If you were going to build a monument, perhaps in commemoration of someone or for some religious purpose, you would build it to last wouldn’t you? And when you designed it you would make sure that it was beautiful and that it stood out from its surroundings. After all you would hope that your monument would last for a long time. That it would be admired for generations to come, that passers-by would pause and contemplate what you had created.
I like to think that perhaps that was part of the thinking behind the Nine Sisters stone row at Winnard’s Perch or the wonderful stone circle at Duloe. That the builders planned to create something not just beautiful but something to also span time and space.
You see there is something quite special about these two particular structures that makes them stand out amongst the many other Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Cornwall. It’s quartz.
Both the Nine Sisters, Naw Voz in Cornish (also known as the Nine Maidens) and Duloe circle are constructed using monoliths with a high quartz content.
You could argue that this was because that was the material that was most readily available in the area at the time but I think that underestimates the resourcefulness and the true desires of the builders. It also underestimates just how many rocks there are lying around in Cornwall that could have been used instead.
These structures took a great deal of hard work and planning and not just by individuals but by whole communities. Quartz stones of that size aren’t readily available to anyone! These particular stones must have been sort for. The tallest monolith in the stone row is just over 2m high while the largest stone at Duloe is 2.6m high, 2.3m wide and weighs in at a whopping 12 tons. Someone selected each individual stone and transported them to where they wanted them to be placed without the supervision of Health and Safety or a JCB.
Lets not forget the stones for Stonehenge in Wiltshire were transported hundreds of miles from Wales before they were settled in their present position. The choice of stone must have had some importance to those ancient people.
Quartz quite clearly must also have had a symbolic importance as well as an aesthetic one. The mineral has long been associated with the moon and the white stones are said to shine brightly in the moonlight. Excavations at other sites have found large concentrations of smashed quartz in the ground and Boscawen-un circle has one white stone in its ring.
Why those people who built these monuments used white quartz we can only guess at, unfortunately going back and asking them is not an option. Whatever their reasons I am very glad that they did choose this precious mineral. I think it only adds to the impact and beauty of these dramatic sites, not exactly Stonehenge I know but just as wonderful to me.
For more on ancient Cornish sites try: Zennor Quoit: Take a walk with me