Prehistoric field system and settlement in southern Appletree Bay, Tresco


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016180

Date first listed: 25-Sep-1997


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric field system and settlement in southern Appletree Bay, Tresco
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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: Tresco

National Grid Reference: SV 89088 13492


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.

The prehistoric field system in Appletree Bay survives reasonably well, displaying its manner of layout and construction. Its survival, reaching an unusual depth below present sea level, is also sufficiently extensive to show variation in its degree of subdivision, providing rare evidence for differing intensities of land use in a now-submerged area of the prehistoric landscape. This is enhanced by the closely associated occupation debris towards Carn Near, demonstrating the relationship between the patterns of prehistoric land use and settlement. Despite minor displacements by wave action, the extensive survival of the field system well into and beyond the inter-tidal zone confirms its overall long term stability against a considerable period of submergence. The wider landscape context contemporary with the field system's use is well illustrated by the nearby prehistoric field system and settlement survivals around the coasts of southern Tresco.


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


The monument includes a prehistoric field system on the middle and lower shore of the southern half of Appletree Bay, extending west from the southern headland of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly. Further remains, together with prehistoric settlement debris, are also visible in early soil exposures beneath sand dunes backing the adjacent upper shore. A relatively recent inter-tidal enclosure is located on the middle shore near the southern edge of the scheduling. Over the middle and lower shore, the prehistoric field system walls are visible as rows of slabs and small boulders, closely-spaced or forming continuous lines and frequently set on edge. The slabs are generally 0.3m-0.5m long by 0.2m-0.5m wide and 0.2m-0.5m high; in some sectors the walls act as slight breakwaters, trapping aggregations of surface rubble alongside. The field system's full extent known from successive surface surveys and from aerial photographs is not normally visible at any one time due to shifting sandbanks. The overall field system revealed from such records indicates a rectilinear pattern based on at least four major walls with finer subdivision by cross walls in the south east of the field system's known extent. The four principal walls run roughly parallel on north-south or NNE-SSW alignments, approximately 65m-100m apart. The northern ends of the western two appear among the sandbanks of Tresco Flats and the eastern two in the upper shore sand of Appletree Bay; their visible remains end at the south as they approach a bedrock and boulder bank called Long Crow, curving west from Carn Near. The western two walls appear as large scale divisions of the terrain, lacking finer subdivision by visible or known cross walls. By contrast, the area defined by the eastern two walls and the present coastline is crossed by a series of walls running down the shore, roughly on WNW-ESE axes, defining subrectangular plots. Some finer detail recorded includes part of a trackway defined by two NNE-SSW banks spaced 2.5m apart, exposed towards the eastern edge of the present middle shore. Between the alignments of the central pair of NNE-SSW walls, another prehistoric wall extends for at least 80m on a north east-south west course, obliquely crossing the field system's dominant axes; its course runs parallel with the northern edge of the Long Crow bank, which will have formed a low ridge in the pre-submergence landscape. Although the gradual submergence of the land since the prehistoric period has produced relatively little disturbance to the field system in the flatter terrain of the bay, the present level of the sea is eroding a slight coastal cliff where it meets the rising land of Tresco's southern headland in the south east of the scheduling. There it exposes an early soil and land surface sealed beneath the later dunes of blown sand. At three locations, the low cliff reveals walling similar in character to that exposed on the nearby shore but in one case retaining a fuller complement of its wall's small stone content and an upper course of slabs giving a total height of 1m. Two of the walls run directly into the cliff face but the southernmost, situated 45m NNW of the Carn Near outcrop, crosses an exposure of the early land surface revealed by a recession of the overlying dune. This southern wall is visible for 4m, curving slightly towards the cliff at each end; much of its length appears as a double line of edge-set slabs 0.2m-0.3m high. This wall is considered to derive from a prehistoric settlement whose spread of occupation debris has produced flint artefacts and fragments of prehistoric pottery from the early soil exposed in the adjacent cliff face. Relatively recent exploitation of the inter-tidal zone has produced a rubble- walled rectangular enclosure on the middle shore at the north side of the Long Crow bank; the enclosure has a fairly neat inner face and is considered to have formed a holding tank for shellfish, crabs or lobsters. Beyond this monument, further exposures of prehistoric field system remains occur on the east side of Tresco's southern headland in Bathinghouse Porth and at Crab's Ledge.

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: 15503

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Gray, A, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Prehistoric Habitation Sites on the Isles of Scilly, , Vol. 11, (1972), 19-49
7/1/3 in MPPA copy-slide collection, CAU AP slide, ref unknown, looking down on south Appletree Bay, (1990)
CAU, Scilly SMR entry PRN 7672, (1990)
CAU, Scilly SMR entry PRN 7673, (1990)
CAU, Scilly SMR entry PRN 7674, (1990)
CAU, Scilly SMR entry PRN 7675, (1990)
Commercial photo taken c1994, Island Photos, Hughtown, St Mary's, Scilly, Air photo looking NNE across southern Tresco, (1994)
Commercial photo taken c1994, Island Photos, Hughtown, St Mary's, Scilly, Air photo looking NNE across southern Tresco, (1994)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7339, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7340, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7349, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8913 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Maps; Cornwall sheet LXXXVII: 2 Source Date: 1888 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Maps; Cornwall sheet LXXXVII: 2 Source Date: 1908 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Maps; SV 8813-8913 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing