Megalithic tomb in Cornwall to be excavated

To the untrained eye, it might look like a pile of rubble dumped unceremoniously in the middle of a forgotten field. 

Permission has been granted for excavations at the collapsed Carwynnen Quoit on the outskirts of Praze-an-Beeble, which archeologists believe could provide them with a glimpse into the past [Credit: This is Cornwall]
But to archaeologists, the giant stones represent a portal into the past which could unlock the secrets of life and death in Cornwall 5,000 years ago. 

Permission has just been granted for excavations at the collapsed Carwynnen Quoit on the outskirts of Praze-an-Beeble, which archaeologists believe could provide them with a fascinating glimpse into the past. 

Andy Norfolk, chairman of the Sustainable Trust, which owns the site situated between Camborne and Helston, said it was a rare opportunity. 

"We hope the dig will tell us more about its history and its use," he said. "It's a very rare chance to find out more about a quoit of this age and importance." 

Carwynnen Quoit is a scheduled ancient monument and permission to dig had to be granted by English Heritage. 

The quoit, one of many in the west of Cornwall, is thought to date from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. In its prime, it would have consisted of large upright slabs covered by a single, massive capstone. 

The distinctive flat-topped structure is known to have been a feature of the field for thousands of years. 

In 1834 it collapsed, but was re-erected, only to fall apart once more in 1967, a state it has remained in ever since. 

The Sustainable Trust ultimately aims to restore the quoit to its former glory, but this purpose has been put on hold after it decided to explore the monument's history. 

Mr Norfolk said: "After a year's fundraising in a difficult time, we've decided just to work on the archaeological side of the project and leave the restoration for another year, though we do intend to put it back up." 

A bid has been submitted by the trust to the Heritage Lottery Fund for cash to fund a one-year project. This would pay for free courses and events, plus a film and education pack about sites in the vicinity of the quoit. 

It is hoped that a decision will be delivered in June. 

Carwynnen is one of about a dozen megalithic tombs that survive in Cornwall. Their exact purpose remains a mystery, as does the precise date of their creation. 

It is believed quoits were built as tombs for complete bodies and when the one at West Lanyon collapsed two centuries ago excavation revealed a number of skeletons. 

The most recent deposit at Sperris Quoit near Zennor was found to have cremated remains from 1,500BC, though this is thought to indicate only the date of its last use. 

Some archaeologists believe the structures were left partially open rather than being completely covered with earth, and there is evidence that bones were sometimes removed and returned or rearranged. 

Source: This is Cornwall [May 03, 2012]

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