Ancient Penwith Research Project - Ancient Penwith

Ancient Penwith

Ancient Penwith

The prehistoric landscape of the Land's End peninsula in Cornwall
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Ancient Penwith Research Project

Ancient Penwith Site Research Project

This research project starts during 2016. It is phase two of the research that is reported on this site. Our aim is to survey Penwith's main ancient sites to create a database and an online resource of full-spectrum information about them.

We'll be studying locational factors such as archaeoastronomy, landscape placing, site intervisibility, mythic and artistic properties, subtle energy and subjective impressions, for an initial selection of around 60 sites on the peninsula.
Carn Kenidjack from a cairn at Carn Les Boel - five miles
This will add a new evidential dimension to our understanding of West Penwith's ancient remains.

It will leave a resource for future researchers and enthusiasts, also stimulating new work in our own time.

This comprehensive approach to understanding one of Europe's megalithic heartlands will prove useful to students of ancient sites everywhere.

Should it interest you to participate actively, see the right-hand column below. We also seek support in covering the project's expenses and equipment needs.
As far as we know, this kind of survey hasn't been done comprehensively before, anywhere. In Penwith there is already an existing body of knowledge to draw on, and we have access to good advice and expertise here too.

Summer solstice sunset as seen from Trencrom Hill
Summer solstice sunset as seen from Trencrom HillThe aim is to amass data, observations and impressions in order to examine the reasons for siting ancient sites and why certain kinds of sites are located where they are. These include     chambered cairns, barrows, stone circles, quoits, standing stones, other placed stones and natural carns, rounds, hill enclosures and cliff castles.

The work involves visiting these sites to work through a checklist of details, also taking time to report on unique factors present at each site, recording details photographically or by sketch and diagram, and detailing feelings experienced during site visits. This will then be brought together with existing archaeological research.

West Lanyon Quoit
West Lanyon QuoitWe seek to learn more about what the ancients knew about subtle energy and working with the landscape.

This is potentially important for future application, in a form of geo-engineering that works in harmony with nature and its own forces.

We seek to make Penwith one of the more intensely and comprehensively studied megalithic areas of Britain. Several virtues encourage this, such as definite boundaries, manageable size (petrol and walking), a high density of sites, several layers of ancient history, a certain magic, and the presence of many knowledgeable and interested people living here.

Field research

Site visits are done by members of the team working in pairs, contributing voluntarily for at least two days per month, visiting perhaps 2-4 sites per day.

There will be a checklist of actions to take at each site, producing lists, diagrams and reports of what has been observed. We also encourage team members to pursue their own clues, intuitions and ideas. It's both a left- and right-brained approach.
A chambered cairn at Treen near Morvah
Looking out from Treen Common entrance moundAstronomically, we seek to find out which sites are aligned to critical rising and setting points of the sun and moon and what their main orientations are. We'll examine each local horizon, taking a bearing on all noteworthy visible features and recording them.

Might there be points on the ancients' calendar that we don't know about yet? Are there differences between neolithic and bronze age sites? Is there a difference between sites in the northern and southern halves of Penwith? We can evolve and test a few hypotheses.
Chûn Quoit as seen from Boswens menhir
Chun Quoit from Boswens menhirRegarding landscape placing, we'll note the orientations of all visible landscape features, as seen from each site, and check the intervisibility of sites in order to make a map of intervisibility connections. We'll record the unique properties of each site to check for commonalities and differences, in words, sketches, diagrams and photos. We'll note down feelings we gain from being there, with the dates and moonphases of our visits.

A few sites, such as stone circles, will be complex - we're leaving them till later. Many sites will be simpler, but they each can nevertheless require a few hours' attention.

Computer work will be needed at home too - calculating in advance the expected azimuths (degrees from north) of key rising and setting points, keeping records (in list and spreadsheet form), and constructing an intervisibility map (showing which sites are visible from which sites).

About archaeo-astronomy
A winter solstice alignment from Carfury menhir? We'll test it.
A winter solstice alignment from Carfury menhir?
Archaeo-astronomy is one part of this study. One aim is to find out which sites have astronomical orientations and which do not.

A good online introduction to the principles of archaeo-astronomy, and highly relevant to this work, is to be found here.

