Visitors can walk around village settlement, made up of stone-walled homesteads known as ‘courtyard houses’, to gain a sense of how the settlement was laid out
By Seema Anand Chopra
On a two day trip to Cornwall England we reached one more intriguing destination- the thrilling Chysauster ancient village from the first stop at the mysterious Men-an-Tol Stones. From the car park we stepped back in time to enter a region of elusive peacefulness. We walked through emerald greenery to scale a few steps that opened out into a spectacular stretch of knee-high grassland speckled with yellow flowers for miles on the gentle hill slope. A dirt track in the centre seemed to hug the grassland as we preceded on it towards the 2000 years old Chysauster-Courtyard-homes coming up on the horizon.
THE PRIMITIVE VILLAGE
The view from the top was dazzling with the blue sea faraway and the moorlands spread around us. The Village itself was hauntingly beautiful- its additional magnetism is its creepiness and melancholy! It was an exhilarating thought to be part of a landscape that had remained untransformed for centuries! We faced the primitive village that was scattered with the remains of unique 9 Courtyard houses that line a ‘Village street’. The ancient fields stretched over in the north beyond the Village. An aerial photograph displayed nearby was self explanatory.
We were about to enter into the time zone of 100 BC to the 3rd century when this must have been an extremely well planned and comfortable settlement. We looked around for any form of fortification and discovered none so we assumed the original Dumnoni tribe villagers to be majorly agriculturalists. This British tribe lived in Cornwall and Devon previously known as Dumnonia.
The other theory is the existence of a later Roman village at this site between 1st and 3rd century AD. The Courtyard houses here in Land’s End Peninsula of Cornwall England are identified with similar ones in the Isles of Scilly Italy. We also noticed that most of the homes had analogous designs whose approximately 3 meter thick walls enclosed Courtyards that survive to this day.
We studied the Village plan on the Board facing us and discovered that except House number 9 in the south-west, the rest of the 8 homes were made in a compact group of 2 rows of 4 each. Next we explored each and every accessible ‘Courtyard home’ walking through the ‘Village Streets’ to relive the settler’s life here. We walked ahead to House number 6 that held an illustration of what the Courtyard may have looked like- its people and interiors. Keeping the illustration in mind it was effortless to imagine the joyful coziness of its dwellers centuries back….the horses, pigs tied in a corner with children playing and women cooking. The archaeological finds have endorsed this scenario too.
The open courtyard had series of rooms around it and we crossed a narrow drain like water channel across the courtyard to reach the singular feature of the Iron Age Homes – the Circular room in each home along with a Long room on the side. These could have been the main Living rooms. The Kitchen was inside the Circular room that was at the far end of the Entrance and held additionally held a backdoor that possibly led into the Fields. The Central room was the easiest to spot with a central Hearth for cooking and warmth. Evidence suggests that the roofs of the rooms were of Thatch or were Turf but some smaller rooms had corbelled- stone roofs too (a solid piece of stone jutting out of the wall). Maybe the latter were used for animals or storing grain.
Looking around i thought that the walls that are today heaps of grey smooth stones might have been mud-plastered and lime- washed once !! The Garden plots were attached to each home with larger terraced fields along the hillside where cereal summer crops were grown. We deduced that the Village – a witness to happy homes was abandoned slowly as the population dwindled or was it lack of fuel…..
THE DAZZLING VIEW
After surveying the deserted Chysauster ancient Village we turned back to absorb the faraway view of the Saint Ives town hugging the Celtic sea to the left and the rolling green meadows of Cornwall spread around us. The hilltop view from the village is spectacular- from the green slopes to all the way towards the sea. Some brave spring Bluebell flowers peeped amongst the summer sun- roasted green meadows to shades of brown .We strolled down to the remains of the unfathomable Fogou- the underground passage in the South-east of the village which is blocked presently for safety reasons. It has been assigned several purposes amongst which are Ritual sites or something as simple as a Cold-store!
CELT TREE OF LIFE
From the mysterious Fogou we moved back towards the car park and stopped by at the English Heritage Souvenir Shop. It was a welcome change to see another human besides us after such a long time that too a warm person. We chatted about our exhilarating visit to the intriguing Chysauster Village .While browsing through the display items i spotted a Celtic Tree of Life Throw- a Tapestry worth 85 Pounds. I compared it to the Vat-Vriksh or Tree of Life from Hindu mythology and a widespread concept in world mythologies – a sacred tree related to numerous religions and philosophies connecting all forms of creations- however big or small!
The lady behind the counter told us that yes ancient Celts believed that trees were a source of great wisdom and had the power to bridge the gap between the Upper and Lower world. I appended that according to Indian Mythology the entire universe is a form of Tree of Life whose branches reached the Heaven and the roots into the underworld! She added that when the Celt tribes created a settlement by clearing up a large piece of land they left one big tree in the centre as an Assembly place and inaugurated their Chieftains below it so that they absorbed power from above and beneath.
The ancient Celts believed that all living things were spiritual, mystical beings specially the Trees. They provided sustenance to animals and plants; provide a supply of medicines and fuel. So during rituals wood-fires were created as we do during a Havan. I looked at the Throw and tried to identify numerous creatures intricately woven into and around the Tree of life.
We walked back to the car-park neither meeting nor seeing anyone else. Our thoughts not only dwelled on the melancholic portrait of the deserted ancient Chysauster Village caught in a time warp but were also on the Celt Tree of Life Tapestry that had aroused ancient connections to Indian, Christian, Iranian, Egyptian, Buddhist, Chinese and many more scriptures!
The Tree of Life and Indian Mythology
On the Yamuna bank in Allahabad is the divine eternal Akshay Vat- the Banyan tree which is said to have remained intact during the Pralay when water enveloped the world. The Rig-Veda and Atharva-Veda speak of this immortal ageless Tree under which hundreds of faiths bloomed and is the Life-Giving Tree to thousands of creatures.