Backbone alignments in West Penwith - Ancient Penwith

Ancient Penwith

Ancient Penwith

The prehistoric landscape of the Land's End peninsula in Cornwall
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Backbone alignments in West Penwith


This page reports a key discovery made while making the alignments map: backbone alignments.

The discovery process is described, together with a discussion of what they are and the implications of this finding. It demonstrates that there is an integrated system governing the location of key ancient sites from the late neolithic and into the bronze age, such as the stone circles.

It is a surprise that the backbone alignments of ancient sites in Penwith were not discovered earlier. The discovery process started because, unlike some geomancers, I work with the hypothesis that prominent hills and cliff sanctuaries (cliff castles) form an important basis for major alignments, since they are natural features and also were amongst the very first sites that were special to the people of the neolithic, in the days when Penwith was untamed and forest-covered. So I started looking for further alignments emanating from such sites, and the backbone alignments map became the eventual result.
How it started

On a hunch, I examined St Michael's Mount to see whether there was a possible alignment to Cape Cornwall - since as conical hills in a marine setting, they have similarities. Indeed I found an alignment, and it just so happened to pass through the bronze age Botrea Barrows on the hill just above my house!

This alignment gave these barrows new significance. It also passed through nearby Caergwidden Round, generally accepted to be an iron age site. This was something of a eureka moment.

To understand the next bit, click here to open the backbone alignments map.

This led to further examination of similar potential alignments and, before long, a number were found radiating from St Michael's Mount. Three in particular were clearly powerful ones:

  • alignment 108 went from Carn Brea near Camborne (a neolithic tor enclosure), through St Michael's Mount, then through the Merry Maidens stone circle, ending at Treryn Dinas, a spectacular cliff sanctuary near Porthcurno - two cliff sanctuaries, one tor enclosure and one stone circle);

  • alignment 59 went from St Michael's Mount through Trencrom Hill to St Ives' Head (aka Pen Dinas, another cliff sanctuary, signs of which are now mostly obliterated) - two cliff sanctuaries and one tor enclosure;

  • alignment 78 went from St Michael's Mount to Ennis Farm menhir and Boscawen-ûn stone circle (south side), proceeding to Maen Castle, another cliff sanctuary, then to the offshore Longships rocks. Then it proceeded over the sea to Chapel Downs cairns on St Martin's in the Isles of Scilly, finishing at South Hill, Bryher, one of the Scillies' more noteworthy sites. Yet another remarkable alignment, comprising two cliff sanctuaries, one stone circle, a cairnfield and a prominent hill on Bryher.

Something was going on. This discovery led to a more systematic examination of prominent natural features - hills and headlands. What emerged was that certain sites usually not recognised as cliff sanctuaries indeed could be so - Cape Cornwall, Pendeen Watch, Tol-pedn-Penwith (Gwennap Head) and St Ives' Head. This could be seen by the magnitude of alignments passing through them. All of these have since been confirmed as cliff sanctuaries (thanks, Craig Weatherhill).

Emergent order

More revealed itself. To wit: the major megalithic sites of Penwith were clearly located where they were by using this framework of alignments. This was a significant discovery.

Take, for example, alignment 80, which starts at Carn Brea, passing through an iron age enclosure at The Hood in East Penwith before hitting Trencrom Hill. Then it passes exactly through Lanyon Quoit and Boswens menhir before intersecting a cairn in the Tregeseal complex (Botallack Common), ending at the Brisons, some offshore rocks just off Cape Cornwall. This alignment was clearly a key factor in placing the Tregeseal complex where it is.

Some of these alignments would not normally be acceptable to geomancers - alignment 103 passes through only three sites. Geomancers avoid such three-point alignments, regarding them as inconclusive.

But this alignment is self-evident because of the magnitude of the three sites located on it: St Michael's Mount, Lanyon Quoit and Pendeen Watch. This, plus alignment 80 above, demonstrate how Lanyon Quoit was located where it now stands. It was put there as a node in a larger pattern of alignments.

Look at alignment 37: it starts at Treryn Dinas cliff castle, passing through Boscawen-ûn stone circle, Goldherring 2 Barrow, Newham Farm menhir (near Sancreed Well), then through Lanyon Quoit and Bosiliack Barrow (a neolithic chambered barrow), finally ending at Nine Maidens NW menhir (part of the Nine Maidens complex). So Lanyon Quoit is located at the intersection of 103, 80 and 37, and that's why it's there.

It's worth noting that major alignments don't always go straight to stone circles. Sometimes they go instead to outlying menhirs or cairns that are part of a stone circle complex - as with alignments 37 and 80 above. This shows how a complex as a whole is important, not just the stone circle in isolation.

