Summertime in New Zealand means roadtrips and exploring all that our lovely country has to offer. Me and mine decided to spend some time in the goldmining town of Waihi and of course as always this meant a lesson in history, in particular the area around the Karangahake Gorge.
The Karangahake Gorge is situated between the Coromandel and Kaimai ranges and was formed by the flow of the Ohinemuri River. It’s steep sides are covered in native bush, a haven for those wanting to experience the great outdoors. There are plenty of walks and cycle trails to enjoy or you can simply sit by the river and enjoy a picnic. However not so long ago the visitor would have been greeted by an entirely different scene.
On this visit we did the Windows Walk which takes you past and through several of the stamping batterys and the many associated building ruins then into the old tramway tunnels along the Waitawheta Gorge (an offshoot of the Karangahake Gorge). Unlike other goldmining areas, alluvial gold is rare in the gorge and almost all of the gold and silver recovered from here was done by deep quartz mining. This meant only the large well funded companies could afford to operate in the gorge. The three main players were the Talisman Mining Company, The Woodstock Mining Company and the Crown Mining Company. (The latter will ring some bells with those of you interested in Cornish mining history as they were a major player in the mining industry of Cornwall. In fact many of the miners came from Cornwall which was at the time undergoing a decline in mining. Their skills in hard rock mining was in great demand in colonial lands). Today so much of the ruins are covered in dense bush, their edges softened by vegetation and with the sound of either the Ohinemuri or Waitawheta rivers filling your ears it is hard to imagine this as a place of heavy industry.
“A continous rythmic thumping once filled the air here, as stamper batteries (gold recovery plants) of the Talisman, Woodstock and Crown Mining Companies pulverised quartz rock to free the gold within.” (taken from an information board at the beginning of the walk)
Much of the ore came from the steep sided Waitwheta Gorge and was then transported via aerial tramway across the gorge to the tramway and delivered to the stamping battery where it would undergo a series of crushings to extract the gold and silver which was then smelted into bullion bars. The Talisman and Crown Mines were two of the largest of their type in New Zealand and together produced in the region of four million ounces of gold bullion.
The following are some of the photographs taken during our time exploring the industrial archaeology of the Karangahake Gorge.
“Once the ore had been crushed in the upper levels of the battery the fine powder that resulted was subjected to the cyanide process. This involved mixing potassium cyanide with the finely crushed ore in tanks for several days then drawing off the solution and passing it through wooden boxes where the dissolved gold and silver precipitated as a black sludge on zinc shavings. The sludge was then treated with sulphuric acid to remove the zinc. The residue was then smelted into bullion bars (of gold and silver)” – From the above information board.
One of the main features of the Windows Walk is the tramway, part of which goes through the side of the gorge (a torch is a must if you do this walk). In its heyday, the ore was transported via tram but because of the steep sides of the gorge a trail had to be cut out of and through the rockface.
The Crown tramway…then…
A bit further on from the modern suspension bridge is the remains of the Crown Mine.
Today goldmining in the area is representated by the large open cast mine in nearby Waihi with the now defunct Cornish Pumphouse from the earlier 19th Century Martha Mine standing ever watchful over.
Breage is a small village some five kilometers from Helston in the west of Cornwall and on the face of it there is not much for the visitor to see. Most will whizz past, intent on exploring other places. But if you have the time do stop and pay a visit to the church, trust me, it is well worth it.
First A Little Bit of History
The earliest history of the area relates to the settlements upon Tregonning Hill overlooking Breage and neighbouring Germoe. Here you will find Castle Pencaire an oval Iron Age hillfort. On the northern slopes are two well preserved ’rounds’ or enclosed settlements (also Iron Age in date). When the light is right it is also possible to see the remains of a field system and possible trackway associated with these sites.
In the church itself is a Roman ‘milestone’. These stones (of which there are several in Cornwall) were mark stones set beside an actual road and inscribed to the Emperor. This particular example is inscribed in Latin to “the Emperor Caesar our Lord Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus, pious, fortunate, august”. It dates from AD 258 – 268.
The Domesday Book mentions lists this part of Cornwall as being held by the King under the name of the Manor of Binnerton. It had eight hides of land with enough for sixty ploughs, there were thirty two villagers, twenty five smallholders with fifteen ploughs between them. There was also two acres of meadow, two square leagues of pasture and half a square league of woodland. Not forgetting the forty five mares, sixty sheep, thirteen cattle and five pigs. At this point the church is not mentioned, although it seems likely that there was one, albeit an unprofitable one and therefore of no interest to the Norman assessors.
