Carn Euny


Carn Euny
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.