[From Illustrated Notes on Manks Antiquities, 1904]
The Bronze period in the Isle of Man was not merely a stage in civilisation. There is no reason to doubt that the Neolithic people here were the same Iberian, preAryan folk who occupied the rest of the British Islands for a lengthy period previous to the arrival of the Celts. Similarly we may quote Professor Boyd Dawkins' words in regard to the coming of the Bronze Age people as applying to the Isle of Man :
" The tall, round or broad-headed Celts composing the van of the great Aryan army, ultimately destined to rule the West, brought with them the knowledge of bronze into Britain, and are proved to have conquered nearly every part of the British Isles, by their tombs scattered over the face of the country, alike in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The conquered peoples survived probably in a state of slavery, and were only preserved from absorption in the West, where further retreat was forbidden by the waters of the ocean."
It is natural to suppose that these invaders on first establishing themselves spread over England and some parts of Wales and Scotland before they came to the Isle of Man, and, when they did arrive in the island, they were probably in the later division of the Bronze Age, that period of which bronze swords, palstaves, and socketed Celts such as have been met with here are characteristic implements.
The dwellings appear to have been similar to those of the Neolithic folk-possibly larger and better built. It may well be therefore that some of the groups of huts to which we have referred as originating in Neolithic, continued in use in Bronze times. As we have stated there is some evidence that those on the Meayll Hill were occupied even far later.
We have records also of crannoges, or pile-dwellings, artificial islands formed of stones, tree-trunks, and smaller stuff piled up, in a lake or morass, and kept in position by stakes so as to make a platform upon which huts could be built in a secure position, surrounded by water. Elsewhere these lake-dwellings are mostly of Neolithic or Bronze
Age, though some have remained in use into historic times. Until the Manks examples have been more carefully examined it is impossible to say to which precise period they belong.
Comparatively few loose articles of bronze have been recorded, and of these most have been lost. So far as is known, those found consist of celts plain and socketed, palstaves. swords, dagger and spear heads; and sickles (see fig. 20, showing a group of characteristic forms).
Fig. 20. Bronze weapons from the Isle of Man.
Many of the polished stone implements, all of which appear to be of foreign material, must have been introduced during this period (see fig. 21, which shows some of those now collected at Castle Rushen).
Fig. 21. Manks polished stone implements of Bronze Age.
Though but few bronze articles have been met with, a considerable amount of pottery belonging to this period has come to light, generally, however, in fragmentary condition. This consists of cinerary urns and food vessels, turned on a wheel, frequently ornamented and generally of superior manufacture to that of Neolithic times. Types of the various patterns found are shown in fig. 22.
Fig. 22. Bronze Age pottery, from the Isle of Man. Reduced from sketches by P.M.C.K.
Several smaller urns, much more highly decorated, have been found and probably belong to this time. The one shown in fig. 23 with a five-angled star inscribed on the base was found at Cronh Aust, near Ramsey, and contained burnt bones and earth. Another somewhat similar in type was found, empty, in a stone cist near Laxey.
With the Bronze civilisation, the practice of inhumation in cists formed of heavy slabs of stone gave way to that of cremation, although both were for some time carried on simultaneously. Our few implements have been generally found scattered on or near the surface, seldom in association with other remains, but our knowledge of the pottery is derived solely from the burial mounds of this period, such as those above referred to, which appear to have continued in use for a long time, as well as others of later date. The small round tumuli or cronks, still so numerous, for the most part appear from their contents to belong to this age.
FiG. 23. Two views of a small urn, from Cronk Aust.
