Prehistoric field system on eastern Peninnis Head, St Mary's


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric field system on eastern Peninnis Head, St Mary's
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
St. Mary's
National Grid Reference:
SV 91210 09636

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.

The prehistoric field system on the east flank 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 south 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.


The monument includes a prehistoric field system along the eastern flank 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 2m wide and 0.5m high, generally turf-covered but occasional lengths incorporate continuous rows of projecting boulders and edge-set slabs up to 0.9m high. Where they roughly follow the contour the banks appear as marked steps, called lynchets, rising to 1m high along their downslope face and formed 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 a series of adjoining subrectangular plots visible along at least 190m of the ENE-facing slope behind the end of the promontory, extending into the south eastern of the modern fields that subdivide much of this flank. Their layout is strongly influenced by the underlying terrain, with banks tending to run either north west - south east, along the slope, or north east - south west, directly downslope. In addition, natural bedrock outcrops and massive boulders were used as focal points to define corners and, with some larger outcrops, the sides of some plots. At least six small plots are visible, of 0.15ha-0.25ha in extent. In the more uneven ground behind the extreme tip of the promontory, the plot at the south east is irregular in shape, defined to each side by large outcrops and along its upper, south west, side by a curving bank linking the upper ends of the outcrops. The bank along the upper edge of the rest of the field system then curves up the slope and heads north west, straight to a small outcrop near the centre of the nearby modern field and continuing beyond as a slight lynchet to the northern modern wall of that field. At least two banks run downslope from this upper boundary, one near the top of its curved sector, the other from the outcrop in the modern field, creating three more plots along the flank's upper slope. Each of these plots has a lower boundary, visible as a wall linking lower slope outcrops below the south eastern plot and, below the central and north western plots, as pronounced midslope lynchets across the modern field. Below those lynchets, banks run downslope to define two further plots occupying the lower slope. Beyond this monument, another area of prehistoric field system of similar character occupies the south east coastal flank at the tip of Peninnis Head, from 90m to the south west, exploiting a usable pocket of land on the largely rocky flanks at the end of the promontory. In addition, a broadly contemporary cemetery of funerary cairns is dispersed about the summit area at the tip of the promontory, the nearest being situated 85m SSW of this scheduling. These features 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:
Legacy System:


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


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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