The earliest evidence for a church at this site is the red sandstone cross head. Interesting in itself, for the red sandstone is not a material to be found in the local area and the style of cross is regarded to be of Hiberno-Saxon in origin. This early church may well have been made of timber and quite small, thus leaving no trace. Later, the Normans built a larger and most likely more substantial church. However, yet again very little remains of this church, just a portion of the Norman font was found outside the north door and is now incorporated into the present font.
Documents do state however, in the 12th century the Earl of Gloucester gives the church to the Abbey of Tewkesbury but after eighty six years the Earl of Cornwall takes it back and gives it to the abbey of Hailes. There is an unsubstantiated note to the early church being dedicated in the year AD1130 to St Breaca.
The church you see today is 15th century in date and is of a standard design for the period. Originally it seems the church once had stained glass windows but during the Reformation Edward VI Commissioners appear to have ordered the destruction of these due to them depicting the saints and other emblems of idolatry. Fragments of stained glass have been found around the churchyard.
Once inside the church your eyes are immediately drawn to the frescoes. These are a series of five wall paintings, four of which are saints – Ambrose, Christopher, Corentine and Hilary. The church boasts one of the most remarkable wall paintings belonging to a style which has been labelled “Christ as Piers Plowman”. It depicts a crowned near naked and wounded figure of Christ surrounded by the tools of husbandry, fishing, cloth and metal-working trades. In the many wounds is, perhaps, a message about man’s sins and the continuing Passion of Christ.
These too appear to have suffered during the Reformation, even so they are still impressive. It is often easy to forget how important art and pictures would have been in the past, for a society where the majority of people could not read. Visual depictions of their stories either Biblical or otherwise would have been important.
Apart from the painted figures there are also a variety of other decorations such as the borders around the windows. Perhaps one of the most surprising revelations which I took away from our visit was how colourful churches would have been in the past.
The church is dedicated to St Breaca (hence the name Breage). As with so many of these early saints it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. The following is the traditional view and not necessarily what actually happened.
Breaca was said to be an Irish missionary who travelled with vast hoard of other Irish missionaries landing at the mouth of the Hayle River at around AD500. Their drive to convert the Cornish was firmly rejected and many skirmishes ensued. Castle Pencaire (mentioned above) has in the past been referred to as ‘Loban Rath’, the place were the missionaries fled to under threat from King Teudar.
St Breaca was one such missionary who took up residence on Tregonning Hill. Tradition has it she built a small church near Chynoweth and Tolmena on the south eastern slopes of the hill. No evidence for this remains. Eventually, once hostilities had calmed Breaca is said to have moved to the current place we now call Breage, establishing her church there on the hill.
Breage has had several names in the past – in Cornish it is either Eglosbrek, Eglos Pembroc or Eglospennbro. Eglos means church, the ‘brek’ or ‘broc’ are derivitives of Breaca and ‘pem’ or ‘penn’ refers to a hill. Other more recent names have been St Breock-in-Kirrier (Kirrier or Kerrier being the old hundred) and St Briack.
Like so many churches in Cornwall, the tower is easily visible for many miles around and even out to sea. Making it an important landmark for travellers.
The following is a link to an old book titled ‘Story of an Ancient Parish – Breage with Germo’. Written in 1913 by H R Coulthard, it is in many ways a product of its time however, it still makes for an interesting read and is free to download.
There are not many places within the city of Auckland where a person is able to get up close and personal with the early archaeology of the region, but the Otuataua Stonefields is one such place. Although this small pocket is classed as a protected site, it is part of a much wider area called Ihuamato which sadly is under threat by developers. The stonefields did not exist in isolation and whilst the archaeology is not obvious to the untrained eye, it is undoubtedly there. It would be shameful if the council allowed work to proceed with out a full archaeological investigation. In general atitudes in New Zealand towards archaeology is a case of “there’s not alot of archaeology here” with the implication because we do not have the lengthy timeframes as elsewhere in the world it is not as important. But this is erroneous and a result of a lack of knowledge – there are over 50,000 archaeological sites listed in New Zealand…The stonefields and Ihuamato are an important part of New Zealand’s very early history and to say otherwise would deny a people their past and demonstrate a dismal lack of understanding.
Two hundred years ago there were some 8000 hectares of volcanic stonefields in the Auckland area, today the 100 hectare reserve of Otuataua is all which remains. Dated to around 1300AD and situated near the international airport the reserve was established in 2001 to protect this important part of the archaeological record and is one of the last places where we can see large scale remains of how people once lived and worked in the volcanic areas of Auckland.
When the first Polynesians arrived in New Zealand they bought with them the full range of tropical plants however New Zealand’s shorter growing season and colder temperatures meant that many of these tropical plants could not be grown. Only plants such as the kumara (sweet potato), taro, yams and gourds had any success, particularly in the volcanic stonefields of Auckland.
