The Ballowall Barrow incorporating entrance grave, cairn, ritual pits and cists 420m WSW of Bollowal Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013666

Date first listed: 10-Aug-1923

Date of most recent amendment: 22-Feb-1996


Ordnance survey map of The Ballowall Barrow incorporating entrance grave, cairn, ritual pits and cists 420m WSW of Bollowal Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Just

National Grid Reference: SW 35525 31253


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Platform cairns, slab-built cists and entrance graves were constructions designed for funerary use during the later Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age periods (c.2500-1000 BC). Platform cairns were constructed as flat-topped mounds of stone rubble, up to 40m in external diameter, covering single or multiple burials and sometimes including a central mound and outer bank, either or both of which may be kerbed. Burials were placed in small pits or, on occasion, within cists: box-like structures of stone slabs containing the body or cremation, which may be accompanied by an urn or other grave goods. Cists may be sited on, or set into, the old ground surface or dug into the body of the cairn. Funerary cists are also known as an individual monument form, unaccompanied by a cairn. By contrast, entrance graves were constructed with a roughly circular mound of heaped rubble, up to 25m in diameter, containing a rectangular chamber of slabs, coursed rubble or both. The chamber was accessible via a gap in the mound's edge, also often kerbed. Excavations within entrance graves have revealed cremated human bone and funerary urns, usually within chambers but occasionally within the mound. Unburnt human bone has been recovered but is only rarely preserved. Some chambers have also produced ritual deposits of domestic midden debris including dark earth typical of surface soil found within settlements and containing animal bone and artefact fragments. A small number of entrance graves have produced such deposits in small pits dug into the subsoil. Such pits containing ritual deposits, and sometimes cremations, are a feature associated with many other classes of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ritual monument, such as henges, and they are also known as separate entities in their own right, displaying a considerable diversity of form and size. Each of these prehistoric funerary and ritual elements provides information on the diversity of beliefs, burial practices and social organisation among prehistoric communities. Platform cairns, cists and ritual pits are nationally rare but widely distributed monument types; entrance graves are also rare but restricted to the extreme south west of England, with 79 of the 93 surviving examples on the Isles of Scilly and the remaining 14 located in West Penwith.

