The Story of Boden Fogou
“At Bodean Veor, in the Parish of St Anthony, is an artificial cave, of about thirty yards in length. It is merely an excavation of the earth, without any stone for walls or roof, four or five feet underground. Its situation, on the highest part of the hill, suggests the idea of some military works near it – but none at present are discoverable” - Reverend Richard Polwhele, Vicar of Manaccan, 1803
These words by Rev Polwhele appeared to refer to a ‘fogou’, or underground tunnel unique to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, but its location was unknown until the summer of 1991 when the present landowner and farmer Mr Christopher Hosken was laying a water pipe alongside a hedge in a field near Boden Vean and discovered a loosely filled pit or ‘well’ from which he recovered finds including Romano-British pottery and fragments of quern stones. Nearby Chris cut a small trench to locate an underground tunnel mentioned to him by an elderly local resident and found the edge of what appeared to be an infilled, stone-walled passage. The tunnel proved to be an infilled, stone-walled passage, which was examined and recorded in September that year by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, who also recorded and reported on the structure, fill and finds from the ‘well’.
These initial discoveries led to a geophysical survey by English Heritage’s Ancient Monuments Laboratory (AML) with the aim of mapping the extent of fogou itself whilst also placing the monument in a wider landscape context (Fig). Geophysical anomalies indicated the possible extent of the fogou set within a rectilinear enclosure and probable prehistoric activity in the surrounding field revealing a landscape of considerable archaeological complexity.
Excitement surrounding the site grew even more when a ‘hole’ in the ground was revealed during tractor work in 1996 giving access to a 5m long passage cut into the rock and shillet subsoil. It became apparent that this ‘earth-cut’ tunnel may be the ‘artificial cave’ recorded by Polwhele.
A programme of evaluation trenching was undertaken by Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU) in 2003 to investigate geophysical anomalies with seven trenches in order to better understand the monument and its context – the results from these trenches revealed:
• Part of a Middle Bronze age roundhouse containing a very large and highly decorated Trevisker Ware vessel dated to circa 1400BC.
• The well preserved but roofless long passage of a fogou constructed from dry-stone walling. Basal deposits suggest that the fogou was constructed in the Early Iron Age, circa 400 BC.
• A sub-rectangular enclosure contemporary with the fogou at its norther edge defined by a ditch approximately 2.5m deep and 3m wide. Radiocarbon dated residues from pottery suggest construction circa 400 BC.
• Later use of the enclosure in the post-Roman period (6th century AD).