Stone circles are the most inspiring and evocative of all ancient sites. They date from the Early Bronze Age, circa 2500 – 1600 BC. Their purpose is unknown, but they were probably used for ceremonial purposes. Stone circles often indicate alignments with astronomical events such as Equinox and Solstice sunsets, sunrises and moonrises. Some are exact circles, others are oval.
Merry Maidens Stone Circle
They often form central points with outlying systems of standing stones, barrows and other ancient sites, and also with prominent natural features in the landscape. Stone circles in Penwith are large, flattened rings that contain many different irregularly shaped stones. The name ‘Nine Maidens’ has been given to several stone circles, although they do not always have nine stones. Maiden is thought to derive from the Cornish ‘meyn’ for stone, although the origin of nine is unclear. In Penwith the stone circles typically have nineteen stones, which could indicate a relationship with a 19-year solar and lunar cycle.
The origin of the holy wells in Penwith is not clear. Most are associated with early Celtic saints and have probably been used for over a thousand years. Many of these wells have been used continuously for healing, divination and for fertility purposes, a testimony to their power, attraction and efficacy. An age-old custom is to tie a piece of cloth (known as a cloutie) to a nearby tree. Traditionally this is a part of cloth that had been worn close to the skin of a person’s ailment or malady. As the cloth rotted away, the illness would disappear and the person would recover their full health
Quoits are great megalithic chamber tombs, a type of portal dolmen found only in Penwith. They date from the Neolithic period, circa 3500 – 2500 BC and are among the oldest stone monuments in Cornwall. They consist of large upright stone slabs that form a chamber, roofed by a single massive capstone weighing many tonnes. Most quoits appear to have once been surrounded by a circular or oval mound of stone, with the capstone and entrance left open. Excavations of quoits have indicated that they were not burial sites, but places where ritual burial offerings were made
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