Chysauster Ancient Village


The village of Chysauster was probably first built in the early second century AD by local Cornish Britons of the Dumnonii tribe. The settlement was largely self-sufficient, growing its own cereal crops, supplemented by dairy produce and meat from livestock. Evidence for such a farming economy has been confirmed, and traces can still be seen in the form of the ancient enclosures which these farmers erected to stop their livestock ruining their crops.

The settlers probably bartered for what little thay had in the way of posessions by trading in nuggets of Tin, which they collected from the streams and river-beds throughout the region. This activity was known as “tin-streaming”, and brought the natives all the luxury goods they required, by way of trade from the nearby port of Ictis (St. Michael’s Mount). The settlement consisted of a number of stone-built enclosures of roughly circular outline, surrounding a central courtyard and having living and storage chambers in its exterior walls. As each of the houses is roughly similar and is posessed of the same internal features, it is sufficient here to describe one such habitation.

House 6b

This lies south-east of House 4 and was excavated by Borlase in 1873. Like House 4, it had seriously deteriorated by the time Hencken started work in 1928. He found time to clear the exterior and to examine and strengthen the walls, noting that some of them appeared to have been reconstructed and heightened in relatively recent times. House 6 was further re-examined in 1937-38 by C.K. Croft Andrew who carried out some quite extensive excavation which has never been published. Like House 4, this house was built on a specially constructed platform, banked up from the south to make a level site. Its layout appears to be more elaborate than the other houses so far excavated.

The long Entrance Passage now narrows towards the inner end, but the original line of the walls is not certain owing to subsequent modification and reconstruction. The passage leads into the Courtyard and the usual Bay will be seen on the left. The Stone with hollow is not in its original position.

Immediately inside the courtyard, on the left, notice the unusual Small Chamber. Its construction, with the dividing wall bonded into the main outer wall, shows that it was part of the original plan. Excavation revealed a Sump sunk in the floor against the outer wall, with provision for overflow through the wall. Several Water Channels were found to run towards this sump from the courtyard. Because of damage the connection to the sump was not complete, but it seems likely that it was intended to store rain water. A raised platform found along the left-hand side of this little chamber may have provided a convenient access for dipping water. As with House 4, this supply system may have been an alternative to the water channels running through house entrances found in Houses 5 and 7, here made impossible by the slope of the ground. Hencken found a small Stone with hollow at the entrance to this room, but it was upside down, so its original position is unknown. During the 1873 excavations, Borlase noted some evidence which suggested that this small chamber had been roofed with stone.

The Round Room, as usual directly across the courtyard from the entrance, suffered considerable reconstruction by Borlase. Hencken’s examination showed that the south wall may have been rebuilt on the wrong line. Excavation revealed a horseshoe-shaped platform round the north side of the room, thought possibly to have been used as a sleeping bench. The flat, upright stone, still in place, marks a hearth area. The usual Stone with hollow was found, but is not in place. The ‘back door‘ is original and was discovered by Croft Andrew in 1937.

The slightly raised Long Room is unusual and presents an interesting problem. The two good entrances, both of which appear to be original, suggest that the intention was to construct two rooms with a dividing wall (compare the two small rooms in House 3B). However, the stones that remain in place, which are not structural, suggest a ‘room-divider’ rather than a permanent partition. A section of covered water channel and pit were found by Croft Andrew in the left-hand section of this room. In the right-hand section the small Circular chamber recessed into the outside wall may have been used for storage, the raised floor perhaps intended to keep its contents dry. Note the Corbel stones discovered by Borlase and still in place, indicating thath this small chamber was originally roofed with stone.

Between the long room and the entrance passage is a Small Round Room with paved floor, on a considerably higher level than the courtyard. Remains of a fire and pottery were found by Borlase in this room.

Outside the walls of House 6 is a roughly circular structure showing traces of stone facing. Since its entrance faces towards House 6, it seems likely to relate to this house, and may have been an annexe (Shown as 6A on site plan between House 6 and House 8). There is a large Garden Terrace relating to House 6, extending uphill to the north.

House 6b at Chysauster

In this photograph, taken from the courtyard of House 6b, the robust nature of the partially rebuilt stone walls can clearly be seen. The guy in the picture is 5′ 10″ tall, and was inserted into the picture to give an idea of scale. The figure is standing in a small circular room off the main chamber, with a raised floor perhaps intended to keep the contents of the room dry. Debris on the floor of this chamber suggest that it originally had a corbelled stone roof, it is questionable whether such construction methods would have been used on the roof of a store-house, this room may therefore have had some religous or cult significance, though no indication of the room’s intended use has been found.

Map References for Chysauster

NGRef: SW472350 OSMap: LR203, Explorer7

Roman Roads near Chysauster

Possible trackway: SW (6) to Carn Evny (Cornwall) Probable Native Trackway: SE (5) to Ictis

Sites near Chysauster Ancient Village