A history of cornwall online - through its objects
Fragments of Cornwall's distant past
Contents of a Garderobe
During a recent excavation in Fowey, archaeologists discovered the contents of a medieval garderobe - a toilet! Scientific analysis provides a fascinating insight into the Cornish menus of the day! Over time, this has filled up with other interesting rubbish.
Glasney College Finds
Glasney College, founded in 1265, was one of the most important of Cornwall's religious institutions. Its church dominated Penryn for almost 300 years and it was the birthplace of many Cornish plays. An excavation in 2003 revealed these significant tiles and pieces of architectural stonework.
Harlyn Bay Cemetery Finds
In 1900 an ancient cemetery was discovered at Harlyn Bay near Padstow. This cemetery provides an interesting insight into the lives and deaths of Cornish people from the Bronze Age onwards. As well as a dagger, brooches and pins, several complete human skeletons were found.
South west of Redruth stands the hill of Carn Brea. Hundreds of flint arrowheads have been discovered at Carn Brea, dating from the Neolithic period between 3700 and 3400 BC.
With the exception of a flourishing trade in tin and copper, Cornwall was still rather remote from the main centres of Roman Britain. These two recycled cooking pots contain the cremated ashes of an eldery Roman woman who died at Tregony in the 2nd century AD.
Over four thousand years ago, quernstones were used for grinding corn and other grains and were a vital part of a Cornish Bronze Age kitchen. These three quernstones come from the parish of Zennor - the stone would have been sourced from the cove below.
The archaeology of Cornwall has revealed glimpses into our ancient ancestors’ lives from a time before writing was commonplace.
Some of the earliest surviving artefacts are tools and weapons. Flint arrowheads that are nearly 6000 years old were found at a Neolithic settlement on Carn Brea. The archaeological context of the finds suggests people armed with bows and arrows attacked and defended the hilltop settlement and that houses had been burned down.
Other evidence which tends to survive for thousands of years relates to death and burial. In the Cornish Iron Age, around 300-100 BCE, some dead were buried in cist or stone-lined burials in a period where cremation was the most common form of disposal in the rest of mainland Britain. At Harlyn Bay near Padstow,many of thesedistinctive burials were excavated.
In 2006, during excavations on land later developed for a retirement village at Tregony, the cremated remains of people dating to the2nd centuryAD were found in two cooking pots used as burial urns.
There is also evidence of ancient food production, particularly the grinding of grain for flour. Bronze Age quern stones made of locally-sourced coarse-grained granite in Zennor survived the ravages of grinding day-in and day-out, and can be seen in the Wayside Museum whose mill still grinds flour today.
The archaeology of human waste can also give us clues about people’s lives. Analysis of organic matter can tell us what people ate and the diseases they suffered from. Medieval toilets or garderobes were small areas in a castle, house or monastery with holes discharging waste directly outside. Archaeological investigation shows that people also used them to dispose of refuse and accidentally lost things in them, especially coins.
Archaeology can also help fill in gaps in our knowledge about well-known sites such as Glasney College in Penryn. An excavation in 2003 produced 38 boxes of tile and stone fragments, some decorated, giving a glimpse of what the building looked like before its dissolution in 1548.