chûn quoit

chûn quoit is one of a small group of similar monuments kept largely to penwith, though there are two or three further east in cornwall. also found  in wales, ireland and brittany. such sites are discoed as chambered tombs or portal dolmens, and are dated to the 3rd or 4th millennia bc. the quoit is surrounded by traces of a large low stony mound, but this may never have been very high and the capstone at least was probably always visible. the mound is ringed with a low kerb of relatively small boulders and other stones visible in the top of the mound have been interpreted as the remains of burial boxes or cists. there may have been a ‘forecourt’ in front of the entrance to the chamber which would have provided the setting for funerary rites and rituals.

‘quoit’ is the cornish name for a type of megalithic structure comprising a number of large stones set upright to support a massive horizontal capstone forming a small chamber. also knows as cromlechs, the stone chambers thus formed were used for communal burials in the neolithic artefacts or human remains have been found at chûn quoit, and finds generally from these kinds of monuments are almost unknown in cornwall due to the acidity of the moorland soils. comparison with similar monuments elsewhere suggest that they functioned as repositories for safeguarding ancestral remains. there is some evidence – from neolithic tombs in wessex for example – that bones were periodically removed and returned or re-arranged. the bones may have featured in ceremonies associated with an ancestor cult; communities at this time were becoming increasingly settled and stable and such rites are thought to represent the attempt to establish hereditary ‘ownership’ of a territory and to develop a communal or tribal identity.

it has been noted that many of the quoits are situated in locations with panoramic views often incorporating high hills, rivers or coastal features. this again is taken to reflect the desire to define or control a specific territory and to bring the community into a closer relationship with it by signposting landscape features which figured in communal histories or which enjoyed particular mythical associations. chûn quoit is (perhaps significantly) situated between chûn downs to the east and carn kenidjack to the west and the ocean is visible from the site to the north-west and south-west.

the continuing significance of the early ceremonial monuments over long periods of time is exemplified in the construction of the nearby iron age hillfort of chûn castle, whose main entrance faces west and was directly aligned on the quoit. it is remarkable to recall that around four thousand years separates the builders of these two monuments – twice as long as the period by which we ourselves are separated in time from the people who constructed the hillfort.