Reasons for Designation
Bodmin Moor, the largest of the Cornish granite uplands, has long been
recognised to have exceptional preservation of archaeological remains. The
Moor has been the subject of detailed archaeological survey and is one of the
best recorded upland landscapes in England. The extensive relict landscapes of
prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval date provide direct evidence for human
exploitation of the Moor from the earliest prehistoric period onwards. The
well-preserved and often visible relationship between settlement sites, field
systems, ceremonial and funerary monuments as well as later industrial remains
provides significant insights into successive changes in the pattern of land
use through time. Stone circles are prehistoric monuments comprising one or
more circles of upright or recumbent stones. The circle of stones may be
surrounded by earthwork features such as enclosing banks and ditches. Single
upright stones may be found within the circle or outside it and avenues of
stones radiating out from the circle occur at some sites. Burial cairns may
also be found close to and on occasion within the circle. Stone circles are
found throughout England, although they are concentrated in western areas,
with particular clusters in upland areas such as Bodmin and Dartmoor in the
south-west and the Lake District and the rest of Cumbria in the north-west.
This distribution may be more a reflection of present survival rather than an
original pattern. Where excavated they have been found to date from the Late
Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c.2400-1000 BC). It is clear that they
were designed and laid out carefully, frequently exhibiting very regularly
spaced stones, the heights of which also appear to have been of some
importance. We do not fully understand the uses for which these monuments were
originally constructed but it is clear that they had considerable ritual
importance for the societies that used them. In many instances excavation has
indicated that they provided a focus for burials and rituals that accompanied
interment of the dead. Some circles appear to have had a calendrical function,
helping mark the passage of time and seasons, this being indicated by the
careful alignment of stones to mark important solar or lunar events such as
sunrise or sunset at midsummer or midwinter. At other sites the spacing of
individual circles throughout the landscape has led to a suggestion that each
one provided some form of tribal gathering point for a specific social group.
Of the 150 or so stone circles identified in England sixteen are located on
Bodmin Moor. As a rare monument type which provides an important insight into
prehistoric ritual activity all surviving examples are worthy of preservation.
The Hurler stone circles and their outlying stones have survived well, with
only minor disturbances caused by the later boundary bank and tin-mining pits.
The limited excavation and reconstruction in 1935-6 have considerably enhanced
the academic and public understanding of the monument while leaving
substantial areas intact.
Close groupings of three stone circles as at this monument are extremely rare
nationally and the group of three large regular stone circles at The Hurlers
is unique. The monument's proximity to, and linear relationships with, the
many other broadly contemporary ceremonial and funerary monuments on Craddock
and Rillaton Moors demonstrates well the nature of ritual activities during
the later Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The Hurlers' importance is reflected in
its frequent mention in national and local reviews of this class of monument.
The Hurlers are one of the earliest prehistoric monuments to have been
described and depicted, in the later 16th century, and their frequent
description by the major antiquaries from the early 17th century onwards gives
the monument an important place in the development of archaeological studies.
The monument includes a linear group of three adjacent prehistoric stone
circles, known as 'The Hurlers', and, to their west, a close-spaced pair of
outlying upright stones, known as 'The Pipers', situated on eastern Craddock
Moor on south-east Bodmin Moor. Later, post-medieval, tin-mining in the
vicinity resulted in a series of small pits within the southern circle and
part of the central circle, while later mining produced an embanked
watercourse, now levelled, crossing the central circle. Two post-medieval
earthwork platforms for storing peat are located between the stone circles and
the outlying stones.
The Hurlers are visible as a linear arrangement of three prehistoric stone
circles on a NNE-SSW axis, the axis tilted slightly as it passes through the
central circle. They extend over 162m of a gentle south-facing slope in a
broad shallow upland basin between Caradon Hill, Rillaton Moor and the main
plateau of Craddock Moor. The slabs of the stone circles and the outliers are
all of granite; many have flat inner faces and several also have flattened
tops. Knowledge of their visible remains has been considerably supplemented by
detailed antiquarian accounts and by limited excavation and reconstruction in
1935-6 by the archaeologist C A Ralegh Radford.
The northern stone circle survives with fifteen visible original stones.
