Nine Stones Altarnun
Image credit and © Roy Goutté
In a new series, Roy Goutté delves into the archives to search out some interesting old Cornish archaeological articles, stories, tales and chapters in books now in the public domain that were published way back in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Part 2… Hero to Zero!
Archaeology is a serious subject as we well know, but now and again things do happen that make you smile.
This (as written) from The Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall 1886 – 1889.
Re-erection of the Nine-Stones.
“On April 8th, Mr. F. R. Rodd, accompanied by Mrs. Rodd, took some men to the old circle of this name, which lies about three quarters of a mile S.E. of Fox Tor, and the diameter of which coincides with the boundary-line between Altarnon and North Hill. The stones (which happen to be nine in number), were all fallen except two: this was not to be wondered at considering none of them are more than 6 or 7 feet high, and they are not large of their kind; besides, the cattle constantly trampling round and rubbing against them hasten the effects of winds and rains. Two stones of the circle were missing; but the one in the centre, though fallen, was in place; for which a fresh pit was excavated, without, however, bringing to light any indications of there having been an interment there.
“This is but a small circle, and so not particularly valuable as a relic of antiquity yet the restoration of it none the less serves a good purpose, as tending to shew the moor-men, especially those on the look-out for gate-posts, that labour (i.e. money) is expended on their preservation: and therefore Mr.Rodd deserves the thanks of the Royal Institution of Cornwall. For this is the only practical way of carrying out the spirit of Sir John Lubbock’s Act, on these moors, where people are so scarce, and knowledge travels so slowly, that prehistoric remains may be destroyed and removed, without the discovery of such destruction, until too late to prevent it.”
The nine-stones in question are in fact the Nine Stones of Altarnun stone circle of course on East Moor just up the lane from where I live and my favourite circle. Its southern boundary is Ridge Hill.
Ridge Hill cairn as seen today © Roy Goutté
This follow-on piece in the same Journal is what made me smile… not the wanton destruction and desecration of a sacred and beautiful stone cairn of course, you understand, but the possibility that it may have been carried out by our former hero who gained such respect with his work done at the stone circle on East Moor a few hundred yards below. What an embarrassment!
Opening of a Cairn on Ridge Hill.
“On May 22nd, 1889, I received the following from Mr. Rodd, of Trebartha Hall:
“We have been raising a wall round the old plantation below Ridge Hill lately, and have driven an adit (a horizontal passage) through the cairn on the top, in order to get stone for the purpose. This morning I see that the men have arrived at a central rock, around which the cairn appears to have been built. The top of the cairn appears to have been disturbed at some former time, and to have been composed of a number (7 or 8) of irregularly shaped cells, or chambers, very roughly built: I cannot conceive for what purpose; we hope to go up there again with two carts and clear away stone to the centre of the ground-line: I should much like you to see what we have done.
“Accordingly on July 3rd, I accompanied Mr.Rodd and some friends, and found that a passage had been made from the circumference at the north side to the centre, and beyond the centre of the cairn, by removal of loose stones, and that the original ground-level of this portion of it was exposed to view. In the centre (or thereabouts) of the area on which the cairn had been constructed was a large slab of granite, about 5 feet long, 2 to 3 feet square, partially embedded, and apparently as laid there by nature. This block certainly seemed to have been the nucleus round which the cairn was formed, for it seemed to be the centre of some concentric circles of stones, on edge, which, at some little distance, circumscribed the block. The surface of the ground, and the faces of the loose stones all around in the “crater” of the cairn were so coloured and scarred with tar and tire from the bonfires, or beacon-tires of various generations, including the jubilee bonfire, and the molten tar had penetrated between the interstices of the stones, and permeated the soil to such an extent, that it was most difficult to determine whether the burnt earth immediately above the subsoil was due to this cause only, or was indicative of a funeral pyre. However, on excavating round the granite-slab previously divided into two parts for the more easy removal, it distinctly appeared by the depth of such darkened earth, the absence of any tar, and the homogeneity of the soil, that the ashes of the primal interment had been laid against, but not under the N.W. side of the granite block. There was no paving, fragment of pottery, or anything whatever of interest, just here, and the earth was turned over down to the “country 5″ apparently there had never been any kist-vean under the cairn; but it is possible there may have been another interment without kist-vean elsewhere below the ground level, in other parts of the cairn, where the ground has not yet been excavated.”
I wonder if Mr.Rodd (assuming it was the same person that is) was expecting the thanks of the Royal Institution of Cornwall for that little lot as well?
My thoughts every time I visit both the cairn and the circle focus on the centre stones of both and wonder is there is a direct connection. In their mindset, did whatever took place below on the moor in the living world, get replicated at the cairn in the next i.e. the Afterlife?