Early depiction of women digging in a garden.
Early kumara (sweet potato)
At Otuataua it is possible to see low mounds of the volcanic scoria stone scattered throughout an area referred to as the mound garden used mainly to grow kumara they extended the growing season by about a month.
“The mounds were built as special garden plots, which used the stone’s heat absorbing properties to help warm the earth and retain moisture. Archaeologists have found that these types of mounds often contain specially modified soil, with added organic matter and ground shell.”
(from ‘The Otuataua Stonefields – Official Opening Commemorative Brochure’ Manukau City Council)
It is safe to say that there is probably not a single stone which has not been moved by human hands. Walking towards the sea, you come across an area of low hills and gullies. The gully floors seem unnaturally free of stone, here the stone has been stacked on top of the hillocks to leave the gully floors free for cultivation.
Other interesting archaeological features at Otuataua include the Pa (hillfort or defended settlement) which utilises the volcanic cone. Auckland has many volcanic cones, all of which were used and settled by the Maori throughout history. Here at Otuataua it is no different. Unfortunately this particular cone has been extensively quarried for scoria before the site became a reserve resulting in the loss of a large part of the Pa. However, it is still possible to make out the terraces on the southern side – these are the level areas cut into the lower slopes and were where Maori lived.
The remnants of the Pa.
A second interesting feature is the site referred to as ‘The Big House’. On an outcrop about half way between the mound garden and the gullies is a rectangular outline of stone. This is believed to be the foundation of what was once a large house or structure, nearby are several shell middens. Having never been excavated it is difficult to say what this structure was used for but the presence of the shell middens on the slopes below would indicate meals were eaten here. Perhaps it was a communal place to share food whilst working in the gardens?
All over Otuataua shell middens can be found, not surprising given the proximity to the coast. Fishing, shell fish gathering and horticulture were the mainstays of the local economy.
In Polynesia crops such as kumara are left in the ground until they are needed however here in New Zealand with its cooler climate the early settlers found they could not do this as the kumara will rot. Instead it became necessary to harvest the kumara and store it. At Otuataua the visitor will occasionally come across a shallow depression in the ground, roughly rectangular in shape and usually found on slopes or ridges (for good drainage). These are all that remains of the storage pits for kumara. Originally these pits would have had timber walls and thatched roofs. It is interesting to note that the storage pits here at Otuataua are outside of the defended Pa, obviously the people felt secure and safe here on the edge of the Manukau Harbour.
An early depiction of a possible kumara storage hut.
Rongo – these effigies were placed in gardens to encourage a good crop.
During my visit to the stonefields, trying not to lose both the kids and the dog I was walking along the edge of a eroded shell midden when my eye was caught by an unusual stone. Unusual because it was not scoria and was very smooth on one side. The flip side was shaped to fit into the palm of your hand and although I am not much of an expert I am reasonably certain this was a rubbing stone for turning root vegetables such as taro or fern roots into pulp. A necessary procedure if you wanted to eventually eat it.
“When you hear the Cornish folk mentioning the names of their villages, hills, and other landmarks, you will notice something un-English about them. In the accent and cadence of some of the placenames there is an echo of the goblin world. Is there not, in such names as Ogbeare, Killeganogue and Poulza, an oddity – a twist that is just on the edge of the bizarre.”
(Hopkins T. ‘Our Beautiful Homeland: Cornwall’ date unknown)
It is true that the first thing a visitor to Cornwall will notice is the placenames, they are very ‘un-English’ in particular the further west you go. My interest in them began many years ago as a student writing a masters dissertation on the landscape continuity on the north coast of West Penwith.
The study of placenames can be highly complex, after all names do change for whatever reasons and in the case of Cornwall the names are often in Cornish which as a language has also undergone many changes. The Cornish language is related to both the Welsh and Breton languages, all of which are regarded as being descended from the language spoken by the ‘Celts’. The relationship with these Brittonic languages is often used as evidence for the age of a particular placename, albeit in a general sense.
“The name of a village or farm or field may describe the locality as it was when the name was given, or refer to a natural or man-made feature nearby, or include the name of a pioneer farmer or priest (the latter often termed a ‘saint’). Names can seldom be translated with the certainty aimed a in normal translation between languages; generally they can only be interpreted, with a greater or less degree of probability, as unconscious and unintended messages from the past which are seldom free from ambiguity or obscurity. The prime rule in placename interpretation is to attempt none until all available forms of the name have been considered, and then to place greater reliance on earlier rather than later forms.” (Pool P. A. S. 1990 ‘The Fieldnames of West Penwith).