Sometimes a major alignment goes straight through a stone circle. Alignment 108, mentioned above, passes through the Merry Maidens. Boscawen-ûn is placed at its precise location at the intersection of alignments 97, 78 (both going to the Scillies) and 79, 93 and 37 (all connecting with cliff sanctuaries).

Cape Cornwall has at least five backbone alignments going to it or through it. Trencrom Hill is visited by four. Botrea Barrows, visually unimpressive in their current state, act as a node for four backbone alignments.

So what are backbone alignments?

They are major alignments with a larger-than-local significance, as if they form the main 'circuitry' of an area like West Penwith.

How are these alignments decided upon? Well, generally they must pass through at least three major sites, with at least one of them being a significant natural feature (such as a hill or cliff sanctuary) and the other being a stone circle, quoit or a menhir, cairn or barrow.

Moreover, they must look right as a backbone alignment. How this is defined is difficult to specify - it's a judgement call - but the backbone alignments map shows good examples.

What is their significance? 'Backbone' is an internet-technology term, referring to the main fibre-optic 'pipes' connecting nations and regions to each other - in distinction to local circuits and distributary branches of the system.

They're analogous to high-tension power cables on the national grid, operating at a high voltage to reduce energy-loss over long distances. This power must be transformed to a lower voltage to enter local distribution networks. So backbone lines don't necessarily have a large number of points.

It can be argued that backbone alignments act as a primary energy-system in Penwith, serving as a matrix upon which the complete system works. Major sites then perhaps act as transformers, redistributing to lesser sites.

It might also be argued that cairns and menhirs that are part of a complex around a stone circle act as buffers, fuses or voltage-regulators for the stone circle complex as a whole.

However, remember that these are but analogies - they don't sufficiently explain how or why the system works.

First, an overarching locational system for the whole of Penwith has now been found.

Second, many of the key nodes in this system prove to be older in first use than they are currently understood to be. Cliff sanctuaries are usually regarded as iron age, dating from around 500 BCE to CE 100. But this backbone system links up prominent natural features important rom the very beginning, and at least in the neolithic during the 3000s BCE, with megalithic sites such as stone circles going back to the earlier bronze age, between 2500 and 2000 BCE.

This suggests that cliff sanctuaries are older in first use than is customarily recognised, certainly preceding the stone circles, even though many of the remains present on cliff sanctuaries are agreed to date back to the iron age. But is this consensus correct? These remains indeed were likely built in the iron age, though on clifftop sites used in the neolithic. This is the case on inland hills such as Chun Castle and Trencrom Hill - both known as iron age 'hill forts' that sit on top of neolithic remains.

Third, this backbone system as a whole must have been established around the mid-to-late neolithic, somewhere between about 3500 and 2500 BCE, after the main period of quoit-building (3800-3500 BCE) and before that of the stone circles (2500-2000 BCE).

Treryn DinasFourth, no ancient sites in Penwith can be considered in isolation, since they exist in the context of an overall energy system. This much is proven in the case of major sites in the backbone system.

Fifth, cliff sanctuaries thus prove to be far more important than previously understood, and older in first use. They act as major nodes on the coastal periphery of the Penwith system, giving this system structure. Key to this is St Michael's Mount, which seems to be the 'transformer' for the peninsula - though Carn Brea is significant too. St Michael's Mount is a mixture of a neolithic tor enclosure and a cliff sanctuary.

Sixth, a relationship between topography - hills and headlands - and the spatial distribution of ancient sites in Penwith is now established.

Seventh, there is an ongoing debate amongst dowsers and geomancers about earth energies, since it has been found that they can respond to the building of sacred sites and they can even move small distances toward a sacred site if and when it is built. Thus the question arises, were ancient sites built where they were built because energy was already there or was energy generated by the building of the sites? A chicken-and-egg question, the answer is probably a mixture of both - this needs further research.

However, this backbone system, being anchored to natural features, suggests that energy was there before humans came along - and that the people of the neolithic period detected it and did something with it, using the cliff sanctuaries and significant hills as a grid structuring the complete array of megalithic sites in West Penwith.

Thus, while the above 'what came first?' question is not conclusively answered with this finding, the evidence swings in the direction of already-existing energy fields. Certainly, cliff sanctuaries and neolithic tor enclosure sites are inspiring places today.

Thus far, this is the biggest discovery made during this mapping project. It demonstrates that the builders of the ancient sites of Penwith had a grand plan. If it wasn't a preconceived plan, they certainly followed a logic with some consistency to it, as ancient sites were built and the whole system we see today took shape over a period of centuries.

The backbone system gives the ancient sites of Penwith a new coherence - evidence that the system as a whole operates as a wholeness. There's more to research in this question.

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