[Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 2 pp117/120]
By P. M. C. KERMODE.
(From The Isle of Man Times," Feb. 17, 1894.)
Mr P. M. C. Kermode submitted an account of the Neolithic or Early Bronze remains on the Meayll, Rushen, which was fully illustrated by maps, plans, drawings, photographs, and specimens of the urns and flint implements found there. He stated that in August last (1893) he had made a thorough examination of the well known circle on the Meayll, above Port Erin, being joined in the work and also in the expense by their hon. member, Dr. Herdman, Having described the assemblage of small hut foundations, which, from the flints and fragments of pottery found in them, were evidently contemporary with the circle, the curious fences of upright slabs of stone being apparently also contemporary, he exhibited and explained a plan which he had carefully drawn to scale of the circle itself, showing the exact dimensions and position of every stone composing it, as well as the spots where the flints, pottery, charcoal, and bones were found.
The Circle was situated near the summit of the hill, about 500 feet above the sea level, at a distance north of the Cairn, of 250 yards ; and measured 50 by 57 feet to the outside circumference, having an opening on the north of 18 feet, and on the south of 16 feet. These were ascertained to be intentional, and not due to the removal of cists. Its formation was peculiar and unique, being composed of six sets of cists or chambers, three on each side of the entrances, each set, or Tritaph," as it was proposed to call them, consisting of two tangential and a radial cist. The tangential cists averaged five feet nine inches long, by two feet eight inches broad, being formed of two large side stones set on edge, within which, at the end nearest the junction of the cists, were two upright pillar stones forming an entrance way, and, across the outer end another large stone. Between each pair of tangential cists was a space of about three feet, from which there radiated outwards a third chamber, the average size of which was seven feet. by two feet three inches ; it was formed rather differently also, having two pairs of side stones, no entrance pillars, and the outer end open. At a depth of 18 to 24 inches below the surface was a paved floor, which, in almost every case, was very much disturbed.
The burials were all evidently by cremation, two to five, or more urns being deposited in each tangential cist, or in the space between them. In each cist were found a number of rounded white quartz pebbles, the greater number from one to five inches diameter, but. some considerably larger. It had been suggested that these might have been "pot-stones," used, namely, for boiling, by being heated and then dropped into the clay vessel, which served as a pot. Some of them may have been sling stones. But, whatever their original purpose, it was clear that an regards these cists, they had been carefully deposited as a part of the funeral rites. In some other ancient burial places, as at St. Johns, and even in our Churchyards, as at Bride and Maughold, similar white pebbles had been found, and the speaker suggested that such a custom might account for the superstitious dislike the natives, especially fishermen, still have to the use of the "clagh bane," or white stone, for to drop one into the boat would seem to him to suggest that the boat was about to become the grave !1
The floor-stones rested on the undisturbed surface of mountain soil, yet, strangely enough, nearly all the pieces of pottery and flints were found between this surface and the pavement. The speaker thought this sufficiently accounted for by the known fact that the cists had been previously rifled; but Dr. Herdman looked upon it as proof that the burials had, in the first instance, been beneath the floor. In one case a hole 12 inches in diameter by 12 inches deep was found beneath the pavement ; and though neither urn nor bones were in it, they had probably been previously removed, and it. was now filled with fine, dark mould, which had filtered through the covering stones. Mr. Kermode considered this had been a solitary exception ; for if the other urns had been similarly buried beneath the pavement, the holes would have been equally distinct, whereas he was positive, from the appearance of the soil, that it had not been disturbed more than an inch or so beneath the small floor-stones in any of the other cists. In the very centre of the circle was a large broken boulder of white quartz, the only one met with in the. whole circle, and evidently placed intentionally. There had apparently been one or more cists here, but they had, unfortunately, been opened, the stones turned over, and the form completely destroyed. There was no sign of burning in the soil or stones, as would have been the case if the bodies had been reduced to ashes on this spot, as had been suggested.2
Dr. Jeffcott, who first directed attention to this interesting circle, gives it the name Rhuillick y lagg shhiggagh" (Graveyard of broken slates), which, however, belongs of right to the circle at. the Sound ; the speaker found its proper name was well-known, since it was used as a mark at sea., viz., Lag ny Boirey (pron. moirey or murry"), Hollow of disturbance, or worry, or scolding" ; a name which, no doubt, belonged, in the first instance, to the village immediately below the circle.3
Of the flint implements found, there were three arrow heads, six knives, two scrapers, and two broken pieces. Another arrow-head had, some years since, been found outside one of the cists by Mr. F. Swynnerton. Two of these were well-made and carefully finished ; the other implements were ruder, some showing scarcely any working at all. in the huts, besides one or two flints, was a stone which may have been . used for polishing or finishing the skins when cleaned.