The distribution of Cornish placenames is not uniform across the county, those places nearest the Tamar River – the natural boundary between Cornwall and Devon – have a greater tendency to be more English than those in the far west. In my dissertation I surveyed an area of the north coast of west Penwith (within the parishes of Morvah and Zennor) and of the forty placenames to be found on the Tithe map of 1841 only one had an English name – the hamlet of Wicca.
Below are a handful of the most common prefixes used in Cornish placenames and their meaning (from Weatherhill C. 1998 ‘Cornish Placenames and Language’)
Bos – as in Boscastle, Boscawen or Bosavern. Also found as Bot-, Bo-, Boj-, Bus-, and Bod-. Meaning dwelling or home it seems to be a very early form whose usage dwindles by 1500. It is often followed by a persons name such as Bodilly on the Lizard which can be translated as ‘the dwelling of Deli’.
Car-/Gear-/Caer-/Cr- as in Caervallack, Carwythenack or Carvossa. Meaning an enclosed settlement and occasionally a ‘fort’. Often found associated with late prehistoric farmsteads within round enclosures as well as Iron Age hillforts. Carvedras near Truro can be translated as ‘Modret’s fort’.
Carn – as is in Carn Brea, Carn Meal or Carn Clew. One of the most common still in use today and is used in reference to prominent rock formations, on hilltops it can translated to ‘tor’ whilst at other locations it might mean ‘crag’ or ‘rockpile’. Occasionally it may even refer to a Bronze Age Barrow.
Chy-/Che-/Ch-/Ty- as in Chun, Chyanvounder or Chynoweth. Meaning either ‘cottage’ or ‘house’. Thus Chyandour can be translated as ‘house by the water/stream’. This prefix replaces the earlier ‘Bos’.
Hen – as in Hendra or Henscath. Meaning old as in former, ancient. Hendra can in its simple form mean ‘old farm’ but is better interpreted as ‘farm which still stands on its original site.
Lan – as in Lamorran or Lanzeague. Meaning ‘church enclosure’ it became redundant by 1500, historians usually take the presence of this prefix as an indicator for an early church site often surrounded by an enclosure which in some cases is a reused prehistoric site.
Tre-/Trev-/Tr- as in Tregenna or Tregeseal to name but two – this is by far and away the most common of all prefixes. Meaning “farming settlement’ and later used to denote a larger settlement such as village. They are often followed by a persons name such as Tregiffian or ‘Gifyan’s farm’ and in other cases it might be followed by a descriptive word such as Trencrom or ‘the farm on the curve’.
Venton-/Fenton- as in Venton Vedna or Ventonraze. Meaning ‘a well’ in the sense of a natural spring, an artificially dug well is ‘Peeth’. Often the prefix is followed by a name of a saint such as Venton Uny or ‘the well of St Euny’ others might be followed by a distinguishing feature such as Ventonwyn or ‘the white well’.
Of course understanding the meaning behind the names is not the only source of information. Looking at the distribution of certain placenames within a given area may hint at the evolution of the human landscape. In some areas it is possible to see the stratigraphy of the landscape. An essential part of such a study involves the use of maps.
No study of the landscape can be conducted without a good range of maps. Early Ordnance Survey maps and Tithe maps are crucial in understanding any landscape before modern incursions such as motorways, housing subdivisions, caravan parks and business parks, make an appearance. Even in the case of West Penwith the choice of the 1841 Tithe Map during my dissertation was to ensure that any more recent names attached to barn conversions and holiday lets did not lead to false results. Maps can also show features which may no longer be obvious on the ground such as hedges which may have later been removed and mining remains among others.
Of course very early maps can be quite frustrating as often the information included is not clear and/or very selective according to who made the map and why. Just because a settlement does not appear on one map does not mean it did not exist at the time of surveying. For example, the Domesday Book records only a handful of settlements in the whole of West Penwith. It seems highly unlikely that the region was all but empty, but given this was an economic text and not a history one it is not too surprising either. To this extent gaining insight from a wide range of maps is often the best course of action.
Another source of information which can often be overlooked in the study of past landscapes are fieldnames. Although they are less well documented and it is not until the Tithe Apportionment of 1841 that fieldnames are properly recorded, albeit by this stage most are in English. It is also important to note that by their very nature fieldnames are transient, their names can change as their usage does. However there is on occasion names which stick and just occasionally these names can hint at a previously unknown archaeological site or field usage. For example Park an Vellan could suggest the presence of a mill (vellan being a form of melyn or mill) and Park Menheere suggests the presence of standing stone.
In the case of later English fieldnames some may well have been directly translated from the Cornish and are thus older than expected. So Spring Field may have originally been Park an Venton or Barrow Field was Gweal Creeg.
