Funded by Historic England, a scientific research team has been looking into the historicity of the legendary Cornish Lyonesse. Early medieval historians had noted memories of a very large tract of land that was said to have slipped into the ocean off Cornwall, once extending across “one hundred and forty churches and a forest”. Since then Lyonesse has regrettably attracted wave after wave of swivel-eyed madmen, who have enfangled it with UFOs, psychic super-civilisations, dragon-headed spiritualists from Tibet and similar utter lunacy, until it’s become near impossible to even find the first historical accounts of the legend online. Thankfully the Encyclopaedia Britannica has it straight…
“… since the 13th century [there have been accounts] that concerned a submerged forest in this region, and a 15th-century Latin prose work, an account of the journeys of William of Worcester, makes detailed reference to a submerged land extending from St. Michael’s Mount to the Scilly Isles. William Camden’s Britannia (1586) called this land Lyonnesse, taking the name from a manuscript by the Cornish antiquary Richard Carew.”
Now six years of archaeological and seabed scientific work by the CISMAS Lyonesse Project has rigorously investigated the matter, albeit somewhat under cover of the hot topic of ‘sea-level rise’. The project has just published its final report, The Lyonesse Project: a study of the historic coastal and marine environment of the Isles of Scilly.
Their research has found that the Isles of Scilly were indeed a single large island 9,000 years ago, and that two-thirds of the island’s land mass was then submerged over a period of just 500 years between 2,500 and 2,000 BC. The team found “a submerged forest”, just as the 13th-15th century Lyonesse story had it — though no submerged land-bridge between the Scillies and St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. There were, of course, no churches to submerge at that time, though one imagines that “one hundred and forty” submerged stone circles might be a possibility.