Neolithic Chambered Tomb / Dolmen
Morvah, Cornwall OS Map Ref SW40233396
OS Maps - Landranger 203 (Land's End & Isles of Scilly), Explorer 102 (Lands End)
A wet and overcast day at Chun Quoit, September 1997 looking northwest.
Chun Quoit is a type of portal dolmen refered to as a Penwith chamber tomb, one of a small concentration of such monuments on Land's End that includes Bosporthennis Quoit, Lanyon Quoit, Mulfra Quoit, Sperris Quoit, West Lanyon Quoit and Zennor Quoit. It is a strikingly attractive monument that stands on a bleak and atmospheric northwest facing slope of the natural rise of the Chun Downs, just over a mile and a quarter (2.1 km) from the rocky cliffs of the north Cornish coast. It is also situated about a mile and a half (2.5 km) to the east of both Lanyon Quoit and the stone setting of the Men-an-Tol in an area rich in cairns, standing stones and barrows.
The side stones of the chamber consist of four slightly inwards leaning slabs of granite that although they appear to be set out in a rectangle aligned northwest to southeast externally, actually form an almost square inner chamber measuring about 1.9 metres by 1.7 metres internally at ground level. Three of these stones support a roughly circular domed granite capstone over a metre and a half above the ground, the capstone measuring around 3.7 metre wide and about 80cm thick. The slab to the southwest doesn't quite reach the bottom of the capstone, whether this was also so or whether it has slipped inwards over time is not known.
The chamber is set within the remains of a roughly circular cairn of about 10-14 metres diameter that now stands less than a metre high, with most of the loose stones presumably having been cleared away over the centuries. The cairn would never have covered the chamber, perhaps only reaching part way up its sides. It was edged with a revetment or kerb of low stones, most of these are now also lost, however a few still exist along the north-northeastern edge of the cairn (on the right hand edge of the cairn in the photograph above). To the south a single stone stands perpendicular to the cairn edge (in the left foreground above) with a fallen stone nearby, these are not believed to be part of the kerb but have been interpreted as either the remains of a stone cist or more likely as part of an entrance passage through the side of the cairn to give access to the chamber.
Chun Quoit was recorded by the antiquarian William Borlase in the mid 18th century and investigated by one of his descendants, William Copeland Borlase, in the late 19th century (a transcript of his excavation is provided below) and while he discovered some interesting details of the tomb's construction he failed to find any material items beyond a single piece of unspecified flint, the interior of the chamber probably having been previously cleared out by unscrupulous treasure seekers many times in the past.
Chun Quoit can be reached by following a track from the nearby farm, which also takes you past the nearby Chun Castle, a small 3rd/2nd century BC Iron Age hillfort. When visited in late Summer, the fort was completely overgrown with bracken and it was almost impossible to make out any of the circular and rectangular huts that have managed to survive much of the stone being removed for paving the streets of Penzance.
The name 'Chun', or more correctly in Cornish, 'Chûn' or 'Chuûn' and pronounced 'Choone' comes from 'Chy-an-Woone' or 'Chywoone' meaning 'the House on the Downs'.
View looking north-northeast. The slab to the left of the picture doesn't quite reach the capstone.
James Halliwell visited Chun Quoit in the mid 19th century and declared it to be 'the most perfect specimen in the county', this despite also describing it as having 'the appearance of a gigantic mushroom'.
Illustration of Chun Quoit by William Cotton published in 1827.
William Copeland Borlase excavated Chun Quoit, or as he calls it, Chywoone Cromlech in 1871 but found the site overgrown with furze and with very little remaining in the interior of the chamber.
William Copeland Borlase gives a good account of his investigation at Chun Quoit in his book Naenia Cornubiae published in 1872 but gets his orientations wrong for some reason. Rather than trying to précis it I've transcribed it here in full (I've added line breaks for legibility and added the correct orientations in italics, the compass arrow in the inset plan should be rotated about 90 degrees anti-clockwise). The use of the word 'Cromlech' here means burial chamber monuments in general and 'Kist', which comes from the Welsh 'cistvaen' meaning the actual box formation of the chamber itself.
'Thinking this monument the most worthy of a careful investigation of all the Cromlechs in the neighbourhood, the author proceeded to explore it in the summer of 1871, with a view to determine, if possible, the method and means of erection in the case of such structures in general.
Site Visits / Photographs:
Borlase, W. 1769. Antiquities, Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall. London
Borlase, W. C. 1872. Naenia Cornubiae A Descriptive Essay. London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer.
Cope, J. 1998. The Modern Antiquarian. A Pre-Millennial Odyssey through Megalithic Britain. London: Thorsons.
Cotton, W. 1827. Illustrations of Stone Circles, Cromlechs ... in the West of Cornwall. London: James Moyes.
Daniel, G. 1958. The Megalith Builders of Western Europe. London: Hutchinson and Co.
Halliwell, J. O. 1861. Rambles in Western Cornwall. London: John Russell Smith.
Hawkes, J. 1986. The Shell Guide to British Archaeology. London: Michael Joseph Ltd.
Lynch, F. 1997. Megalithic Tombs and Long Barrows in Britain. Princes Risborough: Shire Publications Ltd.
Weatherhill, C. 1981. Belerion. Ancient Sites of Land's End. Penzance: Alison Hodge.
Weatherhill, C. 1985. Cornovia. Ancient Sites of Cornwall & Scilly. Penzance: Alison Hodge.
Historic England research records Hob Uid: 424230. Cornwall & Scilly HER Number: 30518. NMR Number: SW 43 SW 29
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