The study of placenames, maps and fieldnames is one of the least intrusive forms of research a person can do and yet can yield a myriad of information that in some cases was not known. When combined with other sources such as documents and aerial photography it becomes a powerful part of archaeological research providing fresh insight into our ancient landscapes.
Once you have got your eye in so to speak, it will be forever impossible to go for a simple walk in the landscape. I am doomed to be wandering the landscape always looking for patterns, asking what does that name mean and is it in it’s original form.
Gelling M. (2000) Place-Names in the Landscape Phoenix Press
Hopkins R. T. (?) Our Beautiful Homeland: Cornwall Blackie and Son Ltd
Pool P. A. S (1990) The Fieldnames of West Penwith Published by the Author
Weatherhill C. (1998) Cornish Place Names and Language Sigma Leisure
On a cold and damp day in January the family and I decided to visit the famous site of Tintagel Castle in North Cornwall.
For hundreds of years the site of Tintagel Castle has fascinated visitors and locals alike. Even without knowing any of its past the place oozes with untold stories and imaginations can run riot (which they have).
Ask almost anyone about Tintagel Castle and immediately King Arthur and Merlin will come to the fore. It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote the History of the Kings of Britain sometime between the 1135 and 1138 who associated Tintagel with King Arthur as the place where Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon seduced/tricked Igerna into bedding him (Merlin and magic appear to be involved…) and so Tintagel became known as the place where King Arthur was conceived. It should be noted that at no time did Geoffrey of Monmouth ever suggest that Tintagel was Arthur’s home or that the castle belonged to him. The only connection was and is the story of his conception.
“The History nowhere claims that Arthur was born at Tintagel, or that he ever visited the place later in life, or that in any sense the stronghold became his property when he was King…On so slight a foundation, almost every subsequent writer was able to expand the conception of Arthur at Tintagel to his birth there and, by implication, ownership and even residency.” (Thomas C. 1993)
Whilst it is understandable, after all this part of Cornwall with its dramatic coastline rather lends itself to stories of magic, romance, skulduggery and drama. It seems a shame that the Arthur connections – real or imaginary – detract from the true story of the headland and its castle.
The remains the visitor sees today can be divided roughly into two phases of occupation, post-Roman (5th- 7th centures AD) and after 1100AD.
The occupation of the headland in the post-Roman era was originally believed to have represented the remains of early Celtic monastery. This theory has now been rejected and instead it is believed that the site is that of a “…high status secular settlement probably used by the Kings of Dumnonia between the Roman withdrawal in 410AD until the end of the seventh century AD, and it has now been identified as the Durocornouis (fortress of the Cornish)…” (Weatherhill C. 2009).
The buildings which are associated with this phase can be found clustered around the later medieval chapel, below on the cliff edge (just above the iron gate) and further along the headland. Many of the buildings were revealed after a scrub fire on the headland. Excavations have produced vast quantities of Mediterranean pottery such as amphorae dating to the fifth and sixth centuries. The amount of imported pottery exceeds the amounts found on all other known post-Roman sites in Britain.
An often overlooked feature of the headland is the indentation known as Arthur’s footprint. It is an eroded hollow in the rock on the highest point of the headland and shaped roughly like a footprint. Its association with Arthur is irrelevant as it is more likely an indication of ceremonies enacted here during the post-Roman period if not earlier.
In parts of Ireland and Scotland there are places which also have footprint type impression in rock and are associated with inauguration ceremonies of important people well into medieval times. Symbolically, placing a foot in a specific place is representative of a persons right to rule over the surrounding territory. Is it not possible that this example here at Tintagel was something similar and equally ancient.
“It can be wondered. therefore, if the occasions when the Dumnonian ruler and his court – or any other major chieftain in the post-roman south-west – came to Tintagel included public recognition of a king as replacing his dead predecessor, and whether this rock-marking figured in ceremonies.” (Thomas C 1993).
Perhaps the importance of Tintagel during this period cannot be over emphasised enough. In 2016 three weeks of excavations were carried out by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit as part of a long term research project undertaken by English Heritage. During this time the team dug opened trenches in two different parts of the island opening a small but fascinating window into Tintgels past. Over 200 sherds of imported Mediterranean pottery were found alongside some fragments of high quality glass vessels. All pointing to Tintagel being a place of great importance – unfortunately the dubious connection with King Arthur reared its head in the newspapers with headlines such as ‘Kings Arthurs Palace Found’ for which there is no evidence at all…For more well informed facts regarding last summers excavation follow this link to the EH blog – English Heritage Blog – Tintagel Castle Dig.
The second phase of settlement belongs in the twelfth century and is the result of building works done under the auspices of Richard the Earl of Cornwall. Richard was made Earl of Cornwall in 1227 and in 1233 bought Bossiney and Tintagel from Gervase de Hornicote although it does seem that building works had already begun by this time.
