Prehistoric field system east of Peninnis Head lighthouse, St Mary's


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014992

Date first listed: 04-Oct-1996


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric field system east of Peninnis Head lighthouse, St Mary's
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Mary's

National Grid Reference: SV 91162 09416


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

Reasons for Designation

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social development of early communities. Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands' settlement. The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post- medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post- medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard for the nation's shipping in the western approaches. The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of documentation, including several recent surveys. Regular field systems are one of several methods of field layout known to have been employed in the Isles of Scilly from the Bronze Age to the Roman period (c.2000 BC - AD 400); closer dating within that period may be provided by the visible relationships of the field boundaries to other classes of monument with a shorter known time-span of use, or by their relationship with an earlier recorded sea level. They comprise a collection of field plots defined by boundaries laid out in a consistent manner, along two dominant axes at approximate right angles to each other. This results in rectilinear fields which may vary in their size and length:width ratio both within and between individual field systems. The fields are bounded by rubble walls or banks, often incorporating edge- or end- set slabs called orthostats. Within its total area, a regular field system may be subdivided into blocks differing in the orientations of their dominant axes. Regular field systems may be associated with broadly contemporary settlement sites such as stone hut circles. Some regular field systems on the Isles of Scilly contain a distinctive association, rarely encountered elsewhere, whereby certain of their field boundaries directly incorporate or link cairns, entrance graves and cists in some groups of prehistoric funerary monuments. Although no precise figure is available, regular field systems form one of the three principal forms of prehistoric field system, along with irregular field systems and some groups of prehistoric linear boundaries, which survive in over 70 areas of the Isles of Scilly. They provide significant insights into the physical and social organisation of past landscapes and they provide evidence for the wider contemporary context within which other nationally important monuments were constructed.

This prehistoric field system on the tip of Peninnis Head survives well, clearly displaying the character of the prehistoric land division and the strong influences upon it of the natural topography. Its broader prehistoric land use context is illustrated by the field system survivals on the east flank of the promontory and by the cairn cemetery about the summit. Its relationship with that cairn cemetery also demonstrates the wider manner in which farming and funerary activities were organised among the prehistoric communities that used this field system.


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


The monument includes a prehistoric field system extending along the coastal flank at the tip of Peninnis Head, a broad promontory on the south coast of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. The field system is defined by rubble banks, up to 1.5m wide and 0.5m high, generally turf-covered but most lengths incorporate a row of projecting spaced boulders and edge-set slabs, up to 1.25m long, 0.7m high and commonly 1m-3m apart. Where the banks run along the slope they appear as marked steps, called lynchets, caused by soil movement on the gradient against the banks' uphill sides and away from their downhill sides, a process accelerated by early cultivation. The field system's boundaries define two subrectangular plots which adjoin end to end along the upper coastal slope, their layout strongly influenced by the underlying terrain. Their north east - south west long axes extend along the contour, while the upper ends of the field system's three downslope walls terminate on natural bedrock outcrops and a massive natural boulder. The south western plot measures 68m long, north east - south west, by up to 38m wide; its south west wall rises to a large bedrock exposure that abuts and defines much of this plot's south west end. Its north east end wall ascends the slope, beside a steep scarp to its north east, and continues for a further 5.5m beyond the upper corner of the plot to terminate on a prominent natural boulder. Beyond that north east end-wall and the scarp alongside it, the adjoining prehistoric plot occupies a broad natural hollow facing south east, its rear defined by the steep scarp. The plot makes use of the hollow's gently sloping floor for its interior. It is defined across the south east, open, side of the hollow by a wall 60m long, extending north east from the adjacent plot's south east wall and curving north over its final 16m to run to a large outcrop at the far end of the hollow. The foot of the steep scarp defining its western and northern sides results in a plot measuring c.40m wide. Beyond this monument, another area of prehistoric field system of similar character occupies the eastern coastal flank of Peninnis Head, from 90m to the north east. This monument is considered to be an outlier from that field system, exploiting a usable pocket of land on the largely rocky flanks at the end of the promontory. By contrast, a broadly contemporary cemetery of funerary cairns is dispersed about the summit area of the promontory's tip, the nearest being situated 30m north of the monument. These cairns are the subjects of separate schedulings.

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: 15467

Legacy System: RSM


SW area of field system in SMR entry, Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7419, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9109 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7420, (1988)

End of official listing