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Trethevy Quoit, portal dolmen in Cornwall	Source: Andy Chisholm / Adobe Stock

The Many Legends Accounting for the Mysterious Trethevy Quoit


Cornwall, a truly beautiful region in the British Isles, has a distinct regional identity. It is also home to many remarkable stone age monuments, of which Trethevy Quoit is one of the most famous. This well-preserved portal dolmen dates far back to 3500 BC, the Neolithic period, and has a mysterious history.

The History of Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall

Cornwall has been inhabited by people for thousands of years and the dolmen was constructed by a community of Neolithic people who lived in the vicinity. They were likely farmers, pastoralists, or fishermen, and must have had some form of central authority who would have given the instruction to construct the dolmen.

This monument required a lot of resources and a great deal of cooperation. There are similarities between the dolmens in Brittany, France, Wales and Ireland, which may suggest connections with these areas via sea links.

At one time the structure was covered with earth and stones and formed an artificial mound in the area. This dolmen may have been part of a cultural landscape where rituals and ceremonies took place.  Excavations of other sites have shown that these structures were used as communal tombs and were possibly associated with cults related to ancestor worship. Because of the soil’s acidity, only a few human bones have been found at Trethevy Quoit. Urns with cremated remains, which were placed in the monuments as late as the Iron Age, have been unearthed at other portal dolmens.

Poulnabrone portal tomb in Burren at sunrise, Ireland (Patryk Kosmider / Adobe Stock)

Poulnabrone portal tomb in Burren at sunrise, Ireland ( Patryk Kosmider / Adobe Stock)

It is not known when the site was abandoned, but it may have been revered by local Cornish people until the advent of Christianity. The structure stood at the remote site for hundreds of years and was first recorded in the 16 th century when the back of the monument was enclosed by a wall.

In Cornish mythology , the monument is known as the Giant’s House and was believed to have been created by this fabled race. Other stories connect the stones with the Arthurian legends, believed to have been magically built by Merlin. Some believe that the dolmen marks the site of a battle fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons.

The dolmen was first excavated by archaeologists in the 19 th century, but very few artifacts were found. In 2017, the Quoit was deemed to be at risk because of erosion and farming. However, after some restoration work, it was considered safe.

The Mysteries of Trethevy Quoit

This monument is almost 10-feet-tall (2.7 meters) high and is estimated to weigh up to 20 tons. Trethevy Quoit consists of five standing stones and upon them rests a large, flat stone of a type known as a portal dolmen. The standing slabs overlap and form a chamber, while the rear stone inclines inwards. All that is left of the back wall is a pile of rocks in the chamber.

The capstone or ‘roof’ of the chamber is currently positioned at a steep angle. Whether this is a deliberate design, or a result of soil subsidence, is unknown. A hole drilled into the capstone at some point, along with other holes in the standing stones, were probably for decoration.  

There was once an antechamber to the monument, a typical feature of Cornish portal dolmens, but only two of its stones are still standing. A platform that led from the dolmen to an open field was unearthed in recent years and this may have been linked to some ceremonial procession . This spot was likely deemed sacred by Neolithic people as Trethevy Quoit is located on a promontory that overlooks a convergence of streams that are the source of the River Seaton.

The Hurlers Stone Circle with abandoned tin mine in the background near Minions in Cornwall on Bodmin Moor (rachel / Adobe Stock)

The Hurlers Stone Circle with abandoned tin mine in the background near Minions in Cornwall on Bodmin Moor ( rachel / Adobe Stock)

The Hurlers, a series of three standing stones circles , are situated close by and date from the Bronze Age. The relationship of these stones to the dolmen, if any, is unknown.  Both sites are managed by English Heritage.

Visiting Trethevy Quoit in Beautiful Cornwall

The site is located near St Cleer in Cornwall, in the extreme south-west of England. There is a small car park adjacent to the site and the stones are located some distance from the road. This prehistoric monument is located near Bodmin Moor , a designated area of outstanding natural beauty.

Top image: Trethevy Quoit, portal dolmen in Cornwall    Source: Andy Chisholm / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan


Bradley, R. (1998). Ruined buildings, ruined stones: Enclosures, tombs and natural places in the Neolithic of south‐west England . World Archaeology, 30(1), 13-22

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Castleden, Rodney. The Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC . Routledge, 2002

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Dymond, C. W. (1881). Trethevy Stone. Journal of the British Archaeological Association: First Series, 37(2), 112-122

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Hard to say, it's all hard to say. This goes beyond technique, and no ones lifting those big rocks, unless humans were stronger at some point? But we would see other evidences of strength than balancing heavy rocks around no? So many dolmen to megalithic structures all over europe to even Asia to elsewhere. I personally study them.

"A hole drilled into the capstone at some point, along with other holes in the standing stones, were probably for decoration."

How about the holes where drilled in order to lift the stones.

How did they manage to drill such a perfectly round hole?

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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