This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

Prehistoric settlement and Romano-British shrine on Nornour

List Entry Summary

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.

Name: Prehistoric settlement and Romano-British shrine on Nornour

List entry Number: 1015674


The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.


District: Isles of Scilly

District Type: Unitary Authority

Parish: St. Martin's

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 24-Oct-1972

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Nov-1998

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 15490

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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 prehistoric settlement and Roman religious site on Nornour survives reasonably well. Although there was limited rebuilding to consolidate specific unstable features after excavation, many built structures remain largely intact with unexcavated wall fills and underlying deposits while areas of unexcavated deposits are visible within the settlement complex and its vicinity, including intact midden deposits exposed in the cliff section. Excavation at this settlement has provided one of the fullest pictures of a developing Bronze and Iron Age settlement in south west England, producing rare and detailed evidence for its overall structural layout, facilities and sequence, together with its social organisation, cultural assemblage and economy. The environmental evidence gathered during the excavation both enhances our knowledge of the settlement's former context and remains of major importance in understanding the landscape history of the Isles of Scilly and the gradual submergence of its land mass. The Roman reuse of part of the settlement for religious activity is highly unusual in this remote setting and in a building unmodified from its later prehistoric construction. Besides its unusual setting it is also a rare expression in south west England of religious activity generally associated with more Romanised parts of Britain, contributing further to our knowledge of Romano-British religious practices and the relationship of Isles of Scilly to other parts of Roman Britain. The Roman artefacts from this settlement amplify our knowledge of trade routes and connections affecting Scilly and the south western peninsula; they also include a important collection of brooches whose analysis has considerably furthered our understanding of the technology of Roman enamelling.


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


The monument includes a prehistoric settlement, partly reused for religious activity in the Romano-British period, situated by the south coast of Nornour, an uninhabited island in the Eastern Isles of the Isles of Scilly. The settlement occupies a natural basin at the foot of the island's steep southern slope. It includes at least 11 rounded rubble buildings and major ancillary structures; many adjoin or partly overlap to form a building complex extending 56m WSW-ENE and 10m-20m wide along the coastal margin. The buildings form two groupings within the overall settlement, separated by a narrow gap west of centre. Excavations in the 1960s-1970s provided considerable information on the nature, dating and development of this settlement. The earliest structural phase includes an excavated scatter of post holes, gullies and slab-edged hearths partly sealed beneath later buildings in the eastern half of the settlement and broadly contemporary with an early midden further west for which radiocarbon evidence indicates an early to mid-2nd millennium BC date. These features were followed by successive phases spanning the remainder of the Bronze and Iron Ages during which the visible buildings were built, modified and variously passed out of use. These buildings have rounded or oval rubble-walled interiors, 2.5m-5.5m across. Some are free-standing, others are cut into higher ground or earlier wall and midden debris; several buildings show episodes of wall-thickening and repair. A distinctive feature of three buildings is radial subdivision of their internal periphery by short rubble walls called piers, some linked by walling across their inner ends. Examination of the overall complex indicates a sequence starting with a single building in each of the eventual eastern and western groupings of the settlement and with only a limited number of buildings in use at any one time. This pattern is thought to reflect the developing domestic areas of a single family group within each of the settlement's eastern and western areas. The latest prehistoric phases identified at the settlement involved a round building at the western edge of the western area, producing a structure later to be reused during the Roman period. The round building underwent major modification by adding an oval room to its east. A flat-topped clay hearth was raised over an earlier central hearth in the round room and surrounded by a row of slab benches within earlier radial piers. A rectangular hearth was added east of the raised hearth and slab paving was laid around the hearths and in a passage linking the rooms. Abundant occupation debris accompanies the settlement, both on habitation surfaces and heaped as middens which remain visible in the coastal cliff. Excavated material included flint, bone and very scarce copper-alloy artefacts, stone bowls and early corn-grinding stones called saddle querns. Large amounts of pottery were recovered, mostly locally made Bronze and Iron Age types, showing continuity of settlement and stylistic conservatism compared with the mainland. Animal bone indicated a economic predominance of cattle, sheep, seal, shallow-water fish and a range of bird species with sporadic occurrences of whale, dolphin and pig. Midden fabrics were usually dominated by limpet shells, either from food or bait for fishing. Pollen analysis indicated a maritime pasture, some cereal growing and a little woodland in the prehistoric landscape around the settlement, land which subsequently has become largely submerged to leave only the former hills surviving as the present islands. By the later 1st century AD, early in the Roman period, only the western double-roomed building remained open to accumulate further deposits, the rest of the settlement being abandoned and possibly masked by blown sand. Roman activity involved reuse of the building rather than structural modification. The unusual range and quantities of artefact found in Roman deposits of the room interiors also indicate that activity was highly specialised and lacked the normal debris of domestic occupation. The artefacts include about 300 brooches, 84 coins, 24 glass beads, 11 bracelets, 2 spoons, decorated studs and a number of fragments of white-clay goddess figurines. Many artefacts are enamelled and the brooches include a diverse range of British and Continental forms which, as with the figurines made in central Gaul, circulated widely in Roman Britain particularly during the 2nd century AD. All are types of object known to have formed votive offerings at Romano-Celtic temple sites, where they can occur in similar association and in comparable concentrations and quantities. Consequently, it is considered the Romano-British reuse of the double-roomed building was either as a small shrine itself or as a close ancillary building providing items for votive use at a shrine sited nearby. Dates of the coins and brooches indicate this activity flourished from the later 1st to late 4th centuries AD, followed by abandonment of the building and its inundation by blown sand. Beyond this scheduling, prehistoric funerary cairns and settlement remains survive on most larger islands in the Eastern Isles including Great Ganilly nearby to the south, with which Nornour is still joined at low tide levels. The prehistoric sites on Great Ganilly were linked by dry land continuous with the Nornour settlement in the landscape contemporary with their construction, when the Eastern Isles formed areas of high ground in the dissected terrain of a single broad peninsula.

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.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Ratcliffe, J , Straker, V, The Early Environment of Scilly, (1996)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Ashbee, P, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Ancient Scilly: retrospect, aspect and prospect, , Vol. 25, (1986), 186-219
Butcher, S A, 'Roman Crafts' in Enamelling, (1976), 42-51
Butcher, S A, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Excavations at Nornour, Scilly, 1969-73:the Pre-Roman Settlement, , Vol. 17, (1978), 29-112
Dudley, D, 'Arch J' in Excavations on Nor'nour in the Isles of Scilly, 1962-66, , Vol. 124, (1968), 1-64

National Grid Reference: SV 94439 14789


© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1015674 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 22-Sep-2018 at 01:44:30.

End of official listing