Fogou

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The word Fogou or Fougou as it can also be spelt, derives from 'fogo' which was the Cornish word for cave. A fogou (pronounced "foo-goo") is an underground structure which is found in many Iron Age defended settlements throughout northern Europe including Cornwall and in northern Scotland including the Orkney Islands.

Contents

Construction

Fogous consist of a buried, corbelled stone wall, tapering at the top and capped by stone slabs. They were mainly constructed by excavating a sloping trench about 5 ft (1.5 m) wide and 6 ft (1.8 m) deep, lining it with drystone walling as stated, which was battered inwards and roofed with flat slabs; soil from excavation was heaped on top as at Pendeen Vau or incorporated in the rampart of the enclosure as at Halliggye Fogou, Trelowarren.[1]

Function

The purpose of a fogou is no longer known, and there is little evidence to suggest what it might have been. It has been conjectured that they were used for religious purposes, as refuges, or for food storage. Many are orientated south-west-north-east, facing the prevailing wind.[1] Their central location in settlements and the work which evidently went into constructing them is indicative of their importance to the community, which gives credence to a religious or ceremonial function.

The word derives from the Celtic *ifócw, meaning a cave. Locals in Cornwall called them 'fuggy-holes.'[2] Being open at both ends a fogou could provide ideal conditions for food storage,especially the drying of meat. Ashpits found at Trewardreva and in the circular side-chamber at Carn Euny were probably for preserving gulls eggs, as was done on Saint Kilda. A layer of black greasy mould with charcoal, animals and bird bones at Treveneague is also very suggestive of food storage. A statement made by Diodorus Siculus was that Iron Age people in Britain stored their grain in 'underground repositories', adding contemporary evidence to the speculation that they were mainly used for food storage.[1]

History & Archaeology

Tacitus describes the Germans hollowing out underground caves, covering them with manure and using them as storehouses and refuges from winter frosts. He also claimed that they hid in their boltholes to escape detection by raiders. Fogous may have had a similar function to the underground Kivas of the Native Americans.[3]

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