Much of the impressive remains the visitor sees today are the ruins of Richards castle. The inner ward is on the island and the outer ward is on the mainland side. Originally there appears to have been a bridge between the two as by this time the land bridge had all but eroded away.
One question does need to be asked at this point – why did the Earl of Cornwall build a substantial castle here in Tintagel? It is far from the centers of Cornish commerce and it is no where near the main routes into and out of Cornwall. It defends nothing but open water. In short it has no military value or function and is that not what castles are for? So then, why Tintagel?
Richard was the second son of King John and by all accounts was an ambitious and educated man who had decided to make a statement. He would have read Geoffry of Monmouth’s History and would have been told about Tintagel being the ancient seat of the rulers of Dumnonia. His decision to build a flashy castle here was his way of saying to the Cornish people and others – “Here I am, your Earl – from this ancient seat of power I will rule”.
·The headland has two freshwater wells.
·The Chapel is dedicated to St Juliot and is 12th century in date but seems to have earlier origins (see photo below).
·The tunnel is an enigma, dug into the stone bedrock of the island with small iron tools, it is most likely medieval in date and it has been suggested it was a cool store for foodstuffs such as meat (see photos below).
·Merlin’s Cave is a great place to explore at low tide but is unlikely to have anything to do with the Merlin of Arthurian myth.
·The beach below the headland is known as the Haven.
In the end, it is fair to say the story of Tintagel Castle is not complete. I, as much as the next person have a great affection of the Arthurian stories and if such stories provide impetus for the average person to visit Tintagel then all the better. But personally the facts are the clincher – it is they which make the better story.
Thomas C. 1993 Tintagel – Arthur and Archaeology English Heritage/Batsford.
Weatherhill C. 2009 Cornovia Ancient sites of Cornwall and Scilly 4000BC – 1000AD. Halsgrove.
During the research for a post on Auckland’s volcanoes I found an interesting Maori story about how the volcanoes came to be.The story referred to the Patupaiarehe but who or what were the Patupaiarehe?Obviously a bit of research was required…
In Maori tradition the Patupaiarehe (also sometimes referred to as turehu or pakepakeha) were the first people of New Zealand – the first Tangata Whenua.They are supernatural beings who are rarely seen, fairy creatures of the deep forests and mountains, their houses built from the swirling mists.
They have light skin, red or fair hair and unlike the Maori are never tattooed.There is some debate regarding their size, some say small, others say they are the same size as humans but then there are the traditions where they are giants.Sunlight was a curse to the Patupaiarehe, they only venture out in the night or when the mist was heavy enough to shield them from the sun.
They were hunter/gatherers who ate only raw food – cooked food is an abomination to them.In some stories albino birds and eels, red flax and red eels were considered to be the sole property of the Patupaiarehe and woe betide any Maori caught taking these.
The Patupaiarehe men were known to lure people away from their homes, particularly attractive young women, they used the magical sounds of the koauau or putorino (types of flutes).No harm would befall the young women and they would eventually be returned home.It was believed the cases of red heads and albinos (the urukehu) among Maori were a result of the union between Patupaiarehe and Maori.Unfortunately, Maori men suffered much more, often being mistreated and in some cases killed.
Of course, if you did not want to be abducted by the Patupaiarehe there were several options available.Firstly, you could smear your house with kokowai, this was a mixture of iron oxide with shark oil – the smell was repugnant to them.Secondly, the uses of the cooking ovens or a fire as Patupaiarehe are very much afraid of fire and the smell of cooked food was enough to scare them away.
However, not all was bad between the Patupaiarehe and the Maori.Traditions tell how Maori gained knowledge of net making from the Patupaiarehe as well as makatu (magic arts) and atahu (love charms).String and stick games are also said to have come from these supernatural beings.
In 1894 an elder of the Ngati Maru, Hoani Nahe spoke of the Patupaiarehe and his words were recorded.
“Now listen. When the migration arrived here they found people living in the land – Ngati Kura, Ngati Korakorako and Ngati Turehu, all hapu or sub-tribes of the people called Patupaiarehe. The chiefs of this people were named Tahurangi, Whanawhana, Nukupori, Tuku, Ripiroaitu, Tapu-te-uru and Te Rangipouri. The dwelling places of these people were on the sharp peaks of the high mountains – those in the district of Hauraki (Thames) are Moehau mountain (Cape Colville), Motutere (Castle Hill, Coromandel), Maumaupaki, Whakairi, Kaitarakihi, Te Koronga, Horehore, Whakaperu, Te Aroha-a-uta, Te Aroha-a-tai, and lastly Pirongia, at Waikato. The pa, villages, and houses of this people are not visible, nor actually to be seen by mortal (TangataMaori) eyes – that is, their actual forms. But sometimes some forms are seen, though not actually known to be these people … Sometimes this people is met with by the Maori people in the forests, and they are heard conversing and calling out, as they pass along, but at the same time they never meet face to face, or so that they mutually see one another, but the voices are heard in conversation or shouting, but the people are never actually seen.
