the men-an-tol monument consists of four stones: one fallen, two uprights, and between these a circular one, 1.3m in diameter, pierced by a hole about half its size in diameter. an old plan of men-an-tol (the stone of the hole) shows that originally the three main stones stood in a triangle, which makes archaeo-astronomical claims for it difficult to support. they could be the remains of a neolithic ‘tomb’, because holed stones are known to have have served as entrances to chambers.
its age in uncertain but it is usually assigned to the bronze age, between 3000-4000 years ago. antiquarian representations of the site differ in significant details and it is possible that the elements of the site have been rearranged on several occasions. william borlase described the monument in the 18th century as having a triangular layout, and it has been suggested that the holed stone was moved from its earlier position to stand in a direct alignment between the two standing stones.
in the mid 19th century, a local antiquarian jt blight proposed that the site was in fact the remains of a stone circle. a recent site survey has identified a number of recumbent stones lying just beneath the modern turf which were arranged along the circumference of a circle 18 metres in diameter. the recumbent stones are somewhat irregularly spaced but the three extant upright stones have smooth inward facing surfaces and are of a similar height to other stone circles in penwith. in which case, the holed stone would probably have been aligned along the circumference of the circle and would have had a special ritual significance possibly by providing a lens through which to view other sites or features in the landscape, or as a window onto other worlds.
there have also been suggestions that it may have been a component of a burial chamber or cist. there are burial chambers close to stone circles, as at nearby boskednan stone circle, and a barrow mound with stone cist to the north-east of the men-an-tol, so it seems likely that the site was part of a more extensive ritual or ceremonial complex.
although the men-an-tol is considered to be bronze age in date no extensive excavations have taken place. with only the discovery of a single flaked flint by wc borlase in 1885, not compelling evidence for an early date whilst the recent works to reset the holed stone revealed only evidence for modern activity.
holed stones are found in many parts of british isles as well as in other countries of the world; together with holy wells they have retained the ideas and customs associated with them more tenaciously than any other type of ancient sites. beliefs connected with them are remarkably similar from the orkneys to the far west of cornwall.holed stones are very rare in prehistoric cornwall; there is only one other comparable site, the tolvan stone near gweek. all other holed stones are much smaller with holes less than 15 cm in diameter; certainly too small to pass an infant through.
these stones show evidence of originally being horizontally bedded stones on granite tors, the hole produced by natural weathering processes, similar to many basins found in large stone outcrops in the vacinity here and elsewhere close to other monuments. they may have been brought to the site to fulfil a specific ritual purpose and perhaps to provide a physical link with the sacred hill.
the mên-an-tol stands near the madron to morvah road in cornwall. other antiquities in the vicinity include the mên scryfa inscribed stone about 300 metres to the north and the boskednan stone circle less than 1 kilometre to the northeast.
the mên-an-tol consists of three upright granite stones: a round stone with its middle holed out with two standing stones to each side. the two side stones are both about 1.2 metres high. the westernmost stone was moved and brought into a straight line with the other two stones sometime after 1815. the holed stone is roughly octagonal in outline. it is 1.3 metres wide and 1.1 metres high; the circular hole is 0.5 m in diameter. the only other holed stone in cornwall of this type is the tolvan holed stone which can be seen in a garden near helston.there is one other standing stone nearby, and six recumbent stones, some of which are buried. a cairn exists as a low stony mound just to the southeast. there are two other early bronze age barrows or cairns between 120 and 150 metres to the north.
the mên-an-tol is thought to date to either the late neolithic or early bronze age. the holed stone could originally have been a natural occurrence rather than deliberately sculpted.the distribution of the stones around the site has led to the suggestion that the monument is actually part of a stone circle. if so, then it is likely that the stones have been rearranged at some point, and the two standing stones either side of the holed stone may have been moved from their original positions. it has also been suggested that the holed stone could have been a capstone for the nearby cairn before being moved to its present position.
drawing and plan by w. borlase, 1769
1749. investigated by william borlase, who also drew a plan. this shows that the megaliths were not in a line like today, but formed an angle of about 135°. borlase also reported that farmers had taken away some stones from the area. from him comes the first written record of the myths and rituals.
drawing by j. t. blight, 1864
1864. local antiquary john thomas blight published several drawings of the site, suggested that the stones could be the remains of a stone circle.
1872. william copeland borlase, a descendant of the earlier borlase, gave a more detailed description of the area. drawings with lukis
1932. hugh o’neill hencken wrote the first modern archaeological report. believed that the position of the stones was not original, but had been significantly changed. thought that the holed stone might be part of a destroyed tomb. told that local farmers with back or limb complaints would crawl through the hole to relieve pain.
1993. cornwall historic environment service published a detailed report with latest research results. it suggested that the standing stones originated from a stone circle which consisted of 18 to 20 stones. suggested holed stone could be part of a portal tomb. ventured the holed stone stood at the center of the stone circle and served to frame specific points on the horizon. this use of a holed stone is not known in other sites, although the nearby stone circle of boscawen-un does have a central standing stone.
a view through the mên-an-tol holed stone is supposed to have a fairy or piskie guardian who can make miraculous cures. in one story, a changeling baby was put through the stone in order for the mother to get the real child back. evil piskies had changed her child, and the ancient stones were able to reverse their evil spell. local legend claims that if at full moon a woman passes through the holed stone seven times backwards, she will soon become pregnant. another legend is that passage through the stone will cure a child of rickets (osteomalacia). for centuries, children with rickets were passed naked through the hole in the middle stone nine times.