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 Location: Cornwall, Nr Madron. (O/S - SW 4265 3494).  Grid Reference: 50° 9' 30" N, 5° 36' 16" W.

 

      Men an Tol: (Stone Circle, Holed Stone).

The original design of these megalithic remains have evoked much debate in the past, however, following the recent discovery of several recumbent stones lying beneath the turf, it is now realised that these three granite stones were once part of a stone-circle. (2)

Unfortunately this popularity is not without its downside, recently someone tried to destroy the Men-an-Tol by covering it with a homemade napalm mixture and setting it on fire. Fortunately the stones survived the ordeal, but the residue from the attack still thickly coats some parts of the stones

 

 

   Men an Tol: ('The Crick Stone', 'The Devil's Eye')

The Mên-an-Tol monument consists of four stones: one fallen, two uprights, and between these a circular one, 1.3m (4ft 6in) in diameter, pierced by a hole about half its size in diameter. An old plan of Mên-an-Tol (the name means 'stone with a hole' in Cornish) shows that originally the three main stones stood in a triangle, which makes archaeo-astronomical claims for it difficult to support. They could be the remains of a Neolithic 'tomb', because holed stones are known to have have served as entrances to chambers. Its age in uncertain but it is usually assigned to the Bronze Age, between 3000-4000 years ago.

Antiquarian representations of the site differ in significant details and it is possible that the elements of the site have been rearranged on several occasions. William Borlase described the monument in the 18th Century as having a triangular layout, and it has been suggested that the holed stone was moved from its earlier position to stand in a direct alignment between the two standing stones. In the mid 19th Century, a local antiquarian JT Blight proposed that the site was in fact the remains of a stone circle. This idea was given additional support when a recent site survey identified a number of recumbent stones lying just beneath the modern turf which were arranged along the circumference of a circle 18 metres in diameter. The recumbent stones are somewhat irregularly spaced but the three extant upright stones have smooth inward facing surfaces and are of a similar height to other stone circles in Penwith.

If this is indeed the origin of the site, the holed stone would probably have been aligned along the circumference of the circle and would have had a special ritual significance possibly by providing a lens through which to view other sites or features in the landscape, or as a window onto other worlds. There have also been suggestions that it may have been a component of a burial chamber or cist. There are instances of burial chambers close to stone circles, as at nearby Boskednan, and a barrow mound with stone cist has been identified to the north-east of the Men-an-Tol, so it seems likely that the site was part of a more extensive ritual or ceremonial complex.

Although the Men-an-Tol is considered to be Bronze Age in date no extensive excavations have taken place. The discovery of a single flaked flint by WC Borlase in 1885 is hardly compelling evidence for an early date whilst the recent works to reset the holed stone revealed only evidence for modern activity.


 

Holed Stones.

Holed stones are found in many parts of British Isles as well as in other countries of the world; together with holy wells they have retained the ideas and customs associated with them more tenaciously than any other type of ancient sites. Beliefs connected with them are remarkably similar from the Orkneys to the far west of Cornwall.

Holed stones are very rare in prehistoric Cornwall; there is only one other comparable site, the Tolvan Stone near Gweek. All other ‘holed stones’ are much smaller with holes less than 15 cm in diameter; certainly too small to pass an infant through. These stones may have originated as horizontally bedded stones on granite tors, the hole produced by natural weathering processes. They may have been brought to the site to fulfil a specific ritual purpose and perhaps to provide a physical link with the sacred hill. (1)

There are a number of Holed stones in the Maltese temples such as Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. The Great Pyramid in Egypt incorporates both Holed Stones and a well into its structure.

(More about Holed Stone)

 

Legend and Tradition:

Traditional rituals at Mên-an-Tol (centuries ago known also as Devil's Eye) involved passing naked children three times through the holed stone and then drawing them along the grass three times in an easterly direction. This was thought to cure scrofula (a form of tuberculosis) and rickets. Adults seeking relief from rheumatism, spine troubles or ague were advised to crawl through the hole nine times against the sun. The holed stone also had prophetic qualities and, according to nineteenth-century folklorist Robert Hunt: If two brass pins are carefully laid across each other on the top edge of the stone, any question put to the rock will be answered by the pins acquiring, through some unknown agency, a peculiar motion.