On some occasions also, during the night, they are heard paddling their canoes … At such times are heard these questions: ‘What is it?’ ‘Who are the people who were heard urging forward their canoes on the sea during the night?’ or, ‘Who were heard conversing and shouting in the forest?’ The answer would be as follows: ‘They were not Tangata Maori, they were atua, Patupaiarehe, Turehu, or Korakorako.”
Like with so many stories there are those who believe the patupaiarehe are something more than just myth. There is a subculture within New Zealand who firmly believe that they were the descendents of Celtic tribes who discovered New Zealand some 3000 years before the first Polynesians, pointing at tribal groups such as the Ngati Hotu who historically had instances of red hair and fair skin amongst their people when little or no intermarriages were known. This is a complicated issue and not one that can be dealt with lightly, whether true or not, the jury is still out on that one…
Celtic New Zealand – Please note that whilst I do not necessarily agree with all that is written on this site I do believe we are all entitled to conduct research.
Stories and traditions are what make our cultures rich and the Maori have their fair share.Often such traditions are used to make sense of the world around us, I would dare anyone to venture deep into the New Zealand bush and not see the supernatural in its deepest darkest places.
The landscape of west Cornwall in the late Iron Age is one of hillforts, cliff castles, ancient trackways, enclosures, round houses and courtyard houses.
Many of these features are known throughout the landscap of prehistoric Britain but it is the courtyard house which offers a point of difference from the rest of the country. Courtyard houses appear to be a unique adaptation of the more traditional round house and are found only in the Land’s End peninsula. They are usually very substantial ranging in size from 15 – 30 meters with walls up to two meters thick. Their name is derived from the presence of a series of rooms situated around a central courtyard. The rooms are partially built into the thickness of the outer walls and may have served as spaces not only for living but also storage, workshops and byres.
“A typical courtyard house has a long recess on one side of the central yard, probably a stable or byre and, on the opposite side, a long, narrow room, perhaps a workshop or store. Between the two, and directly across the courtyard from the house entrance, is the largest room, circular or oval in shape, which was set aside for the living, eating and sleeping needs of the family. Other room may be present, too, and some living rooms have a back door leading out of the house. Stone lined and capped drains are a feature of these houses, as are stone hearths…”
(Weatherhill C 2009 ‘Cornovia’ page 35)
Many would have developed from open settlements of round houses set within fields for agricultural communities. A landscape already ancient. When the demand for tin increased during the second century AD there is no doubt that these farming communities would have engaged in this activity. Gradually these settlements were abandoned between the second and sixth centuries AD although the communities did not leave simply moved to lower ground.
There are around two dozen known courtyard house settlements surviving and at least ten have been destroyed during the last two hundred years. The best preserved and most easily visited of these sites are Chysauster and Carn Euny. Both of which represent examples of a village grouping, which included round houses and the mysterious structures known as Fogous (see the January issue of The Celtic Guidefor a discussion on Fogous).
The entrance to the fogou at Carn Euny – not the original entrance.
The entrance to the fogou at Chysauster.
The largest known site of this type, founded during the first century BC it consists of eleven houses in total. Eight are arranged in pairs on either side of a street. One is southwest of the main cluster whilst the remaining two are further down the hill to the southwest. The fields of the village were to the north east and in 1984 rescue work revealed the remains of round houses and a Bronze Age barrow. It has also been tentatively suggested that cereals were grown in these fields. Although no pollen evidence has to date been found, furthermore the acidic quality of the soils in the area have resulted in no metal tools or bones being preserved. making any meaningful interpretations difficult. Attached to most of the houses are small terraced garden plots.
In 1873 William Copeland Borlase cleared out what is now known as house 6. Further excavation were done in 1897 on house 4 by two members of the local antiquarian society. The first major excavation did not take place until 1928 under the direction of T D Kendrick of the British Museum and Dr H. O’Neil Hencken. It was during this time that the land owner placed a large part of the site under the guardianship of the Office of Works.
In 1931 a fuller examination of the site was carried out by Hencken, excavating houses 5 and 7 with more work on houses 3, 4, 6 and 9. The term ‘courtyard house’ was first coined by Hencken during these early excavations. In 1984 the guardianship of the site passed on to the newly constituted English Heritage.