The 1935-6 excavations revealed buried stone-holes of a further ten missing
stones, now represented on the surface by small marker stones of the
reconstruction. These surviving and missing stones are distributed about a
true circular plan measuring 34.7m in diameter. They are regularly spaced,
except at the north-west where a small surface outcrop impinges on the
circle's course. The regular spacing implies the former existence of a further
five stones not located, giving an original total of 30. The surviving stones
are upright or leaning slabs, between 1.07m and 1.55m long, equating with
their vertical height, and graded such that the tallest are located in the SSE
sector. The 1935-6 excavations also revealed a strip of granite paving, 1.8m
wide, running NNE-SSW in the 27.4m gap between this and the central stone
circle. A series of shallow hollows along one edge of the natural outcrop in
the north-west sector derive from an early post-medieval attempt to split the
The central circle survives with fourteen original stones and fourteen markers
of missing stones' holes found in the 1935-6 excavations. The stones and
markers show an original regular spacing about a near-circular course, bulging
slightly to the east and measuring 43.4m east-west by 41.7m north-south. The
regular spacing implies the former presence of a further unlocated stone at
the SSW at a position disturbed by a post-medieval tin-mining pit, giving an
original total of 29 stones in this circle. The surviving original stones
range from 1.4m to 1.74m in length, and hence vertical height, graded with the
largest stones towards the south, with an exception in the south-east sector
whose height has been reduced by later fracture. The 1935-6 excavations
revealed a layer of quartz crystals within this circle, considered to form a
ritual deposit but derived from the hammer-dressing of the circle's stones.
These excavations also revealed a small slab located 6m south of the circle's
centre; this slab was re-erected.
The southern stone circle, separated from the central circle by a gap of
25.3m, survives with nine original stones, two erect and seven fallen. Four
shallow hollows on the line of the circle are considered to mark the sites of
missing stones but this circle was not subject to the 1935-6 excavation and
restoration so the locations of most of its missing stones are not yet known.
The surviving stones and stone-hollows are distributed about a true circular
course measuring 32.8m in diameter. Regular stone-spacing is apparent in the
eastern and south-western sectors, giving an original total of 29 stones when
projected around the full circuit. The surviving stones range in length, and
hence vertical height, from 1.1m to 2.35m, but there is no evidence for their
grading at this circle.
The paired outlying stones, The Pipers, are situated 118m south-west of the
centre of the central circle. Situated 2m apart on the WSW-ENE axis, each
stone is an erect granite pillar of roughly squared section, up to 0.55m wide
and 0.45m thick, standing 1.9m high with a blunt tip.
The monument forms an element in an extensive dispersed grouping of later
Neolithic - Bronze Age ceremonial and funerary monuments on Craddock Moor and
Caradon Hill, one of several such major ritual foci on Bodmin Moor. The
Hurlers stone circles share direct linear relationships with certain other
broadly contemporary members of this group. The axis through the centres of
the northern two circles aligns directly on the massive Rillaton Barrow, 460m
NNE of the northern circle and on the skyline when viewed from the latter. The
tilt in the Hurlers' axis as it passes through the central circle aligns the
southern pair of circles directly on a prehistoric round cairn situated 215m
SSW of the southern circle on the opposite slope of the basin. The Hurlers
also share a linear relationship with another prehistoric stone circle, the
Craddock Moor stone circle, situated 1.038km to the WNW. A further 525m WNW
along the alignment from The Hurlers through the Craddock Moor stone circle is
a prehistoric ritual embanked avenue, the axis of whose rubble banks shares
the overall alignment to The Hurlers. Finally, 295m WNW of the avenue is a
prehistoric stone row whose axis is perpendicular to the alignment through the
avenue to The Hurlers.
From the 16th century, exploitation of the tin ore in this area was carried
out by the digging of rows of small pits, called lode-back pits, following the
WNW-ESE lodes of tin ore. A double row of these pits, averaging 2m-3m in
diameter and 5m-8m apart, each surrounded by its heap of spoil, exploited 'the
Prosper Lode', visible on early air photos as passing through the monument
between the central and southern circles of The Hurlers. Further, similar pits
were dug to both sides of the rows, prospecting for the edges of the lode. Two
such pits are located in the SSW sector of The Hurlers central circle and a
scatter of at least seven such pits extends NNE-SSW across the interior of The
Hurlers southern circle. Several pits within and west of the monument were
infilled and levelled during the 1935-6 reconstruction of The Hurlers. A 19th
century tin-miners' water-course, called a leat, was also levelled in 1935-6
where it crossed the northern sector of the central circle on a WNW-ESE axis,
though it remains faintly visible on some aerial photographs.
The exploitation of surface peat in this area resulted in several peat stack
platforms where peat was stored before removal off the moor. These are visible
as small sub-rectangular platforms defined by a shallow ditch and outer bank.
Two of these are located within the monument, 5m and 40m west of The Hurlers
The Hurlers are one of the earliest historically-described monuments in
Cornwall, being mentioned and drawn in 1584 by the cartographer Norden. They
were subsequently described in detail by Carew in 1602 who records the origin
of their name in local tradition as men who were turned to stone for playing
the game of hurling on the Sabbath. The Hurlers feature in most of the major
antiquarian and popular descriptions of Cornwall's ancient monuments and are
among the best-known prehistoric stone circles nationally. They also occupy a
prominent place in most academic national reviews of stone circles and
prehistorical ritual monuments.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.