The Ballowall Barrow contains a rare association between a platform cairn, entrance grave, cists and ritual pits. Each of these elements is important in its own right but their juxtaposition in this monument allows an opportunity to explore their relationships more closely. This is also one of the larger cairns in south west England and provides a good example of the prominent siting of such major prehistoric funerary monuments. Its broader context within the generally good preservation of prehistoric landscape elements in the Penwith peninsula demonstrates well the physical organisation of funerary, ritual and settlement activities during the later Neolithic and Bronze Age. Although the late 19th century excavation and the subsequent presentation of this monument removed some areas of its fabric, substantial parts of the central mound and platform remain intact. The excavation records were sufficiently detailed to allow an understanding and discussion of the range and layout of the original features revealed, some of which still remain visible.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a very large multi-phase prehistoric funerary cairn, known as the Ballowall Barrow, which incorporates within its area an entrance grave, three ritual pits and seven funerary cists. The monument is situated on the crest of the steep coastal slope of Bollowall Common 0.8km south east of Cape Cornwall at the western edge of the Penwith peninsula in west Cornwall. The Ballowall Barrow is a monument in the care of the Secretary of State. The cairn is visible as a central mound shaped as a truncated dome, up to 10.7m across and 2.5m high, surrounded by a very large sub-circular platform of heaped rubble and earth, ranging from 21.5m to 23.75m in diameter and also rising up to 2.5m high. Excavation and survey records from the 19th century indicate that in its final prehistoric form, the central rubble mound, was defined by two successive drystone facing walls, the outermost of which was abutted by the inner edge of the surrounding platform. This outer platform originally rose only c.1.5m high and its outer edge was defined by a kerb of edge-set slabs and drystone walling. These features indicate the cairn's multi-phase sequence as involving an initial stone-faced central mound that was enlarged, re-faced, and finally encircled by the large kerbed platform. As now visible and described below, the monument has been modified in some respects from that prehistoric form. While much surviving walling defines original prehistoric structures, some of the inner walled features are non-original open areas established to present the monument to visitors after excavation by the antiquary W C Borlase in 1878-9. Some of the excavated rubble was also heaped onto the platform, producing its irregular surface and increasing its height to the present level. The outer edge of the platform varies from 0.7m-2.3m high and is defined along most of its perimeter by a steep drystone wall of small slabs above a kerb comprising one or two basal courses of large blocks, up to 1.75m long and 0.7m high. A drystone-revetted pit, 1.8m across, in the northern edge of the platform was built by Borlase to display the nature of the kerb. Within the kerbed revetment, the platform's rubble surface is 3.5m-5.5m wide, undulating with irregularities up to 2.5m high, and defined along its inner edge by a narrow open corridor which descends up to 2.5m to the base of the cairn and encircles the central mound. This corridor, generally 0.75m wide at its base, was created by Borlase to expose some of the mound's internal features to be described below. The corridor's outer revetment wall is entirely of 19th century build. The inner face of the corridor is formed by the prehistoric outer revetment wall of the central mound. This rubble wall defines a near-circular plan, up to 10.7m across at its base. As it rises to 0.75m-2.5m high, the wall curves markedly inwards to measure 9m in diameter at the top. Prior to excavation in 1878-9, the central mound within this wall was filled by rubble. When excavated, an inner revetment wall was revealed, also curved inwards and facing an earlier and smaller phase of this central rubble mound that is depicted on an excavation plan as measuring 7.77m north east - south west by 6.86m north west - south east at its base. A small length of this inner wall's upper edge, 2.1m high, is visible in the north eastern sector of the surface rubble of the central mound. The core of the central mound is occupied by a large oblong cavity, 6.1m long, north east - south west, by up to 2.75m wide, descending up to 2m to the old ground surface, with almost vertical drystone- revetted walls and narrow stone steps at the south west end. This cavity, its walling and steps derive entirely from the late 19th century presentation of the monument. The multi-phase cairn incorporated several prehistoric funerary and ritual elements which remain either visible at the monument or are known from the excavation. They show various relationships to the cairn's construction. The entrance grave is incorporated into the south west edge of the platform, directly facing the coast. It is visible as a rectangular chamber extending 3.35m south west - north east into the platform rubble from the kerb. The chamber is up to 1.2m wide and 0.85m high with coursed rubble walls and edge- set slabs lining the inner end. Two large slabs, called capstones, span the innermost 1.25m of the chamber, beyond which the chamber is open. No evidence is visible for the size of a mound around the chamber which would have pre- dated the cairn's platform and been incorporated into it. When excavated, fragments of decorated prehistoric pottery and cremated bone were found in the chamber floor. Borlase's excavation revealed two adjoining elongated pits cut into the subsoil beneath, and therefore earlier than, the rubble of the cairn's central mound. These pits remain open in the north-east of the monument's central cavity. One pit is 2.4m long, north east - south west, up to 1.5m wide and descends from 0.75m deep at the south west to 1.2m deep at the north east. Borlase records this pit had a stepped floor descending to the north east. At the north east, it joins a second pit, 2.5m long, north west - south east, 0.7m wide and 1.2m deep, under the rubble between the mound's successive revetment walls. On the floor of this latter pit, Borlase records a layer of `black greasy earth' in which he found a perforated stone bead or disc. A third large pit was recorded cut into the subsoil beneath the rubble of the cairn's platform in its south east sector. This pit is oval, measuring 1.95m NNW-SSE by 1.2m wide and extends 0.7m into the subsoil. No contents were recorded and the pit remains visible at the base of an ovoid stone-walled chamber built by Borlase, opening off his narrow inner corridor. Beneath and earlier than the rubble of the cairn's initial central mound, Borlase records four funerary cists, small slab-built box-like structures, built onto the old ground surface within the area now occupied by the monument's central cavity. Two of the cists contained small funerary urns. Three cists were arranged in a rough north east - south west line extending north east from the centre of the mound, with the fourth to the south east. No remains of these cists survive, or of a fifth cist containing pottery fragments which was found high in the mound's rubble in its north east sector. Two further cists were recorded immediately beyond the central mound's outer wall, beneath the cairn's platform rubble. These clearly post-date the central mound but it is unclear whether they were built before the outer platform or were later inserted into it. Both are visible in the floor of the monument's open corridor created by Borlase. One is located in the south west sector, between the entrance grave chamber and the outer wall of the central mound. This cist is 1.44m long, north west - south east, by 0.7m wide and 0.5m deep internally; each side wall is formed by a single edge-set slab. A single flat slab covers the south east half of the cist; a second covering slab over the north west half was noted by Borlase but is now missing. No contents were found on excavation. The other cist abuts the central mound's outer wall on its opposite, north eastern side. It also has a north west - south east long axis and is a double cist, partitioned by a single transverse slab. Internally, its north west cist measures 0.7m long by 0.42m wide and 0.25m deep; its south west cist measures 0.33m long (north west - south east) by 0.45m wide and 0.2m deep. The south west side is formed by the central mound's outer wall, while the edge-set slabs form the other sides: a double row of such slabs forms the north east side. No covering slabs are present. Borlase noted traces of wood in it when excavated. The Ballowall Barrow is the largest of a number of prehistoric funerary cairns sited in prominent locations along the western coast of Penwith, an area also retaining unusually good preservation of broadly contemporary prehistoric settlement and field system elements.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 15410

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Barnatt, J, Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments, (1982)
Barnatt, J, Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments, (1982)
Sharpe, A/CAU, Ballowall Barrow, (1990)
Sharpe, A/CAU, Ballowall Barrow, (1990)
Sharpe, A/CAU, Ballowall Barrow, (1990)
Borlase, W C, 'Archaeologia' in Typical Specimens of Cornish Barrows, (1885), 184-194
Borlase, W C, 'Archaeologia' in Typical Specimens of Cornish Barrows, (1885), 189-194
Borlase, W C, 'J Roy Inst Cornwall' in Archaeological Discoveries in St Just, , Vol. VI, (1880), 194-201
Borlase, W C, 'The Athenaeum' in Excavations at St Just, , Vol. 2656, (1878), 374-5
Borlase, W C, 'The Athenaeum' in Excavations at St Just, , Vol. 2656, (1878), 374-5
Borlase, W C, 'The Athenaeum' in Excavations at St Just, , Vol. 2656, (1878)
Borlase, W C, 'The Athenaeum' in Excavations at St Just, , Vol. 2656, (1878), 374-5
AM7 and scheduling maplet for CO 9 'Ballowal Barrow', 1923, consulted 1994
AM7 and scheduling maplet for CO 9 'Ballowal Barrow', 1923, consulted 1994
AM7 and scheduling maplet for CO 9 'Ballowal Barrow', 1923, consulted 1994
AM7 and scheduling maplet for CO 9 'Ballowal Barrow', 1923, consulted 1994
consulted 1994, DoE/HBMC, Ancient Monuments Terrier for 'St Just, Ballowall Barrow', (1984)
consulted 1994, DoE/HBMC, Ancient Monuments Terrier for 'St Just, Ballowall Barrow', (1984)
consulted 1994, DoE/HBMC, Ancient Monuments Terrier for 'St Just, Ballowall Barrow', (1984)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map: SW 33 SE Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 33 SE Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing