Context 153 - March 2018

18 C O N T E X T 1 5 3 : M A R C H 2 0 1 8 EDMUND SOUTHWORTH 10,000 years of settlement The first inhabitants to leave their mark on the Isle of Man have been followed by – among others – early Christians, Celts, Vikings, tourists, interned Germans and motorcyclists. The rich archaeology of the Isle of Man forms an important part of its cultural heritage. Not surpris- ingly there are similarities to the material cultures of its neighbours around the Irish Sea. Indeed, the island is visible to them and the average 30-mile sea journey was well within the range of most sea-faring cultures over the last 10,000 years. But the fusion and interaction between these communities over time has given much Manx archaeology a unique twist. In the same way, the processes of archaeological discovery are similar in that antiquarians and lat- terly commercial developers have been responsible for uncovering the past – but the absence of large-scale industrialisation and modern infrastructure means that much of it remains visible in the rural landscape. Indeed, much probably still remains to be discovered. The establishment of the Manx Museum and National Trust in the 1880s has meant that most of what has been discovered since then has been recorded and in many cases preserved, either in the museum or in the landscape, under a system of ‘guardianship’.All archaeological finds must be reported to the trust, which controls export licences and archaeological investigation. There is no evidence of human habitation before the end of the last ice age around 11,500 years ago, when the island gradually became disconnected from southern Scotland and Cumbria. The first inhabitants were late mesolithic coastal dwellers living in houses, storing hazelnuts, eating fish, curing skins and using microlithic flints. Recent finds from excavations at Ronaldsway have been radio-carbon dated to almost exactly 10,000 years ago, making this one of the earliest settlements in the British Isles. The transition to farming in the neolithic period took place on the island around 4,000 years BC and is clearly initially heavily influenced by other maritime people. Large-scale communal burial monuments on the island, such as the chambered tomb at Cashtal ynArd, back on to the sea and are similar to those in Galloway, less than 20 miles across the sea. Excavations at Billown in the south of the island show that the island eventually developed an agriculturally-based society, heavily influencing the landscape with houses, tracks and field boundaries. Technological change leading to the use of metals was aided by the availability of raw materials such as copper and lead.There is only limited evidence for copper mining but finds of bronze tools are becoming more frequent. Again, the recent excavations at Ronaldsway revealed a cluster of domestic houses and associated structures which can best be described as a village. Meayll Circle on the south of the Isle of Man provides evidence of occupation from neolithic to medieval times. Its Manx name, Rhullick- y-lagg-shliggagh, means ‘the graveyard of the valley of broken slates’.There are 12 burial chambers in an 18-foot ring, with six entrance passages leading into each pair of chambers. (Photo: Flickr, from CC 2.0 CultureVannin)