Bronze Age and Roman occupation found near Newquay

Recent excavations near Newquay have revealed evidence of Bronze Age and Roman settlements.

Although initial geophysical surveys of the site (first conducted in 2011/2012, after the land had been earmarked for development) had not revealed any major points of interest, when a series of evaluation trenches were dug in 2013, part of a roundhouse was revealed. After planning permission for the development was granted, an excavation of the site was then carried out between September 2022 and March of this year. This recent work was undertaken by archaeologists from Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU), led by Sean Taylor.

IMAGE: Cornwall Archaeological Unit

The team from CAU began by focusing on the known roundhouse, revealing its full c.7.5m diameter footprint. Within its walls was an enigmatic rectangular structure, sunk into the ground and measuring approximately 4m by 3m, with a pile of burnt stones next to it. While its function remains unknown, a comparable construction was found in Trethellan in 1987, also containing burnt stones but not located within a roundhouse.

The team did not necessarily expect to find much else on site, but as their work continued to the west, they revealed an even larger roundhouse – about 10-15m in diameter (pictured above) – as well as two smaller satellite roundhouses, at least one of which appears to pre-date the bigger one. The larger roundhouse had thick walls, partially cut into the slope of the hill, and a well-constructed drain at the back. Fragments of Trevisker ware pottery, with slightly different styles perhaps reflecting the different phases of the site, were found throughout each of the four roundhouses.

This was not the last of the discoveries, however, with another dwelling emerging at the very bottom of the field. At first, it was believed to be another roundhouse, as the gradient of the hill had caused Bronze Age pottery to be ploughed over the top of it. As the excavation progressed, though, it became clear that it had an oval outline characteristic of Roman domestic buildings throughout Cornwall and parts of Devon. This part of the site also yielded a processing area with flue-like channels and evidence of burning, as well as two rectangular agricultural buildings, which appear to be unusual for this area where curved outbuildings are more common. A number of imported pottery sherds suggest that this may have been a better-off farmstead.

Although occupation does not appear to have been continuous, this discovery adds to growing evidence that the three main estuaries of north Cornwall (Newquay, Padstow, and Hayle) may have been favoured for settlement during prehistory.