Carn Euny Fogou and Beehive Hut

Fogous are a unique West Penwith structure. They are always associated with settlements, but in the case of Carn Euny at least the fogou pre-dates the Settlement, showing that the Settlement grew up around the fogou. ‘Fogou’ is a Cornish word meaning ‘cave’, which is an apt description of the structure. It consists of a roofed underground tunnel 20m (66ft) in length and over 1.8m (6ft) high. Both ends are now open, though originally both were sealed, and the only way into the fogou would have been by means of a tiny creep passage at the S end, which would only have been accessible by crawling down it. The fogou originally had a paved floor with drainage channels.
To the N of the fogou and attached to it is a Beehive Hut, a corbelled chamber 4.6m (15ft) in diameter and 2.4m (8ft) high. It is completely below ground level, but there is some doubt as to whether it would originally have been roofed or not. Today an artificial roof that was subsequently grassed over has been placed on it.

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Ordnance Survey Grid Reference

SW 4024 2885

Location

The Fogou is within the Carn Euny Courtyard House Settlement which is to be found near the farmland of Brane, deep in the hidden heartland of West Penwith.

Access

From Penzance take the A30 towards Land’s End. About a mile past the B3283 turning to St.Buryan you will see a small turn on your right that leads to Sancreed. [From St.Just take the A3071 towards Penzance and just past the turn to Sennen take the next right to Sancreed]. Near Sancreed take the signed turn northwards to Brane and Carn Euny. There is a small car parking area and then a walk up a lane and across fields to the site, which is managed by Cornwall Heritage Trust.

Purpose and Meaning

To unravel the possible purpose and meaning of the Fogou & Beehive Hut, we have to go back to the earliest period of its development. In the beginning, the Beehive Hut was constructed, with its entrance facing SE, and a recess at the back opposite to the entrance. This ‘hut’ was thus deliberately aligned to catch the first rays of the rising sun at the Mid- winter Solstice, which would have shone directly into the recess, which may have formed some kind of ‘altar’ to celebrate the rebirth of the sun God/dess. The next phase of building was the fogou, which was sealed at both ends, with access only by the creep passage. The orientation of the fogou (and most other extant fogous in Wesp Penwith) was now in a NE/ SW direction, which means that the northerly end would have received the rays of the rising Midsummer sun. About this time the houses in the Settlement were being built, and the Bee- hive Hut and Fogou were incorporated into the northern house, so that the house may have served as some kind of ante-chamber or preparation room for entering the Hut and Fogou.
What then was the purpose of the fogou? Three main suggestions have been made (1) refuge (2) storage & (3) ceremony and ritual. Refuge seems an unlikely function. As we have seen, both ends of the fogou were sealed, so once inside the inhabitants would have been trapped and easy to smoke out or be destroyed. Although fogous bear a superficial resemblance to souterrains in Ireland, Scotland and Brittany from the same period, in fact souterrains, which were used for refuge, are very different, with false passages, hidden doors and secret areas. Storage is also unlikely. It has been shown that most foodstuffs would per- ish very quickly if stored there. Only dairy products would do well, and fogous seem unnecessarily elaborate to serve as an Iron Age fridge! Ceremony & Ritual seems the most likely ex- planation. We may imagine that are significant times of the year, like Summer Solstice, initi- ates would crawl down into the chamber and await the rebirth of the sun as the first light en- tered the chamber through perhaps a removable stone at the entrance.

Damage Reports

Soiled nappy found behind the fogou