We shall now describe one or two typical examples of these. A mound at Ballaseyr, Andreas, examined in 1884, when it was being cut through in. order to form a new fence, was found to measure 4 to 5 ft. high by about 24 ft. diameter at the base; it was composed entirely of heavy red sand. Near the centre, placed mouth downwards on the original surface, was an urn (one of those shown on fig. 26) half full of calcined bones, measuring 16½ in. high by 15½ in. in diameter across the mouth. The material is a stiff clay with the usual mixture of crushed stones, in this case slate, quartz, granite and trap, from the size of a mustard seed to that of a French bean. The surface is smooth, the colour reddish-brown. An ornamental border 4 in. deep consists of two lines round the urn, between which four rows of diagonal lines form a sort of herring-bone pattern. Within, the bevelled lip is ornamented by two lines, between which are short diagonal strokes. All the lines are formed as if by a bluntly-pointed stick, or possibly by pressing a twisted cord on the plastic clay (see fig. 22).
Another mound at the White House, Michael, examined in 1888, when it was removed for building purposes, stood about 7 ft. high, and when perfect the diameter was about 40 ft. It consisted of a bed of red sand, 2½ ft. at its greatest thickness, upon which was heaped a cairn of broken quartz, 2½ ft. deep at the centre. Above was another 12 in. of red sand, and some 6 in. of surface soil. It was in this upper sand, resting directly on the quartz, that the urns were met with, together with some charcoal and flint flakes. Six urns, all broken by down-growing roots of gorse, bramble and grass, measuring from 8 to 12 in. high, were found, one of which was ornamented by lines of short strokes without definite design ; one also had a sort of chevron pattern inside the lip. These contained incinerated bones and earth. The largest was 28 in. in diameter. Another, 9½ in. high, was 9 in. in diameter. When subsequently the rest of the mound was removed, no more pottery was met with, nor was there any trace of a cist.
Another mound at Cronk Aust, Lezayre, now levelled, 1 measured 30 ft. in diameter and 6 ft. high, and was composed of soft red sand and gravel. Near the centre was the small urn referred to above (fig. 27), filled with calcined bones, and placed mouth upwards, just above the original level of the soil, upon a thin layer of dark burnt earth and charcoal. It measured 4½ in. high by 6½ in. in greatest diameter, and was of unusual shape, decorated with simple but effective design. In this mound, about 6 ft. from the last urn, was a larger one (shown on fig. 26), 12 in. high, with diameter across the mouth 9½ in., and across the bottom 3¼ in. This also was filled with calcined bones, and set, mouth downwards, about 4 ft. below the surface of the mound. A flint, possibly a rude arrow-head, 1¼ in. by ¾ in., was found with some ashes about eight yards away, and about six feet below what appeared to have been the original surface.
Many of the mounds in the North and West of the Island have been found to contain from one to twelve, and even fourteen urns, measuring from 12 to 14 inches high (some were much larger), and sometimes highly ornamented. They are generally placed mouth downwards, sometimes on a flat stone, and are filled with burnt bones.
Unfortunately, only a few broken fragments'have in most cases been preserved (fig. 22).
Very rarely have bronze articles been met with in these burial mounds. Only two instances of bone implements are recorded. Of the very few silver ornaments found in the Island some may possibly belong to this period, but in the absence of any direct evidence it would not be safe to speak with certainty.
It is, in the present stage of our knowledge, difficult to say whether there was a distinct Age of Iron in the Isle of Man, and, if there were, when it merged into the Historic Period. A few of the pre-Christian burials, however, would seem to belong to this division, of which they constitute the most satisfactory evidence. Although cremation was still carried on in the Iron Age in Britain, a change began in the burials, and the dead were frequently interred laid at full length in a stone chamber, or shallow pit, along with articles used in the daily life.
A tumulus at Lhergy-rhenny, on the S.W. shoulder of Snaefell, levelled in order to obtain material for fencing in 1883, may have belonged to this period. The mound was between four and five feet high, and over 16ft. diameter. On its N.W. side was a small cist of flat stones set on edge, with some minute fragments of pottery on a layer of ashes. Near the centre was a chamber built of stones carefully laid flat, with sods between them, covered by a capstone a few inches below the top of the mound. The chamber measured 5 feet long by 21 feet wide, and 22 ' feet deep, but nothing was found in it. Just below, and at a different angle, was a similar wall of another chamber on a layer of wood ashes, resting on flat stones, which appeared to have been laid on the original surface. Here and there in the mound were pockets of broken red quartz and small fragments of baked pottery.