The Men-an-Tol has generated a wealth of folklore and tradition. It is renowned for curing many ailments, particularly rickets in children, by passing the sufferer through the hole. It was also said to provide an alternative cure “scrofulous taint”, also known as the “Kings Evil” which was otherwise only curable by the touch of the reigning monarch. The site’s reputation for curing back problems earned it the name of “Crick Stone”. The stones were also seen as a charm against witchcraft or ill-wishing, and could also be used as a tool for augury or telling the future; two brass pins laid crosswise on top of each other on the top of the stone would move independently of external intervention in accordance with the question asked. Age old myths of spirits associated with sacred places are echoes from prehistory. (1)

 

News and Recent Events at Men an Tol.

 

Article: 'Ancient Monument Damaged By Cattle': (2013)

'One of the West country's most famous archaeological landmarks is being threatened by grazing cattle permitted by the Government's environment watchdog, campaigners have warned... It is obvious that the cattle had been using the stones as convenient 'rubbing posts", said Mr Cooke from the Penwith action group. A spokesman for English Heritage said the stones were set in concrete in the 1940's and reset in 1993 in response to concerns about soil erosion around the stones caused by visitor pressure. He added: "We do not, however, expect cattle activity to cause damage to the stones or its setting..."

(Link to Full Article)


Article: 'Cornish Megaliths Vandalized': (1999)

'Napalm was poured over two of Cornish (England) most ancient monuments and then set ablaze. In an anonymous letter sent to The Cornishman - the local newspaper - a group calling themselves Friends of the Stone said they had ceremoniously burnt the famous Men-an-Tol holed stone and the nearby Lanyon Quoit. The writer of the anonymous letter to The Cornishman included three photographs of the two ancient monuments covered in burning oil and ablaze with flames.
      The police at Penzance are taking the matter seriously. "We have to assume it is napalm, so I will be talking to the council about getting the sites cordoned off for public safety reasons until the monuments can be cleaned," one of the police officers said. "Until we know exactly what the substance is that was used to burn the stones, no one should touch it, or go near the monuments."
      Cheryl Straffon, a member of Penwith Council's Sacred Sites Committee, confirmed that the stones were indeed badly damaged on November 5 and that the incident had been reported to the Cornwall Archeological Unit, English Heritage and the National Trust. She said that "Something did occur on November 5 at the Men-an-Tol and discovered the next day. It looks as if resin of some sort has been poured over the holed stone and an attempt made to set it alight."
      When a Cornishman reporter visited the Lanyon Quoit he found three of the upright supports badly burnt by a blackened substance and the huge roof stone also blacked and covered in a sticky mess of black and white gunge.
      The writer of the anonymous letter stated: "You do not deserve the heritage these monuments hold and therefore we intend to act further. By this time next week, Men-an-Tol will be gone. It shall be set up again, correctly aligned with pertinent sacred stones, in my back garden."
Anne Preston-Jones of English Heritage said that she would be inspecting the monuments. "I will be compiling a damage report," she said. "We can't even remove the substance until permission is given as these are ancient monuments."

(Other Desecrated Megaliths)

(Source: The Cornishman. November 1999)

 

Alignments - The circular stone aligns exactly with the centre stone at Boscawen-Un and the church at nearby St Buryan. While this may conceivably be coincidental, the precision of the alignment suggests an intentional positioning of the structures in relation to each other.

 

(Other Examples of Holed Stones)

(Other Stone Circles)

 

(Other Prehistoric English sites)

 

 

 

References:

1). http://www.historic-cornwall.org.uk/a2m/bronze_age/stone_circle/men_an_tol/men_an_tol.htm
2). Preston-Jones, A, 1993. The Men-an-Tol reconsidered in Cornish Archaeology 32, pp 5-16.
 

 

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