Monthly Archives: August 2015
‘Quoit’ is the Cornish word for a dolmen. A dolmen was constructed using three or more large stones supporting a huge capstone, as seen in this photo. The dolmen (quoit) formed the entrance to a tomb or burial chamber and was covered with earth and small rocks for protection
The Lanyon Quoit was probably originally built around 4000 BCE, but it was rebuilt in 1824. The original earth covering had already disappeared over the centuries and the exposed stone structure had collapsed during a particularly severe storm on 19 October 1819
The Men-an-Tol (‘Holed Stone’) is believed to have been constructed in the Bronze Age but not inits present form. Research suggests that the stones were once part of a circle
Like ‘The Merry Maidens’ a good deal of folklore surrounds this group of stones In particular the holed stone became associated with healing and with fertility rites. It was believed that a young woman who passed seven times through the hole (18″ diameter) would soon become pregnant. A child suffering from Rickets could be cured by passing it, naked, through the hole three times
The sculptor Barbara Hepworth lived and worked in Cornwall and the influence of the surrounding landscape and stones is apparent in in her sculptures. Indeed, a hole penetrating her sculptures is a trademark feature. (See my post Around the Barbara Hepworth Garden)
Prehistoric monuments, such as stone circles, megaliths or menhirs (standing stones) and quoits, provide interesting features in the landscape of the British Isles. The best known examples (Stonehenge and Avebury) are familiar to most, but they are not alone – more than 1300 stone circles have been recorded in the British Isles and more than 10000 standing stones.
The monuments have their origin in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages (broadly between 4000 and 1800 BCE). Precise dating is notoriously difficult because they do not respond well to carbon dating techniques and there is an absence of artefacts that might be used for guidance. Similarly there is doubt about their purpose(s). Specialists in many disciplines, but with a shared interest – eg., geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, astronomers, antiquarians, experts in folklore and legends etc – now pool their knowledge to shed light on a distant age.
Not surprisingly, over the centuries these intriguing phenomena have often been explained through legend and folklore. In the case of the Merry Maidens stone circle the nineteen stones were once innocent girls who were encouraged to dance on the Sabbath by two evil spirits in the guise of pipers. A sudden bolt of lightening from an otherwise clear blue sky transformed the girls and the pipers into their present state.
The image below is one of the pipers.