The Rev. S. N. Harrison, in 1884, opened a mound on the Barony, Maughold. in the. centre of which was a long grave, E. and W., lined on the sides with flags, and having a flag-stone at the W. end, but the E. built up. To the north was a second stone-lined grave : above were traces of ashes.
In a field at Bishopscourt a mound previously reduced almost to the level of the field was examined in 1888 and found to contain a cist about 5 ft. long by 2 ft. 2 in. wide, formed by two side-stones set on edge; in it were remains of burial by inhumation, the body having been laid on its side, head northwards, the knees apparently doubled up. A large stone pillar, 8 ft. 6 in. long by 16 in. wide, found lying across the N. end, might originally have been set upright at the head of the grave. Some charcoal was met with outside the S.E. corner of the cist. Another close by had a capstone 3 ft. 8 in. long by 2 ft. 8 in. It was filled with loose sand, but fragments of a skull were met with; also a small urn (full of sand) the shape of a flower-pot, 3¾ in. high by 4½ in. diameter at the mouth, and 17/8 in. at the bottom. Both cists contained broken red quartz, and rounded white pebbles. These burials may perhaps be of late Bronze Age or of a transition period between Bronze and Iron.
Some of the mounds still existing may belong to a much later date, that, namely, of the Scandinavian settlers, who arrived as pagans about the end of the 9th century, and became Christian in the 11th. Though this Scandinavian nature of some of the burial mounds is certainly likely, we are not aware of any evidence as yet recorded on. which to determine the question.
Tynwald Hill itself may possibly have been in its origin a burial mound of peculiar sanctity, afterwards converted into a place of assembly. Though there is no record to that effect there can be little doubt that it was a hill of assembly and of inauguration before the Scandinavian occupation, but the present name at all events dates from that period. It resembles the " Moot-places," of which remains are still found in Iceland and Norway, and a few in England and Scotland. In these there was always a plain; a hillock or mound; a court due east of the hill, and a temple. Tynwald Hill in its present form is an artificial mound, consisting of four circular platforms, the first having a circumference at the bottom of 256 ft., and at the top of 240 ft. ; the second platform has a circumference at the bottom of 162 ft. ; the third of 102 ft., and the fourth of 60 ft. It is situated at St. John's, 2½ miles from Peel, and is the scene of the formal assemblies held once a year on July 5th (Midsummer Day, old style), when the new laws are read to the people in the open air.
Cronk-Howe-Mooar, " the Fairy Hill," is a very striking, regularly shaped mound, lying on the low ground behind Port Erin, and between Port St. Mary and Fleshwick. If wholly artificial, it is one of the largest and most remarkable works of prehistoric date in the Island, and forms a truly magnificent tumulus. It is probably, however, in great part a mass of gravel and sand, left by floods after the recession of the ice-sheet of the glacial period, and very likely artificially shaped, and possibly fortified at the top in prehistoric times.
The name of this mound is an example of the pleonastic or needless repetition of the same term in the successive languages used in a district by the invaders, each ignorant of the meanings of names they foundCronk-Howe-Mooar-Hill signifying simply the great Hill-Hill-Hill in the three languages, Gaelic, Scandinavian; and English. And probably each successive race has associated the mound-as it, like many Neolithic structures, is still associated-with the supernatural, or, at least, with fairy lore. Such veneration and superstition lingers on to our own day; for we are told that in 1859 " a farmer in the Isle of Man offered a heifer up as a propitiatory sacrifice, so that no harm might befall him from the opening of a tumulus upon his land."
1Yn Lioar Manninagh, Vol. I., p. 89. Manx Book, Vol. III., p. 91.
2 Early Man in Britain, p. 343.