(near Redruth) carried out by Roger Mercer in the early 1970s
revealed a previously unknown archaeological site type. Mercer’s
work showed that the low stony banks looping from outcrop to outcrop
and encircling the twin tors of the hill were constructed 6000 years
ago in the early Neolithic period. The site was, in effect, a
version in stone of the causewayed camps of lowland England typified
by the famous site of Windmill Hill in Wessex. As this was an
unprecedented discovery a new name had to be coined, and the site
became known as a ‘Tor Enclosure’.
This revelation spurred archaeologists to identify similar sites in
the Cornish countryside and one early candidate to emerge was Helman
Tor, located midway between Bodmin and Lostwithiel. The tor is at
the northern extremity of a north-south trending granite ridge, and
overlooks the marshy ground of Redmoor and Breney Common and the
fertile farmlands on the higher ground between. Though not well
preserved, archaeological surveys had identified a series of low
walls and levelled terraces on the tor, similar in nature to those
Brea, and a small-scale excavation of a terrace just behind
one of the better preserved lengths of walling, again undertaken by
Roger Mercer, confirmed the Neolithic origins of the site.
Within the enclosure are several level platforms which have been
interpreted as house sites, though no traces of the stone walls of
‘hut circles’ can be seen. One of the excavated platforms was found
to contain a complex pattern of postholes which were interpreted as
evidence for the construction of a series of wooden walled
structures, although there is insufficient evidence to determine the
length or duration of the occupation. Associated with these are
traces of field systems indicated by a series of slight terraces and
a number of piles of small boulders and stones which are the result
of the clearance of stone from the fields prior to cultivation.
No certain entrance to the enclosure has been identified whilst a
stony bank built on the western slopes below the summit and main tor
enclosure may mark the remains of an outer annexe, possibly used as
an enclosure for keeping animals.
With so few excavated examples, there is still much to be learned about tor enclosures. Like hillforts, they may have provided a focus for
their local community and a place for social and ceremonial
interaction, including the exchange of goods and ideas. Numerous
finds from the hilltop over the years, including greenstone axes,
flint tools, stone querns and gabbroic pottery confirm the Neolithic
date for the construction and occupation of the tor, and the
numerous similarities with other potential new tor enclosures at Trencrom in the west, and at De Lank,
Stowe’s Pound and
Roughtor on Bodmin Moor has really
established the credential of these sites as a definite new class of
Dudley, P, 2005. Helman Tor, CWT Properties, Cornwall.
Archaeological Assessments. Historic Environment Service,
Cornwall County Council.
Mercer, R, 1997. The Excavation of a Neolithic Enclosure Complex at Helman Tor, Lostwithiel, Cornwall
in Cornish Archaeology 36, pp 5-63.
Rose, P. and Johnson, N, 1983. Helman Tor, Lanlivery in Cornish
Archaeology 23; p186.