F6 Archaeology

I cannot resist a couple of quotes - the first, dating from 1976, from Prof. Dolley (a numismatist who died prematurely but made a major contribution to the understanding of Manx coinage):

For the historian, too, there must always be misgivings that the best work on Manx history at the present time should be by archaeologists, and here there come to mind at once the names of Mr Basil Megaw and of Professor David Wilson building on foundations well and truly laid by the almost legendary P.M.C.Kermode.

The second is quoted (in the context of burnt mounds [Davey 1999 p 75]) by late Dr Larch Garrad (assistant keeper of Manx Museum 1964-1996):

Dr F.J. Tritsch, founder of Birmingham University's Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, commented from a continental viewpoint, that 'all British archaeology was no more than three bricks in a wet field' and that 'when it came to the Isle of Man you had just the wet field'. This was further glossed
...there is no means of finding the function of a Manx site other than excavation. The excavation results may still defy interpretation and as for dating ... pah?!

As Sir David Wilson (eminent Viking scholar, one time Director of British Museum and now retired on the Island) remarks in his introduction to [Davey1999], Manx Archaeology has seen a significant expansion in the last 30-40 years and especially following on the establishment of the Centre for Manx Studies which has taken over many of the more academic responsibilities from the previously grossly underfunded Manx Museum.

As Wilson notes, in some respects the constrained size of the Island encourages approaches that may well be infeasible in larger contexts - the availability of cheap off-season accommodation may also encourage student projects using the Island as an exemplar (e.g. University of Bournemouth has been associated with some work).

Although early work tended to be reported in Insular publications (or in some cases not reported at all) much of the more recent work has been spread across a wide range of professional journals thus making it inaccessible to nonprofessional readers. The imminent publication of one of the volumes of the Millennium History should correct this.


The figure shows the approximate dates of the main periods of interest in Island Archaeology. The reference point for most dates is 1950 - the last ice-age on the Island ended about 9,000 BC or 11,000 BP (before present).

archaeological eras

The names of the ages reflect mid 19th century thought - the Meso(middle) and Neo(new) lithic (stone) being divisions of the Stone Age which like the Bronze and Iron indicate the material from which tools were constructed. Medieval comes from Media - between - and eval (ages) and derives from it coming between the 'classic' age of Greece & Rome and the modern period.

Post 1500 is the modern period which, being the period in which written records predominate, is the main period covered by my pages.

The Medieval period whose start corresponds approximately to the arrival of Christianity on the Island and ends with the start of the Stanley lordship, has as pivot the Norse period (c.800-1250).

The cist burials of which the Island abounds would appear to date from around the end of the Neolithic to the start of the Bronze age onwards.


The start of modern archaeology can be seen in the mid Victorian period -
Chapter II of Oswald's Vestigia (Manx Soc vol v 1860) provides a good description of many sites before they were destroyed by modern farming or amateur excavation. Oswald, a retired medical doctor, reflects many of the thoughts current in the 1820s or earlier.

Cumming's Manx Antiquities (Manx Soc vol xv 1868) - an updated version of papers presented to a visit of the Cambrian Archaeological Society in 1865 shows much more of modern thought. The loss of Cumming from the Island was a major blow to the development both of Manx Geology and History.

H.B.Loch, a modernising force in many Island affairs from 1865 onwards, instituted an archaeological commission which reported in 1878; after another report from Boyd Dawkins who pointed out the wanton destruction of many sites Tynwald finally passed the Ancient Monuments Act giving legal protection for many sites. — the first report, in 1905, of the Manx Museum and Ancient Monuments Trustees gives a brief account of 'progress' between 1888 and 1905.

It was P.M.C.Kermode who almost single-handedly formed the IoMNH&ASoc and who pressed for the establishment of a National Manx Museum (an act passed in 1886 — see poster — finally saw one established in 1922) and did so much to put Manx Archaeology on a sound footing. His brief History of the Island prepared for the 1896 British Association meeting is still worth reading.

In 1904 he, together with Prof. Herdman of Liverpool University (the founder of the Port Erin Marine Biology Station) produced a small publication Illustrated Notes on Manx Antiquities — a second edition of which was published by Liverpool University in 1914 as Manx Antiquities which possibly can be taken as the start of the cooperation with the Island that led to the Centre for Manx Studies.

Kermode will be especially remembered for his work on Manx Crosses, but he published a List of Manx Antiquities in 1930 — many of the sites mentioned, he had investigated over the previous 50 years - the various Keeil sites were covered in the Manx Archaeological Surveys which just about managed to keep going thanks to substantial private donations by the then Governor Lord Raglan though the 5th volume waited almost 20 years for publication and the 6th volume was done in the 1960s.

The appointment of a new director of the Manx Museum following the retirement of W Cubbon saw greater emphasis placed on archaeology — the war actually had some positive benefit as Dr Bersu was interned on the Island but the authorities allowed him to excavate various sites.

Online Pages:

Some topics are treated elsewhere: see for example Keeills and Crosses. Other pages will be added as I get chance.

Section F6 from Cubbon's Bibliography gives regs to many pre 1934 papers etc

The visits of the Cambrian Archaeological Association in 1865 and again in 1929 were the excuse to produce extensive guides.

Photographs and brief descriptions of many Manx Archaeological sites can be found on David Radcliffe's site <http://www.manxarch.iofm.net/ >. He also provides a news report on current Manx Archaeological activities.

Offline References

S. Harrison (ed) 100 Years of Heritage 1989 Douglas:Manx Museum

P.J.Davey Recent Archaeological Research on the Isle of Man (BAR British Series 278) Oxford:Archaeopress 1999 (ISBN 0-86054-946-1)

P.J.Davey et al Excavations in Castletown, Isle of Man 1989-1992 (Centre for Manx Studies Monographs No 1) Liverpool University Press 1996 (ISBN 0-85323-399-3)

Manx National Heritage Prehistoric Sites in the Isle of Man 1971 (4th Impression1986)- reprinted 1995

J.R.Bruce Manx Archaeological Survey - Sixth Report pp.20/7 Manx Museum & National Trust 1968,

 [Return to Manx Note Book] 

[subject catalogue]  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  J  K  L 

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001