Chysauster Ancient Village, Cornwall


Iron Age house
Passage in the fogou

Well-preserved remains of a late Iron Age settlement; multiple-room houses formed of thick stone walls, on high ground in a remote, scenic part of west Cornwall
Along a lane near Chysauster, 5 miles north of Penzance; TR20 8XA
Chysauster Ancient Village is the largest, best preserved and most famous of over two dozen late Iron Age/early Roman settlements in Cornwall, and it has an evocative setting on the slopes of a low ridge, surrounded by open, treeless moorland, with wide-ranging views, including south towards Penzance and the coast. Like Carn Euny, 6 miles southwest, the site is managed by English Heritage, and although it has been subject to a certain amount of restoration, in the early 20th century, it remains largely original.

The village of Chysauster was established around 400 BC, and inhabited for some 800 years; in its final state it consisted of ten houses positioned in pairs along a central track, each formed of several rooms with stone walls and thatched roofs, arranged around an open courtyard. Seven of the houses are still clearly evident, while the other three are fragmentary.

Despite its remote location, and unlike Carn Euny, the site is staffed when open, and charges a relatively high entrance fee, £9.50 for adults, though could presumably be reached without payment by walking across the adjacent moorland, the Garnaquidden Downs, in which are found various other traces of ancient life including hut circles, field systems and tumuli - all of this part of west Cornwall is very rich in archaeological sites.


The designated parking place for Chysauster is a walled enclosure along a narrow, unnamed country lane 4 miles north of Penzance, off the B3311. A pleasant path, guarded by a gate which is locked after hours, leads between a hedge and an orchard then alongside a field, for 600 feet, to the English Heritage fee booth, continuing up a gentle, grassy slope to the village, which is situated just west of the crest of a low ridge, elevation around 200 metres, surrounded by fields and moorland. The village occupies a rectangular site 500 by 200 feet in extent, now crossed by a network of little paths between the various houses; at least an hour could be spent exploring, and appreciating the views.


Although founded around 400 BC, the Chysauster village reached its final size in the late first century, and the stone walls probably date from this period, though some of the nearby settlements and field systems are much older, up to 2000 BC, from the Bronze Age; the local people seem to have transitioned from living in isolated, single family dwellings, to communal villages, around the first century. Although England was under Roman rule at this time, this part of Cornwall is so remote that life would be largely unaffected; the nearest major Roman settlement was over 100 miles away, at Exeter. The village was abandoned in the third century, for reasons unknown. Like Carn Euny, Chysauster contains a fogou, an underground passage, though this example is damaged, unexcavated, and cannot be entered, its low opening closed by a metal grille.