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Cornwall Archaeological Society

Carn Brea, Early Neolithic tor enclosure, c 3700 BC

[img_assist|nid=179|title=Carn Brea, 1971|desc=Reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Institution of Cornwall. Copyright Charles Woolf.|link=none|align=left|width=576|height=373]
In 2011 the Cornwall Archaeological Society (CAS) celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with various festivities and a special jubilee edition of its journal, Cornish Archaeology, which reviewed highlights of research and discovery.

Outstanding amongst the Society’s early highlights was its excavation at Carn Brea, Illogan, from 1970 to 1973, led by Roger Mercer. This established a new class of site - the Early Neolithic tor enclosure. These are amongst the most spectacular constructions of Early Neolithic Britain. The massive stone banks at Carn Brea, now much tumbled after nearly six millennia, join up wall-like outcrops of rock to form a complex of enclosures covering possibly as much as 18 hectares. The excavators discovered that there had been intensive activity in the fourth millennium BC, finding traces of structures, fragments of 550 pottery vessels and 26,000 flints, including over 700 leaf-shaped arrowheads. Inspired by this pioneering work at Carn Brea, archaeologists have discovered a further nine possible sites in Cornwall. Tor enclosures are thought to have been important centres for the wider community, for ceremony, meetings and exchange – rather like causewayed enclosures.

As well as its value for research, the campaign at Carn Brea was just as important for involving CAS members and developing their expertise. Run as a CAS training excavation it attracted 157 volunteers and, together with other training excavations and reinforced by tuition from Exeter University’s Extra-mural Department, it gave CAS members the skills and experience to direct and publish excavations themselves in the late 1970s and beyond.

For more information on tor enclosures see the recent PhD by Simon Davies, The Early Neolithic tor enclosures of southwest Britain.

The Cornwall Archaeological Society can be contacted through its Secretary, Roger Smith, secretary [at]

Royal Archaeological Institute
c/o Society of Antiquaries of London
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BE

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