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BRITARCH  July 2008

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Subject:

It's Friday! - ritual pits in Cornwall

From:

Andy Norfolk <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 11 Jul 2008 11:36:39 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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On Tuesday I was lucky enough to go and see the strange pits that Jacqui 
Wood has been excavating at her site at Saveock Mill near Truro. Have a 
look at http://www.archaeologyonline.org/ and look at feather pits for 
more details.

Jacqui is an experimental archaeologist I’m sure many of you will know 
or at least know of. She dug to build an experimental bowl furnace where 
the draft is created by a short uphill flue. While she was doing that 
she found a Mesolithic clay platform.

She followed this platform across the site digging away a lot of 
redeposited soil with the help of people on her archaeology training 
courses. While they were doing that they found some pits dug through the 
Mesolithic clay layer. They are about 42 cm by 35 cm. Each had been 
carefully lined with the skin of a swan placed with the feathers facing 
into the hole. In one there were 55 eggs containing chicks about ready 
to hatch with two magpies. Others contained more eggs and pieces of 
quartz. The last few to be excavated included pits containing a cow 
bone, a skin with reddish bristles that looks piglet, a small wolfhound 
skeleton in a pit lined with its skin fur-side in and a one lined with a 
black cat skin fur inwards with a whisker, and cats claws and teeth in 
it. The only C14 date from one of the pits was about 1640. Many of the 
pits were emptied long ago, but the impressions of eggs and some 
feathers still remain.

So – I have a theory that this may have been about making offerings to 
make sure of getting a good future “harvest” of the things placed in the 
pits. The magpies would have to be a sort of anti-offering to protect 
the eggs and chicks from being eaten.

Jacqui who has thought about this a lot thinks that the swan feather 
pits could have been to do with an offering/spell made by women who 
wanted to become pregnant and if they did they emptied the pits later.

Although these pits have received world-wide publicity and everyone 
thinks they are fascinating no one seems to know of anything similar 
anywhere else.

She is going to write (another) paper on these discoveries and would be 
very interested to hear what anyone thinks the pits were for and of 
course if anyone knows of anything similar.

[log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]>

(BTW there are also many other fascinating things in a very small area. 
For example Jacqui has found an ancient bowl furnace – just the sort of 
thing she was trying to build when she began digging. There’s what she 
calls a ritual pool in which she found over 100 different bits of cloth 
which sounds like the Cornish cloutie tradition, but also many cherry 
stones and human hail and finger nails. This pool had been dug over the 
top of a prehistoric stone walled pool with a carefully built overflow 
culvert or covered drain.)

Andy N



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