Alignments | their differing kinds and magnitudes - Ancient Penwith

Ancient Penwith

Ancient Penwith

The prehistoric landscape of the Land's End peninsula in Cornwall
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Alignments | their differing kinds and magnitudes


While constructing the map it emerged that there is a range of different kinds of alignments. These were grouped into a number of types. This grouping might change over time, as ideas develop. They are as follows.

Backbone alignments

Backbone alignments

These are marked on the map in yellow. They connect major sites, covering longer distances, and they might be considered as the main arteries of the network, linking major sites across the region and going further afield too.

On the picture here, alignment 77 from St Michael's Mount to Cape Cornwall is shown, passing through Caergwydden Round and the early bronze age Botrea Barrows.

Another example is backbone alignment 108, going from Treryn Dinas to the Merry Maidens stone circle, then to St Michael’s Mount, Gear Round and finally Carn Brea. (Gear Round near Praze-an-Beeble appears to be more than an ordinary iron age round. A round is a banked enclosure on relatively flatter land, roundish in shape and usually built to contain a settlement. Judging by its alignments, Gear Round seems to be more significant than an ordinary round.)

This alignment suggests that one of the reasons the Merry Maidens sits where it does is that it aligns with and connects three other major natural and, amazingly, aligned sites – two of which, St Michael’s Mount and Carn Brea, qualify as geomantically significant places in a national context. The other, Treryn Dinas (Logan Rock) is significant in the Penwith context.

Alignments such as these have been selected as backbone alignments purely on judgement and the way they chime with the overall system - the deciding factor is that they link at least three important, focal sites, one or two of which are usually cliff sanctuaries or tor enclosures.

Significant alignments, marked on the map in bright red. Internal to West Penwith, these alignments connect Penwith sites such as stone circles, menhirs, enclosures and cairns.

An example is a John Michell line, alignment 16, from Sennen hedge menhir and Tregiffian Vean cairn to Botrea Barrows, then to West Lanyon Quoit and the Nine Maidens stone circle, with two other points on it also. It’s a significant alignment within the context of West Penwith, but not as major as a backbone alignment.

Here’s another one, alignment 114, which starts at Gurnard's Head in the north, passing through Chapel Jane, an early Christian chapel nearby, to Porthmeor settlements and Bosporthennis Quoit, crossing to Carfury menhir, down to Chyenhal East menhir and then to Castallack menhir, ending at Kemyel Point, a suspected cliff sanctuary. Castallack seems to be a gateway or connector stone to the Kemyel and Swingate menhir group (about which, more below). This alignment goes all the way from the north to the south coast.

Significant alignments stretching beyond West Penwith, marked in orange. Some go into East Penwith, Kerrier and the Lizard, and some go to the Isles of Scilly. The sites they connect aren't necessarily as crucial as those connected by backbone alignments.

An example is alignment 125, from the summit cairn on the prominent hill of Chapel Carn Brea to Tregiffian Vean chambered mound in the west of the Penwith peninsula. Then it heads across the sea to Burnt Hill cliff camp on St Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly,then to Castle Down chambered mound on Tresco and finally to Bryher Cairnfield. Chapel Carn Brea was one of the beacon hills of Penwith, for communications with Scilly.

Or try alignment 98: it starts on St Mary’s in the Scillies at Bant’s Carn, passing through Long Rock menhir and Innisidgen NW cairn on St Mary's, slicing through the Great Arthur cairns then landing on Penwith at Nanjulian settlement north of Sennen, passing through Lower Numphra mound (a noteworthy Penwith node), then to Trewern menhir, landing up at the upstanding hill of Carn Brea, above Camborne in Kerrier (not to be confused with Chapel Carn Brea).

As it happens, it passes through the farmyard where I live, but I get a sneaky feeling that the ancients weren't really thinking about that four millennia ago.

Local alignments, marked in dark red, connect sites such as cairns, standing stones, Christian crosses, wells and settlements.

An example is alignment 4, another of John Michell’s alignments, from The Brisons and Chûn Castle, through Bosullow Trehillis settlement to Mên-an-Tol (once a stone circle), then through a boundary stone and Try entrance mound to Noon Veor tumulus near Towednack. Definitely a classic leyline, but not as significant as those above.

