellings of the eastern district which would be the result of a century or so of indirect contact with the civilisation derived by the provinces from Rome. With regard, then, to date, it is to this period, i.e. to the Romano-British, that I would assign this occupation, and the presence of third brass Roman coins of the third and fourth century in and around many of their habitations tends, in no small degree, to strengthen this view. Of greater seeming importance than the villages, though less accessible to the antiquary, owing to their great extent and the emptiness of their areas, are the hill and cliff castles. Of these we may, perhaps, venture to make a threefold division, the first including such rude entrenchments as those on Rowtor, Trencrom, the Cheesewring Hill, and Carn Brea, where the rough breastwork of earth or stone follows the convolutions of the hill; secondly, the more symmetrical enclosures, whether of earth or stone, such as Chywoone, the two Castles-an-dinas, Castallack, and the pounds of Dartmoor; and thirdly, those still more carefully-constructed earthworks, such as Tredavoe, Lescudjack, &c., whose walls rise to a greater height, and which were provided with ramparts. Some of the examples of the first of these divisions enclose hut circles of the primitive type; in and near them bronze celts and gold coins have occurred, and it is therefore to the same period I would assign them. In the same category we must include all or most of the cliff castles, and assign their occupation to pre-Roman times. These singular fortifications, which sometimes are enclosed by as many as five or six lines of defence, are drawn across the necks of promontories, and generally include a large space, probably for the reception of cattle. They are intended for defence against the land, and not the sea, side; and a stubborn defence it must have been when the foe was before and the sea behind. The position of each party of Britons must have been that of the whole nation when they pitifully informed the Romans that the barbarians drove them to the sea and the sea to the barbarians, and that between the one and the other they must be either slain or drowned.
With regard to the second class of hill castle, the juxtaposition of some of them to the hut clusters, and the fact that a paved way leads from one of them (Chywoone) direct to a structure of that kind, would seem to point to a contemporaneous date. I should, therefore, place them in the Romano-British period. In the case of the castles belonging to both these earlier classes, the names they bear are simply descriptive, as Chywoone (house on the down), Trencrom (circular town), Karn Brea (Karn hill), Maen Castle (stone castle), &c. The castles, however, of the third and last class often bear the names of the chieftains who built or occupied them; in the same way as we have Forts Pearson, Evelyn, and Chelmsford in Zululand now. Thus, for instance, we have Caer Conan, Conan's Castle, Lescudjack, Cadocs Court, &c. These, therefore, I should assign to the date of the later British wars. Many of them occupy positions on creeks or arms of rivers, and near Truro they are very common. It is possible that some were in use in the times of the Saxon wars, or against the Danes, who first appeared here as our friends and then as our enemies in the ninth century. Against one vulgar error we must guard. The name Dennis, found in Pendennis, Little Dennis, &c., has nothing whatever to do with Danes. It is simply the Celtic word Dinas, signifying a fortified height. Ponsondane is simply Castle-bridge, referring to Lescudjack Castle on the hill above.
I now arrive at the second class; namely, the sepulchral antiquities. In their simplest form these consist either of a mound of earth or stone, or a simple unhewn pillar fixed erect into the ground. At a place called Men Pern, in Constantine, formerly there stood one twenty feet high. The highest of these which still stands in its place, is at Boleit, in the parish of Burian, and measures fifteen feet. Another, on the St. Breock Downs, is thirteen feet six inches in height. Although these monuments exist in large numbers in Cornwall, their size is diminutive when compared with those of other countries. One at Kerloaz, in Brittany, is forty feet high; and, if we can credit the author of La Siberie, there is one in South-Western Siberia, in the weird gorge of Kora, no less than sixty-six feet in height. That they are sepulchral monuments is proved beyond question both by internal and external evidence. At the feet of three of them, west of Penzance, I have discovered deposits of burnt bones; and a very fine urn, nineteen inches high, as well as a small one, was found close to the foot of another at Tresvennack, in the parish of Paul. Among the list of monuments of the Tuatha de Danann tribes contained in the Book of Ballymote are such entries as "the pillar stone of Biudi, the son of Muiredh, there his head is interred." That in after times there grew up around them a superstitious reverence is seen in a passage in the life of St. Patrick, where on certain stones he inscribes the name of Christ. Many of our crosses may have had a like origin. Our inscribed stones, as we now know, are all of the Christian period. Next to monuments of one stone we have monuments of two stones, set at a distance of from ten to sixteen feet apart. In two instances graves have been found between them, lying due east and west.
