Prehistoric linear boundary, cairn and post-medieval building on Taylor's Island, St Mary's


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015666

Date first listed: 21-Jan-1999


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric linear boundary, cairn and post-medieval building on Taylor's Island, 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 90581 11502


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.

The early linear boundaries of the Isles of Scilly were constructed from the Bronze Age to the early medieval period (c.2000 BC to AD 1066): closer dating within that period may be provided by their visible relationships to other classes of monument or by their relationship to an earlier recorded sea level. They consist of stone walls, up to 3m wide and 1.1m high but usually much slighter, and they served a variety of functions. These included separating land regularly cultivated from that less intensively used; separating land held by different social groups; or delineating areas set aside for ceremonial or religious activity. Linear boundaries along the coastal margin of the islands are often indistinguishable from truncated upper walls of early field systems, the rest of whose extent has been destroyed by the rising sea level. The Isles of Scilly contain examples of an association rarely encountered elsewhere, whereby certain linear boundaries are orientated on, and sometimes directly link, cairns, entrance graves and cists in some groups of prehistoric funerary monuments. Round cairns are one such class of funerary monument, constructed as mounds of earth and rubble, up to 40m in diameter but generally considerably smaller, covering single or multiple burials. A kerb of stones, often edge-set, sometimes bounds the edge of the mound. Burials were placed in small pits or on occasion within a box-like structure of stone slabs called a cist, set into the old ground surface or dug into the body of the cairn. Round cairns form a high proportion of the 387 surviving cairns recorded on the Isles of Scilly. Both early linear boundaries and round cairns provide significant insights into the physical and social organisation of past landscapes and form an important element in the existing landscape. Where closely associated, they give important evidence for developing relationships between religious and agricultural activity among prehistoric communities. The prehistoric linear boundary on Taylors' Island provides evidence for the presence and nature of early land use in an area now largely submerged by the rising sea levels but complementary to the important prehistoric field system and settlement survivals nearby along the coastal slope of St Mary's, thereby contributing to our wider view of land use and settlement organisation among prehistoric communities in the pre-submergence landscape of Scilly. The boundary's termination on the prominent outcrop on the west highlights the important influence of natural features on the detail of prehistoric land division. Its proximity to the cairn at the east, though partly disrupted by the later building, illustrates the integration of prehistoric settlement and funerary activity at an unusually low altitude. The cairn itself survives well, showing evidence for a funerary chamber despite the scattering of slabs on the mound surface suggesting some unrecorded disturbance. Its slightly off-centre mound within the kerb is an unusual feature. The nearby post-medieval building presents a rare example of such a small structure historically recorded as having been abandoned by the late 18th century yet still surviving unmodified by later alteration or extensive stone-robbing.


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


The monument includes a prehistoric linear boundary on Taylor's Island, a small uninhabited islet on the north side of Porthloo and linked at low tide to the west coast of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. The monument also includes a prehistoric funerary cairn on the east of the island and remains of a post-medieval building built into the east of the prehistoric boundary. The prehistoric linear boundary is visible as a wall of closely-spaced large slabs and boulders, mostly 0.5m high by 0.5m long but occasionally over 0.7m high and 1m long. The wall extends over a flattened area along the island's midline and is 20m long, WNW-ESE, with a shallow-angled course change near the centre. On the west it appears in a natural boulder spread at the foot of a craggy rock outcrop near the island's western tip. The wall's eastern end, near the centre of the island, is overlain by the much later north wall of the post-medieval building described below. Much of the immediately surrounding land to which this boundary related in the prehistoric period now lies submerged as the north of Porthloo; however on the adjacent coastal slope of St Mary's there are extensive broadly contemporary field systems incorporating prehistoric and later settlement sites from 300m to the north. The prehistoric cairn is located on the eastern end of the island's slight midline plateau, close to the east of a cluster of small natural outcrops. It survives with a circular mound, 10m in diameter, rising 0.5m high above the plateau surface on the west but 1.3m above the slope on the east. The mound has a flattened top, is approximately 4.5m diameter, and has several slabs embedded in its surface considered to derive from a former funerary chamber. The mound is situated east of centre within an ovoid kerb of spaced slabs, up to 1m long and 0.6m high, giving an overall kerb plan measuring 10m north- south by 14m east-west. At least three kerb slabs are visible on the east, along the lower slope of the mound, with at least four slabs on the west, on a curve up to 4m west of the mound. On the north, these opposed sectors of kerbing are linked by a slight step along the slope. The post-medieval building is situated from 3.25m west of the cairn's kerb. It has a rectangular wall defining an internal area measuring approximately 5m east-west by 3.5m north-south. The wall is of earth and rubble, generally 1m- 1.5m wide and 0.7m high, with larger rubble, roughly coursed, facing both sides. The building's north wall continues the alignment of the prehistoric boundary's visible eastern end; a broad gap in the west of that wall is considered to mark the building's entrance. Adjacent to the building is a slightly levelled area up to 4m to the north, defined on its east by a line of low slabs set in the turf, considered to be a former yard or garden plot. This building, probably of 17th or 18th century date, was described as being in ruins by Rev John Troutbeck writing in 1796.

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: 15481

Legacy System: RSM


Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7508, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9011 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing