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10 December 2006
A new perspective on West Cornwall courtyard houses by Jacqui Wood
By Steve White @ 08:57 :: 16984 Views :: 0 Comments :: General Archaeology
Article Pages:

In the upland area of West Cornwall known as West Penwith, bordered by the low- lying lands between Marazion on the South coast and Hayle on the North coast is a particular type of prehistoric dwelling known as the courtyard house. These occupied during the Iron Age and Romano-British period. The term courtyard house was first used in preference to hut clusters by H. O’Neil Hencken in 1933(Hencken 1933 237 - 84). This distinguished them as a separate entity to clusters of hut circles found in the area. The site at Chysauster, by contrast, was not fully excavated until 1933 by Hencken, followed by Hirst’s excavation, in 1937 of the Porthmeor courtyard house site. Later that year came Hirst’s national publication of courtyard house sites (Hirst 1937 b).

This paper endeavours to put forward a workable hypothesis that courtyard houses were in fact large buildings having one large roof ( West Cornwall Galleried houses). In order to formulate this theory it is necessary to devise a method whereon the roofs could have been built following the conventional hypothesis, with a central open courtyard. Hut 6 at Chysauster (Fig 1) and Hut 4 at Chysauster (Fig 2) will be used to illustrate the various theories.

Fig 1.

Fig 2.

Typical features of Courtyard Houses These include:

  • a. A number of rooms or enclosures which conform to a definite plan.
  • b. Covered drains or water systems both inside and outside houses.
  • c. One fogou in each village is common. (A fogou is a subterranean structure, resembling Irish Souterrains and Scottish Earth-Houses.)
  • d. Paving of entrances of houses; occasional paving inside rooms or ways and paved courtyards outside the houses.
  • e. No ditches found outside the houses.
  • f. Hearths lined with sherds were common
  • g. Terraces found outside the houses often filled by hand.
  • h. The round rooms of houses commonly contained basins cut into granite slabs.
  • i. Certain types of beach stones and beach boulders appear to belong to the period, and suggest that special industries were practised of a type at present unknown. Though possibly the tin trade was involved.
  • j. The period covered is thought to be late Iron-Age to the end of the Romano-British period. (Hirst 1937b)

Reprinted from CORNISH ARCHAEOLOGY No. 36 1997

Cliff Dreamers (Podcast)
A magical stoneage adventure novel written and presented by archaeologist/author Jacqui Wood. Full of mysticism, adventure, coming of age and humour. Set 6000 years ago in northern Europe.

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