NGR: SW 4265
This iconic and highly photogenic site is one of the best known
megalithic structures in Britain. The name Men-an-Tol means simply
'holed stone' and despite having been considered a significant and
popular monument from a very early date, its true purpose remains a
The monument today consists of four stones; two upright stones with
the holed stone between them, and a fallen stone at the foot of the
western upright. Antiquarian representations of the site differ in
significant details and it is possible that the elements of the site
have been rearranged on several occasions. William Borlase described
the monument in the 18th Century as having a triangular layout, and
it has been suggested that the holed stone was moved from its
earlier position to stand in a direct alignment between the two
standing stones. In the mid 19th Century, a local antiquarian JT
Blight proposed that the site was in fact the remains of a stone
circle. This idea was given additional support when a recent site
survey identified a number of recumbent stones lying just beneath
the modern turf which were arranged along the circumference of
a circle 18 metres in diameter. The recumbent stones are somewhat
irregularly spaced but the three extant upright stones have smooth
inward facing surfaces and are of a similar height to other stone
circles in Penwith.
If this is indeed the origin of the site, the holed stone would
probably have been aligned along the circumference of the circle and
would have had a special ritual significance possibly by providing a
lens through which to view other sites or features in the landscape,
or as a window onto other worlds. There have also been suggestions
that it may have been a component of a burial chamber or cist. There
are instances of burial chambers close to stone circles, as at
nearby Boskednan, and a barrow mound with stone cist has been
identified to the north-east of the Men-an-Tol, so it seems likely
that the site was part of a more extensive ritual or ceremonial
Holed stones are very rare in prehistoric Cornwall; there is only
one other comparable site, the Tolvan Stone near Gweek. All other
‘holed stones’ are much smaller with holes less than 15 cm in
diameter; certainly too small to pass an infant through. These
stones may have originated as horizontally bedded stones on granite
tors, the hole produced by natural weathering processes. They may
have been brought to the site to fulfil a specific ritual purpose
and perhaps to provide a physical link with the sacred hill.
The Men-an-Tol has generated a wealth of folklore and tradition. It
is renowned for curing many ailments, particularly rickets in
children, by passing the sufferer through the hole. It was also said
to provide an alternative cure “scrofulous taint”, also known as the
“Kings Evil” which was otherwise only curable by the touch of the
reigning monarch. The site’s reputation for curing back problems
earned it the name of “Crick Stone”. The stones were also seen as a
charm against witchcraft or ill-wishing, and could also be used as a
tool for augury or telling the future; two brass pins laid crosswise
on top of each other on the top of the stone would move
independently of external intervention in accordance with the
question asked. Age old myths of spirits associated with sacred
places are echoes from prehistory.
Although the Men-an-Tol is considered to be Bronze Age in date no
extensive excavations have taken place. The discovery of a single
flaked flint by WC Borlase in 1885 is hardly compelling
evidence for an early date whilst the recent works to reset the
holed stone revealed only evidence for modern activity.
The Men-an-Tol lies to the east of the track running north-east from
Bosullow, and is also accessible from Boskednan via the Nine Maidens
stone circle, or the path which passes Ding Dong Mine. A little
further along the track from Bosullow lies the Men Scryfa, an early
mediæval inscribed stone.
The Men-an-Tol is sited in open moorland, within an area designated
as being historically and ecologically valuable as well as being an
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Barnatt, J, 1982. Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments.
Turnstone Press Limited. ISBN 0 85500 129 1
Payne, R, 1999. The Romance of the Stones:
Cornwall's Pagan Past. Alexander Associates. ISBN 899526 66 8
Preston-Jones, A, 1993. The Men-an-Tol. Management and Survey.
Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.
Preston-Jones, A, 1993. The Men-an-Tol reconsidered in Cornish Archaeology
32, pp 5-16.
Ground & Aerial photographs