This site outlines the basic concepts of archaeoastronomy:

There is a dissertation that clearly describes archaeo-astronomical research done at Strata Florida Abbey in Wales. This serves as an example of this kind of work. Click to download here (PDF).

To read some of the classic work of Prof Alexander Thom from the late 1960s, try:  It gets mathematical, but skip through it to find his main ideas.


If this project interests you, if you have expert advice or experience, or if you would like to contribute in some way, then please contact Palden.

Thanks for your interest!
Interested in doing research?
This requires a modicum of dedication, though it's doable in scale and tempo. It involves contributing one or two days per month, in autumn, winter and spring.

Arrange your days and times with the person you'll be working with. You can work as and when you wish, in coordination with the person you're working with.

We need some consistency since this is a team effort, we need good results and there will be a knowledge buildup in the team. This is not a course and we rely on you finding out what you need to know - and we're learning too.

You need to have some knowledge and understanding of ancient sites and related matters, plus a willingness to work systematically to produce useful data and observations. Perhaps you might bring with you a valuable skill or ability.

You need to live locally to Penwith, be fit for walking on rough terrain and willing to be out in Cornish weather. Computer literacy and own transport are advantages.

There will not be many meetings - much contact and discussion will be online.

If you like ancient sites and engaging in this kind of activity, and if you have available time and space, this could be rewarding to do.

The spiritus loci of West Penwith seeks to reveal some of its secrets, and you could be part of this process.

What we'll be doing

The main activity is visiting sites and doing a broad-spectrum survey of factors pertaining to site positioning and their possible reasons for being.

Our method is all-round and two-pronged.

One task is to work through a checklist of observations to be made, to help compile a comprehensive wide-spectrum database of measurements and observations.

We'll be recording visible sightlines and orientations, taking notes on how the local landscape looks or might have looked, on the site itself, and doing sketches, diagrams and photos. It's worth finding out what is already known about the site, if it has mythology attached, and studying maps before visiting. Then there is some writing-up afterwards, online at home.

An example: when visiting a chambered cairn, what is the view from inside the cairn? What is its orientation, centrally down the passage and also to the left and right-hand walls? What sites are visible from there? What horizon azimuths and elevations are noteworthy from that site? What is its landscape situation? How close is it to its likely original state?

The other observational method is to freewheel with your own interests and observations and noting them down, to contribbute to a more free-ranging and creative database that might nevertheless yield valuable objective results. This can include subjective observations, an artist's assessment of landscape factors, intuitive and dowsing skills, or simply sitting quietly and listening.

Each site will demand or offer different things. Sites for initial examination are Chûn Quoit, Carn Galva, Ballowall and Bosiliack Barrows, the Kemyel menhirs, Caer Brân, Chapel Carn Brea, Carfury and Boswens menhirs, Lesingey Round, Maen Castle and Treryn Dinas. Later on we'll look at the stone circles and their complexes, and mysterious sites like Treen Common Circle.


The main item is a compass clinometer to measure azimuth (direction) and elevation (horizon height). Google 'compass clinometer' and you'll find a variety from £20-60. Some are mechanical, some electronic. Some smartphones have apps claiming this purpose, but they are insufficiently accurate and reliable, and some sites are out of range.

A GPS can help but isn't obligatory. It is possible to print out a Google map of the site, on which precise locations of features can be marked, for transferring to digital format later. Binoculars, camera, tape-measure, notebook or clipboard, weatherproofs and tea-flask are all useful. We're working in pairs, and each pair needs the necessary equipment between them.


Belerion - the ancient sites of Land's End, by Craig Weatherhill, published by Alison Hodge, 1981-89, ISBN 0-906720-01-X, out of print.
Ancient Sites of West Penwith, by Cheryl Straffon, Meyn Mamvro Publications, 1992-2014, ISBN 978095-18859-01.
Cornovia - ancient sites of Cornwall and Scilly, by Craig Weatherhill, Halsgrove, 2009, ISBN 9781-84114-748-2.

Take a good look through the Ancient Penwith website for useful information and pointers.
Combining these geomantic factors with archaeological information, we should be in a position to understand more fully the wide spectrum of factors determining the positioning and nature of Penwith's ancient sites. This will shed light on the purpose of this ancient site system as an integrated whole.

From this we hope to gain insights into the thoughts, beliefs and subtle geo-engineering technologies of Penwith's inhabitants in ancient times.
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