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Britain's Landscape Symbols and Mysteries: Trethevy Quoit

Most people tend to expect ancient relics to be located in the middle of nowhere, far from habitation or modern buildings.

However, the highly impressive well-preserved megalithic tomb is situated in a field amazingly close to the back of a row of cottages near St Cleer, Cornwall. It is known locally as "the giant's house" Standing 9 feet (2.7 m) high, it consists of five standing stones capped by a large slab.

Trethevy Quoit is situated in the Caradon District north of Liskeard in the village of Tremar Coombe. Nearby are The Hurlers, three stone circles dating from the late Bronze Age. The site is managed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust on behalf of English Heritage.

Like other portal tombs of this type, Trethevy Quoit was originally covered by a mound. The remnants of this suggest a diameter of 6.5 meters. The remaining seven stones and the 3.7 m long and 10.5-ton cover slab were inside the mound. The huge capstone here weighs about 20 tonnes, and manoeuvring it into position was a considerable feat of engineering.

At the upper end of the cover slab is a natural hole, which may have been used for astronomical observation. This hole has provoked much curiosity over the years, but the exact reason, and whether it really did have a purpose or not, remain unknown.

Curiously, the sloping angle of the top of this hole is reminiscent of many free-standing stones, as discussed on my previous post regarding the Stones of Stenness, in the Orkney Isles (Scotland).

The group of horizontal stones is composed of a fallen back wall, two side wall stones, which overlap, a front stone and a somewhat remote flanking stone.

The special feature of Cornish portal graves is that by such stones sometimes a smaller partially closed area is created before the front end. Some stones have hole-like perforations as decoration.

Also known as cromlechs and portal dolmens, excavations have shown that these kinds of sites were constructed in the early and middle Neolithic period between 3700-3300 BC. They were used over long periods as communal tombs or ossuaries to house the bones of the ancestors.

Due to the acidity of the soil no bones have been found in Cornish quoits, but excavations elsewhere have revealed human bones in the chambers and pits and postholes in the forecourt area. It was not unusual for quoits to have been the focus for Bronze Age funerary rituals in the form of cremations placed in burial urns.

It may be that in prehistoric times the ancestral dead were considered to be mediators between the community and its gods, and that places like this were an important interface between these two worlds.

The front stone is often called an entrance stone, although in most portal graves this can not be moved. The Trevethy Quoit is a rare exception here, because a small rectangular stone moving at the bottom right of the front allows access to the grave chamber, which is now opened only very rarely.

One unusual feature is the doorway, which has been cut out of the entrance stone. According to historical theories, this may have been used to enable bodies to be put into the chamber. This theory is supported by the remains of a mound lying at the base of the structure -- the mound is thought to have originally acted as a ramp to aid access to the chamber for burials.

The back of the chamber has collapsed inwards and now forms a pile inside the chamber. Erected this stone would be about the height of the front stone, so that the cover slab would not have once been held-up by the side stones, but rested almost horizontal solely on the front stone and rear walls. However, there would have been between the support stones and the side walls a considerable gap, by which soil could have penetrated into the grave chamber. It is therefore likely that the collapse of the rear wall and the falling-down of the cover slab damaged the side stones.

Trethevy Quoit was first mentioned in 1584 by J. Norden, in a topographical and historical account of Britain, but which was first published in 1728.

Hencken in 1932 wrote the first modern representation, in which he explained the special nature of the antechamber, and pointed out parallels to structures in Brittany. Recent excavations showed that this type of megalith was erected in the Neolithic period between 3700-3500 BC and were used over a long period of time as community graves.


Address :St.Cleer, Cornwall -View location map
Sat Nav:Tom Tom Download -Garmin Download

Nearby sites

The Hurlers Stone Circle (2.5km)
King Arthur's Hall Stone Circle (15.7km)
Trippet Stones Stone Circle (14.2km)
Stripple Stones Stone Circle (13.2km)
Duloe Stone Circle (10.8km)

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