We now come to the stone circles, about which so much has been conjectured, and they, too, are decidedly sepulchral. In no case have the actual areas of our Cornish examples been fully searched, but barrows and cairns are often found close by, containing cists and urns with ashes. Close to a very remarkable little circle, only twenty-four feet across, but composed of very large stones, at Duloe, an urn was found, and I myself discovered one in a barrow touching another circle at Boskednan, in Gulval. The evidence derived from other countries is even more to the point. In the case of one Scotch circle burnt interments and urns were found at the foot of each stone. The finest circle in Cornwall is barely known even by name. It is situated on Hawk's Tor, in the parish of Blisland, and is 150 feet in diameter. The stones of which it is composed are mostly in their places, but are nearly all fallen; they measure about nine feet long, there is a central pillar thirteen feet long, and a trench and embankment runs all round. Close by in a cairn is a cist, in which the interment took place. Other important circles are the Trippet stones, in the same neighbourhood; the Hurlers, near Liskeard; Boscawen Un, in Burian; Tregaseal, in St. Just; the Nine Maidens, in Wendron; and Boskednan, in Gulval, The circle before-mentioned, near the huts on Rowtor, is 135 feet in diameter, but it differs from the others in the fact that the stones are not so large, are more numerous, and are placed many of them on edge, instead of being independent pillars, as those of the other class. In these respects it coincides with the circles on Dartmoor.
There is a class of monument in Devonshire which we do not possess here ; i.e. parallel lines of stones. The Nine Maidens at St. Columb is of this class, but the stones are in one line only. They point towards a monolith called the Old Man, or Voel Maen—the goal stone—the popular idea seeming to be that the others are running a race towards it.
We now come to the cromlechs, or dolmens. Of these Cornwall possesses some interesting specimens—Zennor, when perfect, must have been the finest; Trethevy is the next; while at Lanyon, Chywoone, Pawton, and Mulfra there are other good examples.2 It is doubtful if any were free-standing, all having been probably intended for sepulchral chambers, the vaults, in fact, in mounds. Until the past few weeks it might have been said that none of these dolmens showed any sign of having had a tool used upon them. Mr. Lukis and I have, however, found cup markings on the top of one of them. Of these there are several types. They occur in Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, the north of England, and Scandinavia; but the Cornish example belongs to the simplest type.
From cromlechs I will now pass by an easy stage to large cists, small cists, and the structure and contents of our barrows and cairns in general, and to do this I had better briefly notice some researches of my own.
[Mr. Borlase then proceeded orally to describe the structure and contents of barrows and cairns at Trevelgue, Mullion, Tregaseal, Karn Brea, Ballowall, and Boscregan, and explained the meaning of the structures, notices of which will be found in his work on Cornish Sepulchral Antiquities, and in the last Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall. The tumulus at Chapel Carn Brea was, perhaps, the most interesting and instructive of all, since it contained evidences of having been used at no less than five different periods. Lowest of all in the mound was found the kind of tomb known as the Giant's Grave, a large and roughly made chamber, representing the earliest age of tomb building. Next above it came a cist, or small dolmen, showing that to have been of later construction; next above that again Romano-British ware had been discovered; then early mediaeval pottery, and finally the foundations of the chapel (removed in 1816) on the summit. The similarity between the Ballowall tumulus and the topes of India was also pointed out, and an urn was exhibited (the largest yet discovered) having a cross in relief at the bottom, which Mr. Borlase, however, did not attribute to Christian times.]
Let us now go back (he concluded) to the question of race. There is nothing in all this necessarily pre-Celtic. These graves were the burying-places of the dwellers in the huts. I have never found anything which I could bring myself to assign to a non-metallic age.
One thing we may be sure of in regard to the people who raised these structures. They were not the savages some would have them to be. The charge of utter barbarism so often applied in haste and ignorance to all that at first sight seems pre-historic and past recall cannot in fairness be maintained against them. Whether we see them as miners in the streams, smelters in the caves, herdsmen in the paddocks, husbandmen in the corn fields, cooks in the kitchen, soldiers on the ramparts, mourners at the grave, worshippers, perchance, at the spots where their friends lie buried, they are still men, not merely of like passions and instinct, but of like vocations also with ourselves.
If, then, in tracing the simple annals of their daily life, we can reinstate these early people in that place in civilisation to which (however rude their culture may have been) they appear in truth to lay claim, shall we not draw from the historian as well as from the antiquary the acknowledgment that in these ruinous heaps there is still a study worth pursuing.
Extracted from the Report and Transactions of the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 1880-81, pp22-37.