Another of his is alignment 28, from Carfury menhir to one of the Drift menhirs, to a hedge stone and finally to the NE Piper menhir in the Merry Maidens complex - a menhir alignment.

Quoit alignments, marked in pink. These are mostly three-point lines directly linking the quoits in the northern hills of Penwith.

The quoits are amongst the older of remains in Penwith, so these alignments were presumably early additions to the network. While they are three-point alignments, they are repeatedly and consistently so, suggesting intentionality. They’re worth noting, since quoits are important sites.

One alignment, 113, goes from Mulfra Quoit, through Bosiliack menhir to Lanyon Quoit. Another, 142, links Sperris Quoit and Zennor Quoit with Lanyon Quoit. There are seven of these alignments (though one is part of the longer alignment 101).

Scilly alignments are marked in violet. Local to the Scillies, many are three-point alignments. In megalithic times most of the islands of the Scillies formed one island, and the islands of today were hills on that island.

A four-point example is SC10 from Obadiah’s Barrow on Gugh to Buzza Hill cairn on St Mary’s, then to Middle Arthur cairns on Middle Arthur, and finally to the cairns on Great Ganilly. Otherwise, they're three-point alignments.  Click here to see the Scilly map

Kemyel/Swingate alignments, also marked in violet, are mostly three-point alignments. This strange configuration of menhirs above Lamorna is clearly a sub-system of its own – the purpose of which is unknown and difficult to guess.

Does it have astronomical or geometric significance? Was it some sort of laboratory or experimental area? Or was it simply the whim of some local tribal chief?

An example alignment of this kind is 167, which goes from Kemyel B to Swingate E and then Swingate F.

Stone circle radials, marked in light blue. These are mostly three-point short alignments passing through stone circles, with a standing stone, mound or holed stone on the alignment on either side of the stone circle, often astronomically aligned. They are part of the local complex around stone circles.

An example is alignment 51, just 800 metres long, from Gûn Rith menhir to Merry Maidens stone circle, then to a nearby hedge stone and finally to the site of the now-destroyed Tregurnow stone circle, just 600 metres from the Merry Maidens. Like Tregeseal, the Merry Maidens complex once involved two or three stone circles, as well as other features.

International alignments. It is not the purpose of the MAP project to study these since it's a big question, though other researchers are doing so. Two important known alignments of this kind pass through West Penwith, and they are shown on the map in white.

The Michael Line spans Britain from Cornwall to Norfolk, along the longest east-west axis of the British landmass and generally following the rising point of the sun at Beltane and Lammas. Its Cornish section goes from the Hurlers stone circles in East Cornwall to Carn Brea and then to Carn Lês Boel near Land’s End – passing not far from St Michael’s Mount on the way, at Long Rock.

This is the straight Michael alignment identified by John Michell, not the sinuous Michael and Mary lines identified by Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst, which wind loosely around it (see The Sun and the Serpent). They all meet at Carn Lês Boel, as they do at other places on the alignment including at St Michaels Mount, The Hurlers, Glastonbury and Avebury. The alignment has been calculated to pass right round the world as a great circle line.

There is a subset of this line from the Hurlers, passing exactly through St Michael’s Mount to Tol Pedn Penwith (Gwennap Head), the southwesternmost point of Britain – itself an amazing alignment.

The Apollo Line goes from Skellig Michael in Ireland at least to northern Israel, and probably on to India. It was identifiedby Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst. The sinuous Apollo and Athena lines meet at St Michael's Mount, and they leave Penwith at Zennor Head and Gurnard's Head respectively. The straight alignment of this line between St Michael's Mount and Skellig Michael passes across the summit of Watch Croft, West Penwith's highest hill.

These are perhaps more corridors than precise alignments, and they do not touch many local ancient sites. Much research yet needs to be done regarding national- and international-scale alignments such as these.

Double menhirs. There are small green lines attached to double menhirs. They don't go anywhere - they are there to show the orientation of the two stones to each other. They're not alignments like the ones listed above. There's more about these double menhirs here.


But what was all this for? Well, if you wish to jump straight to it, try here. Otherwise, go to the next page.
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