People were more likely to live in round houses during this period but these unusual courtyard houses offered advantages. The courtyard created by the buildings provided a sheltered area for chores like weaving and for keeping livestock in the winter.
There was a settlement of some kind at Chysauster from around 400BC but the courtyard houses were probably built at least 500 years later. There are ten houses at Chysauster and each has an open yard or courtyard area surrounded by the dry stone walls of the living and storage buildings. Some inside and outside areas are paved with granite slabs and covered drains pass through the buildings, either bringing in or taking away water. Their roofs would have been made from turf (grass and earth) or thatch.
Growing and gathering food would have been a priority for the people living in the courtyard houses and small walled terraces next to the homes may have been areas for gardens or livestock. Terraces and fields surround the site and can still be seen today. As well as farming, the community might have carried out tin streaming or wool production. It would have taken a great community effort to move the large amounts of stone needed to landscape and build the settlement. It is thought that up to 70 people could have lived on the site at its peak. The community at Chysauster probably moved away by 400AD.
Unique to the west
Courtyard houses aren’t found in other places and have only been identified west of Hayle Estuary and on the Isles of Scilly. Some are single homes and others are grouped in hamlets, like at Chysauster. Courtyard houses are sometimes set near an earlier monument; for instance, Chysauster and Carn Euny (near Sancreed) both have fogous (artificial underground passages) on the site, and there is a burial chamber at Halligye Down (near Trelowarren) . It’s not clear why people built homes in this style when most of the population were living in rounds and unenclosed round houses.
Did you know?
The people who lived in the courtyard houses at Chysauster would have spoken a British language that later developed into Cornish.