Click the map to see and download the full-size map
The ancients deliberately aligned their prehistoric sites to each other - not every site to every other site, but selectively.
These alignments are exact. In making the map we used a three metre accuracy level in tracing the alignment of sites. In most cases an alignment is counted as valid only when it has at least four points on it.
Alignments are not lines across the landscape. They are mapping devices simply showing that ancient sites are aligned with each other - like separate objects lined up on a table with nothing connecting them. Unlike some parts of Britain, in Penwith alignments have no relation to ancient trackways or old roads.
We draw alignments as lines on maps only to indicate their presence and test their accuracy, but they aren't actual lines that can be seen or detected in the landscape.
These alignments reveal a network of sites forming a complete system covering Penwith, with some of them extending to the Scillies, the Lizard, the rest of Cornwall and further afield. This system is not random: specific alignments tend to stretch between sites with some sort of connection with each other, by type of site, age or other commonalities. In some cases it is clear that newer sites were deliberately located on pre-existing alignments.
A National System
The discovery of an integrated system covering Penwith has implications for our understanding of ancient sites and of the megalithic era. West Penwith has a concentration of ancient sites that is found in only about fifteen areas across Britain - two neighbouring concentrations are on Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor. Most are located in the west and north of Britain, with an emphasis on its extremities. However, all of Britain and Ireland are covered by ancient sites and alignments.
Thus, although each of these areas will have been enhanced, enchanted and upgraded by such landscape-engineering work, it would seem that each area contributed to a larger national network of megalithic regions, and that there was a purpose to this. It seems that the people of the bronze age sought to participate proactively in the inner workings of nature, time and space.
On this site it is suggested that these regions constituted a kind of geo-engineering project. Geo-engineering involves a large-scale manipulation of environmental processes in order to affect land fertility, climate and human fortunes. Modern thoughts on geo-engineering involve dumping minerals and chemicals in the oceans and skies, or using atmospheric electromagnetic pulses to counteract climate change. Prehistoric geo-engineering sought instead to work with and enhance natural processes - less of a forceful intervention and more of an amplification and entrainment of natural forces.
To demonstrate how alignments work, we'll look at the three alignments highlighted on the map below.
How Alignments Work
To demonstrate how alignments affect the location of ancient sites, let's look at three alignments in the map above. They define the positions of Lanyon Quoit, Boscawen-ûn and the Nine Maidens - three key sites in Penwith.
Staking down these alignments are several coastal cliff sanctuaries: St Michael's Mount, Treryn Dinas, Maen Castle and Pendeen Watch. These are usually dated to the iron age around 400-100 BCE, on the basis of iron age 'ramparts' found at some of them.
St Michael's Mount
Yet these alignments suggest that cliff castles were neolithic in first use, around 3700-3500 BCE. St Michael's Mount is recognised archaeologically as both a cliff castle and neolithic tor enclosure dating from that time.
How can we say that cliff sanctuaries (cliff castles) are neolithic in first use? They stand on natural coastal headlands, and the three 'backbone alignments' shown on the map above, plus others like them, pass between the cliff castles and neolithic tor enclosures, thus associating both with each other.
The importance of these two kinds of sites in the 3000s lay in the fact that Britain was then mostly covered in endless forest and, in Penwith, these were places where people could get out of the forest - thus they were important sites.
These alignments define the position of key sites such as the stone circles and Lanyon Quoit, as you can see on the map. The stone circles were built much later, around 2600-2200 BCE, but Lanyon Quoit was built around 3700-3500 BCE. Thus the cliff castles are of a similar or greater antiquity to Lanyon Quoit, since their location defines its position. Also, the sites of the stone circles might well have been known and revered in the neolithic, even though the building of stone circles came later.
On the map above, an alignment from St Michael's Mount to Boscawen-ûn continues through Maen Castle, extending to the Chapel Downs cairns on St Martin's, Scilly, ending at the visually prominent Samson Hill on Bryher (Scilly map here).
Meanwhile, an alignment from Treryn Dinas to Boscawen-ûn continues through Lanyon Quoit and the neolithic chambered cairn of Bosiliack Barrow, ending at a menhir (now just a stump) only yards NW of Nine Maidens stone circle.
So Lanyon Quoit's position is defined by these alignments, and also by another from Carn Brea near Camborne to Trencrom Hill (both neolithic tor enclosures), then to Lanyon Quoit, then to the Botallack Common neolithic chambered cairn near Tregeseal stone circle.
Thus we can demonstrate that the bronze age stone circles are positioned in relation to the neolithic tor enclosures and cliff castles. Backbone alignments are thus demonstrated to be neolithic in origin - Lanyon Quoit's location verifies this. The backbones are anchored in the cliff sanctuaries - thus they are neolithic too.