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Prehistoric settlement and Romano-British shrine on Nornour

A Scheduled Monument in St. Martin's, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.9549 / 49°57'17"N

Longitude: -6.2616 / 6°15'41"W

OS Eastings: 94436.035259

OS Northings: 14788.313626

OS Grid: SV944147

Mapcode National: GBR BXXS.YJC

Mapcode Global: VGYBZ.FD3F

Entry Name: Prehistoric settlement and Romano-British shrine on Nornour

Scheduled Date: 24 October 1972

Last Amended: 16 November 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015674

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15490

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: St. Martin's

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


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.

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.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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'
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.

Source: Historic England


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

Source: Historic England

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