The Neolithic Zenith - Shining Land

Shining Land
The ancient sites of West Penwith, Cornwall
Palden Jenkins
Shining Land
Site nearly complete - organically growing
and what they tell us about megalithic civilisation
Go to content

The Neolithic Zenith

Prehistory > The Neolithic
Sanctifiers of Belerion | The Neolithic 4500-2500 BCE

The Neolithic Zenith
Extracted from the book Shining Land, by Palden Jenkins, chapters 17-20.


Placed stones on Zennor Hill
In the period of immigration around 3700ish BCE from Biscay and Iberia, Cornwall was the first place the migrants reached, and many passed through on their way further up the Irish Sea. These were the people who built the quoits and tor enclosures, or at least they provided the ideas and impetus for it.

While the numbers arriving were more a steady trickle than an invasion, a few boatloads at a time, a gradual migration and cultural grafting took place. Perhaps these incomers were influential at an early stage, fulfilling a need by bringing valuable knowledge, resources and skills. Perhaps Britain was seen as a land of opportunity or it was experiencing an upswing that incomers were drawn to join.

Society, though tribal, became more specialised and stratified as time went on. Within tribes, those with skills, leadership and respect gained seniority, becoming the elders, wisewomen, shamans, healers, bards, artisans and builders. They held specialist expertise in plant knowledge, astronomy, language, history and genealogy, building, woodwork, midwifery, medicine and husbandry – many of these talents later being associated with the druids of the Iron Age. Advanced thinking on time and tide, medicine, mathematics, science, husbandry and engineering was developing.

Individuals would have taken on skills and roles to fit the tribe’s needs. Life was communally based, and the individualism we now cherish would have been looked on as a tragedy. The Neolithics still would have had personality issues and differing views, with soap-operas of their own. But in the end they would defer to the priorities of the tribe. Tribal wealth took the form of land, pedigree animals, seed stocks, tools, boats, dwellings, skills, community support systems and comforts such as furs, adornments, woven and felted woollens, even gold picked from the land, then to be beaten and fashioned. Ancestry and genetic stock in both humans and domesticated or herded animals were assets, as were knowledge and psychospiritual attainment.

Humans were gradually changing the face of the land: clearings and trackways increased, with dedicated sacred sites being built in the form of tor enclosures, quoits, longbarrows, placed stones and probably wooden edifices and upstanding posts long gone. Big energy investments were put into these sites, and the Neolithics saw little difference between their sacred and practical purposes. The inner powers of nature and the soul-presence of the ancestors were invoked to aid harvests and culls, tool- and clothes-making and the birth of children. There were observances to conduct and propitious times for different activities.

In some localities such as Chûn, Bosporthennis and Zennor Hill, people were impacting noticeably on nature, making clearings, building and moving things around, making a mark, moulding reality and leaving lasting remains. Yet they still felt like guests in a world dominated by nature and these developments were still modest. When an animal was hunted, the soul of that species would be asked to yield an offering, which it might or might not do. With only spears, slingshots, bows and arrows, a hunter had more chance of being killed by their prey than a modern gun-toting hunter of today – and in those days they had to get much closer to their prey.

The Neolithics had specialist skills and knowledge to help deal with life’s challenges. Some kind of intuitive and dowsing ability was clearly used in the location, orientation and design of early sites, and yet the signs are that it was all thought through very carefully. One symptom of this is the astronomical siting of quoits, at the time a remarkable innovation. The principles of orientation and alignment of sacred sites were established, presumably by the incomers, and it is reasonable to assume that many of the ideas came in over the sea from the south.

These people accrued a growing sense of human distinctiveness, feeling a need to dedicate specific human-claimed locations for gatherings and as holy places – hills, tors, carns and headlands in particular. They enclosed certain tor sites with rock walls and banks, making tor enclosures – in effect designating them as ‘magic mountains’. Drawing a circle to distinguish inside from outside and higher from lower realms, they consecrated the tor enclosures as human-defined sacred space. The sky-spirits, ancestors and stars were not far away.

Tor enclosures represented the emergence of the idea of a temple, a dedicated place more holy than elsewhere, set aside for higher purposes. They might have been reserved mainly for shamans, initiates or invitees. But everyone probably went there at special times, for rites, communal or educational purposes. This culture was well capable of advanced thinking, as demonstrated by the design of the quoits. An understanding of astronomy, the patterns and cycles of nature, natural medicine, crafts, artisanry, husbandry and horticulture was a necessity for survival.

Shining Land
A book by Palden Jenkins about the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall
Back to content