Excavation may reveal secret of the Hurlers
A Bronze Age crystal pavement described as "unique" by archaeologists is to be uncovered for the first time since the 1930s.
The monument, at the Hurlers stone circle on Bodmin Moor, is believed to be the only one of its kind in the British Isles. Scientists and historians hope that by studying it they will gain a better understanding of early civilisations.
Organised by the Caradon Hill Area Heritage Project, "Mapping the Sun" will be led by a team from Cornwall Council's Historic Environment department. Archaeologists will be setting up at the site close to the village of Minions this weekend and the excavation will be open to the public between Tuesday and Saturday.
Described as a community archaeology project, a range of activities will take place throughout the week. These will include astronomy workshops with Brian Sheen from Roseland Observatory, a sunrise equinox walk, a geophysical survey, a display of Bronze Age artefacts and an exhibition of archive photographs. There will also be opportunities to actually lend a hand in the delicate task of excavating the pavement.
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The only time the 4,000-year-old causeway is thought to have been uncovered since it was originally laid took place 75 years ago, when workmen stabilised the site and re-erected a number of stones.
The existence of the quartz pavement only came to light again when Cornwall archaeologist Jacky Nowakowski was undertaking unrelated research at an English Heritage store in Gloucestershire. As she looked through files, Jacky came across an unpublished report and photographs from the Ministry of Works' excavation of the Hurlers in 1938.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I'd certainly not seen anything like it before. A feature such as this, which suggests a possible linking of the circles, is very unusual. The pavement is nationally unique as far as I know."
Internationally renowned for its line of three impressive stone circles, the Hurlers' original use has long been the subject of speculation and argument. Some believe its alignment mirrors the celestial bodies that make up Orion's Belt, while others claim it was used for religious purposes. Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that it was of major importance to the people who inhabited the moor 4,000 years ago.
The entire area around the Hurlers is peppered with archaeology. From a burial barrow, which contained the Rillaton Gold Cup, to Stowes Pound hill fort, Minions Mound to Long Tom, medieval streamworks to 19th century engine houses, the landscape is of enormous interest to historians. Jacky Nowakowski will explain many of the features when she leads a two-hour walk around the ancient monuments next Monday and Friday.
"I really hope the entire project and the series of linked events at this multi-faceted site will excite people," she said. "Our role will be to inform people about the site and to learn more about why it was built. Our other role is to help safeguard it for the future."
One important aspect of the dig will be to attempt to accurately date both the circle and pavement.
Jacky and her team have been given permission to excavate a portion of the original layer beneath the pavement in order to gauge whether it is contemporary with the circles. She said the discovery of pollen or other material will assist in dating the monument.
Mapping the Sun has been organised by Iain Rowe, of Caradon Hill Area Heritage Project. Iain, who had to obtain special permission from the Secretary of State for the Environment, said he was grateful to everyone involved in bringing it to fruition.
"We've had great support from the Duchy, which owns the site, English Heritage, which leases it, and Cornwall Heritage Trust, which manages it," he said. "We've also had a lot of help from commoners, graziers and local people.
"It promises to be a very interesting week because no-one is sure what will be revealed and what we may learn about the pavement's origins."
The site would be backfilled and the ground fully restored following next week's excavation. "There will be no sign we have been there," he added.
For full details of the week's events, visit caradonhill.org.uk