In recent weeks the local papers have been alive with the news of a unique discovery. A 4000 years old cremation urn was uncovered, beautifully complete, during an excavation of Hendersick Barrow, near Looe. There is understandably great excitement about what these remains can tell us about our ancient ancestors and their burial rites and practices. With such a important find coming to light it is worth remembering that there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of similar funerary monuments dotted all across Cornwall.
I recently visited one, I believe quite special, on Bodmin Moor. Sitting in the sun, taking in heat (like a lizard) from the granite outcrop close to the summit of Alex tor I am struck, as I often have been before, by my ancestors excellent choice of location!
The kerbed cairn on the western edge of the tor dates from the Bronze Age (c2000 – 700BC) and is one of only a few of its type in the area. A survey completed in the 1970s by J.E.R Trahair, and published by the Cornish Archaeology Society, identified 225 cairns on Bodmin Moor of which just 8 were kerbed cairns.
This type of funerary monument, unlike the barrow at Hendersick, is a feature of uplands and usually occupies a prominent position. Alex tor, near St Breward, is no exception. It rises to 955ft (291m) and has commanding views of the surrounding landscape. From the site of the cairn you can see roughly 5 other tors including Rough tor and Garrow tor, close by there are 3 stones circles and numerous cists.
A kerbed cairn is a grave, a fact that we should never forget when visiting such a place. But in more technical terms, it is a burial mound which has its outer edge defined by a kerb of upright stones. The stones at Alex tor are impressive, the slabs on the eastern edge are nearly 5ft (1.4m) high and lean in at an angle. This kind of cairn can contain a single or multiple burials but the centre of the mound here is sunken and very uneven, probably indicating that it has been robbed in the past.
It is unlikely we will never know exactly what this monument contained and who was buried here. We will never know who put these beautiful stones into position nearly 4000 years ago but no doubt they took a moment to remember the person they laid to rest.
For me these sites are not just piles of stone, they are a link, a portal, to the past. I wait with baited breath to learn what the contents of the urn at Hendersick barrow will teach us but that is tempered by the thought of what that urn really contains. The remains of someone’s loved one.
Find many more posts about Bodmin Moor HERE