LESKERNICK HILL (Fig. 3 [pdf] and Fig. 4 [pdf])

Since 1995 we have been conducting a project centered on Leskernick hill on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Leskernick is a grey, stoney, oval shaped hill with remnant tors and dense clitter masses largely concentrated on the western slopes of the hill. In and amongst the stones and the clitter there is a late Neolithic/Bronze Age settlement complex consisting of 50 houses and ancillary structures situated on the western and southern slopes of the hill and separated by a corridor. The houses are associated with compounds and field boundaries straddling the lower slopes of the hill. Below the hill on a flat stone-free plateau there is a ceremonial complex consisting of two stone circles, a stone row and large cairn. Another large cairn is situated on the top of the hill, well away and out of sight of the settlement. In and among the enclosures there are numerous small cairns usually no more than 2 m in diameter. These are all obvious cultural structures and all, apart from the large numbers of cairns that we discovered through surface survey, were previously known to exist.

Leskernick whilst completely lacking major tors and cliffs and with only small areas of exposed bedrock, is, however, an incredibly stony hill appearing in the distance as a distinctive whale-backed grey mass in the landscape of north-west Bodmin Moor. The clitter masses on the hill take two main forms. Lower down the slopes they consist of linear streams or stripes of material varying between 10 and 20 m in width and up to 100 m or more in length separated by comparatively stone free areas with peat and turf. Higher up the hill slopes the clitter masses are often denser and more irregular in form, a generalised spread with differential densities of stones rather than a more regular band of material. The clitter masses consist of some extremely large boulders (up to 5 m or more in length and weighing many tons) and many smaller stones with dimensions of 1 m or less. These clitter masses were plotted on the map of Leskernick (on the basis of aerial photographs) by the RCHME together with the houses and walls. The differential density of the clitter was indicated by stippling and all the individual very large boulders mapped and are readily discernable by a user of the map in terms of shape (see Fig. 4

In the first two years of our surface survey of the hill we ignored the clitter considering it to be entirely natural. We recorded, planned and excavated obvious cultural features: the stone row terminal, houses, walls and cairns instead. It was only in the third year of our research that we started to investigate the clitter. Virtually all the clitter masses on the hill are incorporated within the field boundaries. Having investigated the houses and walls we started surveying the clitter simply because it was within the fields and might contain obvious cultural features such as cairns. As a result of our previous work, we had become much more attuned to and engaged with the stones on the hill. We had noted a series of connections between the de facto cultural constructions and what we had previously regarded as 'natural' stones: large 'grounders' or earthfast stones were incorporated in the houses, the enclosure walls variously ran up to, incorporated, included or linked other large grounders and different clitter masses in a seemingly 'illogical' and 'irrational' fashion. Some large 'natural' boulders appeared to have stones placed around them. Others appeared to have had stones removed away from them, thus in two very different ways enhancing their presence and significance in the landscape (Bender, Hamilton and Tilley 1997). Through our survey work we became familiar and intimate with the larger and more impressive stones on the hill. We tentatively identified some as being of especial significance referring to them as 'field shrines': possible offering places and sites of minor ceremonies, part of the rituals of everyday economic and social life. While we were willing to grant such cultural significance to large and impressive stones on the hill, the clitter masses themselves were still regarded by us as natural. We spent a great deal of time searching out for the larger stones on the hill, thinking about their shapes, sizes, positions. Our problem was not whether natural stones on the hill were significant, but which ones and how we could identify them. The clitter merely got in our way as we scrabbled over it or walked around it to reach the larger stones.

It is a curious artefact of our own modernity that Bodmin Moor in general, and Leskernick hill in particular, appears to be more 'natural', or in some way 'closer to nature' than the chalk downlands of southern England which are an obvious palimpsest of thousands of years of human activity. In British culture chalk is to granite as the domestic is to the wild. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The appearance of Leskernick hill today is the result of its fashioning as cultural artefact. Among the remnant tors and clitter masses there are almost 3 km of compound and enclosure walls, some still standing to a height of 1 m and consisting of double orthostat construction with a rubble core. Together with the construction of fifty houses and structures, over one hundred larger and smaller cairns, two stone circles and a stone row over 300 m long the amount of stone moved on the hill during the Bronze Age was quite enormous. And we know that these people were capable of moving not just smaller stone blocks but massive stones requiring teams of people, rollers and levers. In this sense, when we look at Leskernick hill we see nothing that might be described as 'natural' or untouched. Stones were cleared from enclosed areas and used to build the houses, walls, cairns and monuments. Stones must have been removed from the clitter masses thus transforming their character. Stones may also have been dumped in clitter masses having been cleared from elsewhere on the hill to create pathways, clearings and fields. So on purely a priori grounds we might have good reason to think that the clitter rather than being left untouched as 'natural' form is as much as the rest of the hill something that has been culturally transformed. Some areas of clitter might, of course, be more transformed by others by the simple process of removing stones for building, or depositing stones getting in the way of human activity. And perhaps some areas were just left untouched?