NGR: SW 4024 2885
The stone houses that make up the visible remains of Carn Euny
village represent a settlement that thrived from the late Iron Age
through the centuries of the Romano-British period. The village is
situated on the south facing slopes of a hill just above the 500m
contour, dominated by the nearby summit of Caer Brane with its Iron
Age hillfort. The remains of houses and prehistoric field systems
surrounding the site indicate that the area was settled probably
from the Bronze Age onwards, and finds of flint tools suggest a
human presence from the Mesolithic period.
Carn Euny is a settlement of several dwelling houses of a type which
is peculiar to West Penwith and known as ‘courtyard houses’. They
can be quite variable in design, but consist basically of a massive
drystone wall forming an open courtyard of roughly oval shape, with
a round or oval dwelling house built into the wall opposite the
entrance and a series of lean-to structures ranged along either
side. The entrance, which often bears evidence of a strong doorway,
is often paved and generally faces away from the prevailing
south-west wind. The long lean-to rooms probably functioned as store
rooms, workshops, or animal shelters. The courtyard may be crossed
by a stone lined and covered drain which might have been the water
supply to the residents or the means for keeping the courtyard
reasonably dry in wet weather. Roofs were probably thatched or
turfed, and it is most unlikely that the courtyard was covered over.
The remains of the courtyard houses have seen disturbance by later
episodes of occupation of the site, and the picture is further
confused by traces of a possible earlier phase of Bronze Age
roundhouses underlying the present settlement. The remains of a post
mediæval cottage is the most obvious and coherent structure
remaining. The layout of Carn Euny village, and most of the other
known courtyard house settlements was normally fairly haphazard;
nearby Chysauster is an exception to this rule in having a clearly
laid out ‘high street’ running between the houses.
An important feature of the settlement is the fogou which adjoins
one of the main courtyard houses. ‘Fogou’ is Cornish for ‘cave’ and
fogous are structures excavated from the rock and then lined and
roofed with slabs of stone. They are only found in the western parts
of Cornwall and the Lizard, but they are also known from other parts
of Britain, Ireland and Brittany where they are known as ‘souterrains’.
They seem to be associated with later prehistoric settlements, but
their function is hotly debated; explanations include use for
storage or as a refuge in times of trouble. Another popular train of
thought sees them as sites of religious significance possibly
dedicated to an earth mother or goddess figure.
The fogou at Carn Euny appears to have gone through three
construction phases; an early corbelled round chamber with low
entrance passage represents the first phase later linked to a long
curved stone passage orientated roughly east-west, with a short side
passage or “creep” leading to the surface near the south-west end.
At some time later a sloping entrance was created at the eastern
end. The passage and chamber have large capstones, all of which are
original except two replacements at the south-west end. A concrete
cap was placed over the round chamber recently for safety reasons.
In the late Iron Age when the courtyard houses were built the
economy would have been based around mixed farming with a
possibility that local minerals such as copper and tin were also
being exploited. The valley below the settlement would have been a
good location for a prehistoric tin streamworks. Tools indicating
domestic activities such as spinning and weaving and the grinding of
corn have been found and pottery evidence confirms the long period
of use of the settlement. The acidic soil conditions have destroyed
the evidence of organic material such as wood, leather and
basketwork, and any fragments of animal or human bone. Imported
amphorae sherds suggest contact with the Roman world long before the
conquest of 43 AD, and the cross-channel trade with Britanny, Wales
and Ireland no doubt flourished throughout the period.
The courtyard house village appears to have been abandoned at some
point after the fourth century AD and the site was abandoned until
the construction of the cottage built at the western edge of the
site in the 18th Century. The site has deteriorated through years
of neglect and survives in a fairly poor condition. The monument can
be accessed by road with lay-by car parking at nearby Brane from
where the site can be reached on foot via a public footpath.
Ground & Aerial photographs