Unraveling the Mysterious History of Bant’s Carn on the Scilly Isles

The Scilly Isles, an enchanting archipelago located off the south-west coast of England, has long been a favorite destination for visitors seeking warm climates and beautiful beaches. However, beyond its natural allure, these islands hold a treasure trove of historic sites that captivate those with a passion for ancient history. Among these is the enigmatic Bant’s Carn, a unique entrance grave and a fine specimen of burial practices in Western Europe, offering a fascinating glimpse into the prehistoric past.

The Mysterious History of Bant’s Carn

Bant's Carn
A reconstruction illustration showing the late Iron Age courtyard houses at Halangy Down Ancient Village. Source: Illustration by Phil Kenning / Hİstoric England

The origins of the Scilly Isles date back to approximately 2500 BC, during the Bronze Age when the sea levels were significantly lower, making the isles more easily accessible as one large island. Bant’s Carn, which now rests near the coast, was once situated inland, surrounded by fertile fields.

Built shortly after the first human settlement on the isles, Bant’s Carn is believed to have been constructed by people from what is now Cornwall. This distinctive burial site likely served as a final resting place for the cremated remains of local inhabitants and is one of around 80 similar examples found throughout Scilly. Known as the Scillonian type, these graves have been discovered across southern Britain, Brittainy, and south-east Ireland.

Adjacent to the communal burial site stands a standing stone, known as the Long Stone, which aligns with the grave during summer sunrises. This alignment suggests that Carn may have had additional ceremonial and astronomical functions. Another theory speculates that the site was used as a marker delineating tribal or clan territories.

Not far from the small Iron Age settlement of Halangy Down, the tomb likely accommodated Romano-British inhabitants during the Roman era, serving as their final resting place.

As the Iron Age progressed, people began to prefer individual burials, leading to the eventual abandonment of Carn. However, the site’s preservation was likely aided by numerous local folktales surrounding its mystique.

In 1900, a group of archaeologists investigated Bant’s Carn, and in the 1970s, the fallen entrance stones were restored to their original position, preserving this invaluable historical gem.

The Enigmatic Structure of Bant’s Carn

Bant's Carn
An interior view of Bant’s Carn, Scilly Isles (Stringer, J / CC BY-NC 2.0

Bant’s Carn, an exceptional example of a Scillonian entrance grave, is situated on the island of St. Mary, resting atop a hill overlooking the ancient remains of Halangy Down village. Originally, the burial monument featured a circular mound within a stone ring. Over time, the cairn was covered with earth and grass, concealing the rectangular burial chamber constructed from slabs, though much of it remains visible today.

The site’s most distinctive feature is the stone-lined narrow entrance, once covered by multiple capstones, some of which can still be seen. A stone jamb separates the entrance from the inner burial chamber, and the entire mound is supported by a stone block that has bravely withstood countless Atlantic storms over the centuries.

Bant’s Carn boasts an outer platform encircling the cairn, supported by a stone kerb. Currently, the mound measures approximately 25 feet (8 m) in length and 20 feet (7 m) in width. In ancient times, the roofless mound would have been crowned by an imposing cairn. The shape of the inner burial chamber resembles that of a boat, believed to hold symbolic significance.

Adjacent to Bant’s Carn lies the village of Halangy Down, where prehistoric stone-lined terraces and ruins of eleven stone houses still stand, with stone cupboards built into the walls.

Visiting Bant’s Carn on the Scilly Isles

Reaching Bant’s Carn on St. Mary’s Isle is an adventure in itself, as visitors can either take a leisurely stroll or cycle to the site. A mere half-mile away from Carn stands the intriguing Long Stone, an 8-foot-high slab that some claim features a carved face, providing yet another intriguing aspect to explore.

English Heritage oversees the management of the site, and admission is free for visitors wishing to delve into the historical wonders of Bant’s Carn. The site warmly welcomes curious souls during daylight hours.


Carn stands as a testament to the rich history of the Scilly Isles, offering a captivating glimpse into the lives and customs of ancient inhabitants. As visitors venture through this remarkable entrance grave, they can immerse themselves in the enigma that once connected the living to the afterlife, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of these beautiful islands.

Is Bant’s Carn accessible by car?

Bant’s Carn can be reached by bike or on foot, as the site is not directly accessible by car. However, the short journey on foot or bicycle adds to the charm of the visit.

What is the significance of the Long Stone?

The Long Stone, situated near the communal burial site, aligns with Carn during summer sunrises, suggesting possible ceremonial and astronomical connections.

Can visitors enter the inner burial chamber?

No, the inner burial chamber is not open for public entry to preserve its historical integrity. However, visitors can marvel at its exterior and appreciate its symbolic boat-like shape.

Is there an entrance fee to visit Bant’s Carn?

No, visiting Bant’s Carn is free of charge, courtesy of English Heritage’s management.

What is the best time to visit Bant’s Carn?

Bant’s Carn can be visited at any time during daylight hours, allowing visitors to explore this historical gem at their convenience.

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