The pottery was in an extremely fragmentary condition, and it. was a work of time and great difficulty to sort and arrange the pieces. As to restoring anything like a perfect vessel, that was out of the question. . Calcined bones, ashes, and charcoal were found with them. In all, the speaker had been able to make out at. least 23 urns, averaging about 12 inches high, by 9 or 10 inches diameter at the mouth. A perfect. one had also been taken out of one of the cists about 20 years ago. Of course, it had long since crumbled to pieces, and neither drawings, measurements, nor any record of it had been kept. The shapes varied considerably, several appearing to have had broad overlapping rims, and some also middle bands and grooves, and there is some variety in the form of the lip. Very few show any pattern ; what there is consists of lines perpendicular, horizontal, or diagonal, drawn with a sharp pointed stick, punctured dots, or lightly impressed. The urns from the huts appeared similar in every respect, they also were reduced to fragments ; one showed the diameter at. the mouth to have been not more than 4½ inches.
The results of the excavations seemed to show that the people who inhabited the ancient huts and who erected the stone circle were in the Early Bronze stage of civilisation, living in small communities of six to sixteen families ; that they occupied the site over a lengthened period, doubtless finding it a secure stronghold isolated as it must. then have been by a deep bog between Port Erin and Port St. Mary ; that they used pottery of a rude kind, made by hand, of material from the spot, for domestic purposes, and as urns in which to deposit the ashes of their dead ; that the stone circle was used by them as a place of sepulture, the only mode of burial in it being by cremation ~ that, if acquainted with Bronze, they still hunted and fought with flint-headed arrows, used flint scrapers to prepare the skins of animals for their clothing, and flint knives for various other purposes ; that they had probably some form of nature worshipthe costly tombs, funeral rites, providing of implements of war and the chase, and the pebbles of white quartz, which may have been regarded with special respect for its use, like that of flint, in striking fireall point to some feeling of superstition or religion.
The use of Flint would long overlap that of Bronze, and it would be unsafe to argue from the presence of Flint and total absence of Bronze implements, that this was a Neolithic monument. In the earliest Bronze Age metal would be of such rarity and value that prudence and economy, as well as ancient custom, would call for the casting away of flint rather than of bronze. The radial chambers can hardly have been otherwise intended than as entrance passages, and yet they are too low and too narrow for actual use; we are led, therefore, to believe that they are, in fact, models, and, that each set of three chambers is, therefore, a model of a passage grave or long barrow. The annular arrangement of cists might belong to Neolithic times, but the passage grave points to a later period and a different people ; the practice, also, of cremation, and, above all, the ornamentation of the pottery, point to the first arrival of the Aryans, and we may, therefore, regard this venerable monument as a. relic of the earliest Bronze Age in Man.
The speaker concluded by regretting that the Stone Circle had been meddled with and rifled by irresponsible persons, as so many local antiquities had. Very much was now lost, and he thought they should endeavour to make a complete and reliable survey of Manks Antiquities, a work very suitable for this Society, and one which would redound to its credit. As to this unique monument, he hoped it might be placed under the guardianship of the trustees of the Manks Museum, and properly protected from further injury.
1 Mrs. Gordon Cumming in her work " In the Hebrides (1883), alludes to such finds in Loch Nell Moss, near Oban. In the cists were " Also divers quartz stones such as various Pagan nations were want to bury with their deadpossibly as emblems of immortality and of sin forgiven or cancelled, as when the Greeks of old symbolized a release from some obligation by the giving or receiving of a white stonea custom probably alluded to in the Book of Revelation in the promise To him that over-cometh . . . I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written."
In that instance the stones were arranged in pairs. Her allusion to the Isle of Man (p. 46). seems to confuse the cist at S. Johns with the Mule Circle.
2 No trace remained of any lintel, impost, or covering to any of the cists, hut it is certain that they would have been used to keep the superincumbent soil from crushing the urns and ashes. No doubt they were long ago removed and set in the fences adjoining. A mound of loose stones and soil packed on to the external circumference of the cists sloped three or four yards beyond, and would originally have covered the cists. With a further mound over the central cist, this would form a perfect example of a Ring Barrow.
3 This is the same word as we have in Crook bouyr in Lezayre and Bride, the Deaf mound : Irishbodhar. Is it the Irish " wirrah " of novelists?
4 This monument would appear to have been first noticed by J. O. Halliwell, in his "Roundabout Notes," 1863, p. 21. He speaks of it as " perhaps the most curious sepulchral monument in Great Britain, adding, that it had " hitherto eluded observation." . . . " It is a circle of couples of kistvaens, stone avenues leading from the outside to a space in the middle of each couple" Mr. Jeffcott described it more fully in Arch. Camb. , 3rd series, Vol. xiii. p. 306 (1866) ; and Waring, Rude Stone Monuments, P1. 41, 3. copied his fancy plan. Fergusson, in Rude Stone Monuments," (1872), p. 158, gives a good Plan of the remains as seen from the surface.
A joint account of the excavations by Prof. Herdman and the writer, illustrated by plans and drawings, appeared in the Transactions of the Biological Soc., Liverpool. Vol. viii., 1894.
The author also contributed an account to the Illustrated Archæologist, June, 1894. He regrets, however, that in both these cases though the measurements otherwise were correct, the angles of junction of the radiating cists were, by accident, wrongly represented.
see also Manx Note Book Vol iii p157