Although later excavations failed to reveal whether or not Chysauster was predated by an earlier site as with Carn Euny there is some suggestion that there is an earlier site further along the hillside yet to be found or indeed it could be associated with the fogou. A nineteenth century account reported that much of the old village had lately been removed that the fogou no longer lay within it as before (Christie P 1987). Suggesting that there was a much more substantial settlement on the hillside then what we see today.
This site is much smaller than Chysauster consisting of four interlocking structures in addition to a number of smaller roundhouses constructed in the first century BC. An earlier phase of the site consisted of timber built roundhouses which were occupied for at least 400 years.
The first investigations of the site were in the 1860s in the well preserved fogou but it was not until some hundred years later when a more systematic excavation was undertaken (see the journals Cornish Archaeology from the late 1960s for more detailed information on these excavations).
A paved entrance to one of the houses.
A quern stone.
One of the main discussions regarding this type of settlement site is in relation to how such massive structures were roofed. The generally accepted theory states that the individual rooms would be roofed with the central courtyard open to the elements. In 1997 Jacqui Wood proposed an alternative theory which saw the entire structure being covered by a single roof (Cornish Archaeology 1997 No 36). Interpretations boards at both sites show individual roofs over each room with some even having flat roofs.
The above two images are pictures taken from the interpretation boards at Carn Euny (left) and Chysauster (right).
The main objection to the conventional thinking relates to the issue of drainage. The conical roofs are depicted as sitting on top of the thick in-filled walls and given the amount of precipitation Cornwall receives every year, drainage off the roofs would have been an issue, even more so for the flat roofs. A large single roof would have prevented this and created a large and cosy interior, the now central courtyard would take on the appearance of a ‘hall’. With the creation of additional space within the roof space on top of the thick walls. Thus the courtyard house becomes a ‘galleried house’.
“The purpose of the substantial infill of the walls would now come into its own. There could have been another shorter ring of posts to support another ring beam nearer to the outer walls, adding stability to the roof. Looking at the structure from this viewpoint another possible use for the substantial infills becomes evident. The large flat areas at the top of the walls could have been covered with timbers to create another well supported floor.”
Objections to the single roof theory are based upon the size of the roof needed to cover such a large area, although as it has been pointed out equally large structures are known throughout prehistory in both Britain and on the European mainland. Of course this argument may never come to a satisfactory conclusion without the aid of a time machine, but it is still interesting to offer alternatives to conventional theories.
Carn Euny and Chysauster are just two of the many similar sites which can be found around West Penwith, others are not so easy to get to and are often overgrown with bracken and brambles. Standing on the hillside at Chysauster on a brisk winters day, looking down the valley it feels very easy to put yourself into the ancestors shoes as you hunker down behind the thick walls in an effort to keep warm.
One question which has not been addressed is who lived in these settlements and why are they only found in the west of Cornwall? Contrary to popular belief I do not believe that these sites belonged to your average Iron Age farming community – this is not to say they did not farm – but rather the people who lived in these substantial structures were different. Several factors support this idea –
The majority of courtyard house settlements have fogous within their bounds.
They are associated with hillforts.
They are not the only settlement type of this era within west Cornwall; isolated hamlets of round houses and ’round’ are much more prevalent than courtyard houses.
Some have suggested that a priestly class occupied these villages (hence the presence of the fogous). Without further research and excavation it is difficult to say exactly who lived here but I would certainly suggest they were not your average farming community. As to why courtyard houses are only found in west Cornwall…the jury is still out on that one. However, I do have an suspicion that there is a connection with the extraction of tin. It might just be coincedence that Chysauster, the largest courtyard house village, is only a short distance from Mounts Bay and a possible site of ‘Ictis’ where it is said the Cornish traded with merchants from the Mediterranean. Or Bosullow Trehyllys (another less well known and unexcavated site) situated on the slopes below Chun Castle an Iron Age (and later) hillfort is also on the path of a well known trackway called the Tinners Way.
All of which makes for interesting discussions…
Christie P. (1978) ‘The excavation of an Iron Age Souterrain and Settlement at Carn Euny, Sancreed Cornwall’ Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 44.
Christie P. (1987) Chysauster, Ancient Village. English Heritage.
Hencken H. (1933) ‘An excavation by H M Office of Works at Chysauster, Cornwall’ Archaeologia 83
Rowe T M (2005) Cornwall in Prehistory. Tempus
Weatherhill C. (2009) Cornovia. Ancient sites of Cornwall and Scilly 4000BC – 1000AD. Halsgrove
Wood J. (1997) ‘A new perspective on West Cornwall courtyard houses’ Cornish Archaeology No36.
Archaeology, History and a little bit of time travel…