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Uncovering 4,000-year mystery of crystal path

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 19, 2013

By SIMON PARKER

Dig director James Gossip begins the excavation of the Hurlers quartz pavement   PICTURES: EMILY WHITFIELD-WICKS

Dig director James Gossip begins the excavation of the Hurlers quartz pavement PICTURES: EMILY WHITFIELD-WICKS

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The delicate task of uncovering one of Cornwall's most intriguing historical treasures for the first time since the 1930s got under way on Bodmin Moor yesterday.

Using small shovels and their trademark trowels, archaeologists from Cornwall Council's Historic Environment department led a team of volunteers as they painstakingly lifted the turf from a "crystal causeway" at the world-famous Hurlers stone circles near Minions.

The excavation, which is part of a wider project called Mapping The Sun, is expected to be completed by the weekend, when the public are being invited to view what the team hope will be a remarkable sight.

The unique 4,000-year-old Bronze Age quartz pavement, which experts believe to be the only one of its kind in the British Isles, has not been seen since a team from the Ministry of Works discovered it 75 years ago.

Dig director James Gossip said he had been inundated with requests to take part in the excavation.

"There is enormous interest in this, not only locally but from right across Cornwall," he said. "A lot of the volunteers have worked with me before and I've tried to put them with those who are new to this sort of thing."

The team began by systematically lifting turfs and laying them aside before moving on to trowel and brush work later in the week.

"We know it is here and we don't expect it to be very far below the surface so really we need to take it easy," said James. "All the time we are looking carefully at the ground, looking out for any stones we think might be part of the pavement and any artefacts that might be associated with it but that weren't spotted in the 1930s."

The aim is to expose the entire stone surface by the end of Friday or Saturday.

"Our objective is to make it look as clean and beautiful as possible, so that it's sparkling," he added.

Organised by the Caradon Hill Area Heritage Project, the Heritage Lottery funded event offers a range of activities throughout the week. These will include astronomy workshops with Brian Sheen from Roseland Observatory, a sunrise equinox walk on Saturday, a geophysical survey, a display of Bronze Age artefacts and an exhibition of archive photographs.

Lead archaeologist Jacky Nowakowski, who found a record of the 1938 dig quite by accident, will also be leading walks through the ancient landscape at 10am and 2pm on Saturday.

Jacky said she was confident the dig would reveal important information about the monument. As well as writing a report and taking detailed photographs of the pavement, the team will also make a drawn record of the site.

"We assume it was reburied when they had finished their survey in 1938," she said. "We just hope it has survived in a good condition. Next week we will be covering it up again and reinstating the site."

Waiting patiently for the first stones of the causeway to be revealed yesterday, Jacky added: "It is a real privilege to be doing this. It has generated an enormous amount of interest, with people of all ages coming to take a look and several groups of schoolchildren. It is turning into a very good community experience."

For full details of events, visit caradonhill.org.uk

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