Ballowall Barrow or Carn Gluze

ballowall_barrow

Ballowall Barrow or Carn Gluze
St Just
Penwith
NGR: SW35524 31252

Ballowall is a strange and possibly unique example of a prehistoric funerary cairn which incorporates multiple phases of use and funerary practice spanning the Neolithic and Middle Bronze Age periods. Sited on Ballowall Common overlooking the rugged granite cliffs to the south of Cape Cornwall, it faces west towards Scilly and the setting sun.

Ballowall Common has been heavily exploited by miners for the many lodes of tin which underlie this area, and the monument was long been concealed and thus protected beneath mine waste. The site was excavated in the late 19th Century by WC Borlase who was drawn to the site by miners’ tales of strange lights and dancing fairies, which might indicate that the mound was exposed and recognisable not long before Borlase’s investigation. Unfortunately, by today’s standards, the excavation record is inadequate and unreliable; there are many discrepancies in the accounts of the work, many of the finds are now lost and interpretation of the site is difficult. Some reconstruction was also carried out at this time with the aim of making some of the interior features more accessible, further complicating the site.

For these reasons it is not possible to construct a reliable narrative of events for the development of the mound which explains the various features visible today. It appears that the earliest feature was an elongated pit near the centre of the site. This was subsequently surrounded by cists, these subsequently being covered by a high mound of stone, which was then re-faced in stone. Two further cists were constructed around the periphery of this mound, and these in turn were covered by a stone-kerbed platform around the earlier mound. What may have been a west-facing entrance grave was inserted into this outer kerb. Fragments of funerary urns found in association with these features allow us to date these broadly to the Neolithic and the early Bronze Age, though a Roman coin found in a tiny cist set high up in the mound material suggests that the site continued to be a local focus in later prehistory.

The site which exists today is partly original and unexcavated, partly a reconstruction of what Borlase found during his excavation. Rather confusingly it also incorporates features like the walkway around the central mound and the revetted central space which were built by Borlase so that visitors could see the cists and other features which would be hidden had the site been fully reconstructed.

The individual components of the site are all common elements of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary monuments but together they form a rare and important example of developing and continuous ritual practices juxtaposed within a single monument complex. No other monument of this type has so far been identified in Cornwall although Borlase mentioned the excavation of another cairn nearby which showed some similarities in construction. Unfortunately no trace of this cairn now survives.

Ballowall ‘Barrow’ lies within a landscape rich in prehistoric monuments, settlements and field systems and is an integral part of a continually developing pattern of adaptation and exploitation. The cairn lies between the highway and a public footpath; Ballowall Common is open access land managed by The National Trust.

Sources

Sharpe, A. 1999. Ballowall St Just in Penwith, Cornwall. An Archaeological Assessment. Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.