After 15 days of hard graft, great camaraderie, fun and palpable daily excitement, the Big Dig at Carwynnen Quoit came to a fitting finale on 3 October: the excavation had revealed the full extent of the original footprint of this megalithic monument.
Massive socketholes for the three principal granite uprights were discovered. Two were investigated in full and the third was identified but was not fully dug (it lay under one of the main excavation baulks). Our major discovery was a largely intact and well-preserved artificial chamber “floor”. That this survived at all was partly to do with the fact that when the three granite uprights and the massive mushroom-shaped capstone collapsed in the 1960s earth tremor, they had fallen right on top of the area where they had once stood, and that this heap of stones had therefore protected the ground beneath.
The “floor” of the monument, an intact stone pavement, is made up of two elements. One is 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.
This is the first time that the original footprint of a monument of this type and great antiquity has been revealed by excavation in Cornwall. It shows that wider Megalithic architectural styles in far south-west Britain accommodated tremendous variety.
We plotted all the finds which were found across the entire area of the main excavation trench. As this plan shows some interesting trends are apparent. By looking at the numbers, distribution and character of early finds that were left behind on site – that is the prehistoric pottery, the flints and worked stone – the patterns about where were they left can reveal something about how the monument was used as well as the level of preservation site which can be confidently dated to signs of prehistoric activities.
This preliminary study was carried out once all the finds were assessed and catalogued and the patterns show a marked quantity of prehistoric finds moreorless in and around the immediate edges of the monument. Some of these bits of pots and flints may have moved slightly from their original positions – but there is a notable density of objects on and close to the stone pavement and particularly at the back or “rear” end of the monument where uprights stones 3 and 4 once stood.
When we combine measurements taken from some of the 19th century measured surveys – such as J T Blight’s c 1850s as shown here – and superimpose it onto the plan recorded during our excavation in September we can see that the capstone does not cover the central part of the stone pavement, but that the outer pavement skirt, particularly on the north-western edge of the monument is not protected by the shelter of the capstone. This makes it all the more remarkable that this pavement has survived intact! This would suggest that the front end of the monument is facing north and it is from this side that the visitor to the site in the Neolithic period would have approached the site.
The mysteries of this site as uncovered to date are tantalising, but have yet to be fully revealed. This one-time Neolithic community project built over 5-6,000 years ago can be reawakened as a new twenty-first century community challenge to restore the monument to its majestic glory!