[From Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 3 pp635/646
FRED. SWINNERTON, F.A.S.
The following is an attempt to bring together the results of a few discoveries in the parish of Rushen, bearing on pre-historic man. As I have found some difficulty in obtaining information of all finds made by others in this parish, I hope it will not be considered egotistical if what I have to write about mostly concerns what I have observed or discovered myself.
So far, no well-authenticated remains of palæolithic times appear to have been found in this parish, nor anywhere else in the Island. It is true that in a paper on " The Primitive Period," read before the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1880, by Mr. Grindley, great geological changes are inferred to have taken place since what is now this Island has been inhabited by man, on the strength of " the foundations of a primitive hut," containing " rude wood-cutting tools," having been found by Mr. Cumming among the remains of trees on the sea-shore below Mount Gawne, in Bay-ny-Carrickey. This subject is so important that it deserves careful consideration.
Remains of huts beneath rock, shelters of the palæolithic period, belonging to what the French call " The Reindeer Period," have been found in Perigord in France, but it is doubtful if any rude wood-cutting tools, as such, of this period have been discovered. And as Mr. Grindley inferred, from the presence of these tools in such a place, that since they were left there, a plain connecting the Isle of Man and Ireland has become the Irish Sea, and has again partially re-emerged at this point, we are justified in doubting if vestiges of any primitive but would have lasted against the influences at work during such vast changes. Indeed the mention of the foundations of a primitive but seems to show that these relics must have belonged to much later times, when land and sea were practically as they are at present. Enquiries made by me, as well as some recent discoveries of worked flints, seem to point to the same conclusion, though the possibility of their being palaeolithic is by no means done away with.
I exhibit two pieces of a tree, found by my father, sticking out of the shore below high water mark at Strandhall. The piece, when entire, struck him as being part of a branch of a tree, and it came out of the gravel quite easily. It could not have been rooted in the boulder clay, which is very tenacious, and which underlies the sand and gravel on this shore.
I exhibit also a number of Nuts which were dug out of a quantity of peat, lying in a depression of the boulder clay, just above low water mark, half way between Mount Gawne and the Smelt Mill; in fact, just about where Cumming found his rude wood-cutting tools, and part of a tree shewing the marks of an axe. The nuts were dug out of the peat by two sons of Mr. Lace, of Port St. Mary then living at Mount Gawne and Mr. Lace saw the nuts being dug out of the peat. Mr. Lace is of the opinion that the peat lies in patches in hollows in the clay, and that it lies on the clay and not beneath it. Moreover, the colour of the wood, and its condition when first found, as well as that of the nuts, proclaim them to be peat relics. It is clear the peat and its contents may be thousands of years more recent than the clay beneath it.
Mr. Lace also informs me that peat is found below Poolvaish, and that the horns of a deer, found some years ago in that neighbourhood, came out of a bed of peat.
Between Mount Gawne and Kentraugh there is a field which is simply a peat bog. Various attempts have been made to drain it, but it still remains boggy in parts. The field lies in the depression between Kentraugh and Mount Gawne, and is most probably a remaining portion of a peat bog, which the have seen has left patches on the shore. It seems probable, therefore, that in recent years, geologically speaking, an extensive peat bog occupied part of the space stretching from below the Smelt Mills to Poolvaish, and occupying all that area which is now the shore down to low-water mark.
This may have extended for a considerable distance seawards in Neolithic times, and may have been since then entirely washed away by the sea, excepting these patches which have been protected by lying in the hollow of the boulder clay.
Moreover, good evidence of the recent encroachment of the sea below Mount Gawne is not wanting. People remember when, where there is now a steep beach, a. green sward, extending twenty feet or more seaward ; and only recently part of the Castletown Road itself was destroyed in a storm. It is quite possible this green sward may have contained stone implements which might have been washed out in a storm, and have afterwards been found among the ancient trees laid bare by the same influence. And it is worthy of note that quite close to Mount Gawne worked flints are to be found, as I will presently show. Allowing that there was a morass in ancient times, pile dwellings, similar to those found in the Swiss lakes, may have been built over it, and the trunk of a tree, with axe marks upon it, found by Mr. Cumming, may have been a pile.
But it is not impossible, indeed very probable, that the rude tools may have been washed out of the peat itself. The peat bogs of Denmark are veritable nests of ancient stone implements of immense antiquity, and also contain numerous remains of animals. The antlers of a deer found at Strandhall came, as I have mentioned, out of this Bay-ny-Carrickey peat bog, as may the rude stone implements found by Mr. Cumming.
I exhibit a large broken flint picked up by myself among the gravel at low water below the Shore Hotel, Bay Ny Carrickey. It might be regarded by enthusiasts as an implement, but as large modules of flint are found in the boulder clay, and very easily split into fragments before their internal moisture has evaporated a fact known to old gun-flint chippers it is more probable that it has been broken by natural causes. This subject is worth more attention than it has received since the days of Mr. Cumming, but for the present we must take palaeolithic man in Rushen as not proved.
In relics of Neolithic times the parish abounds. There are examples of all the various remains known as Neolithic to be found in Europe, as well as others strongly resembling the Danish Kjokkenmoddings. But though this is the case, it is a pity that with the exception of the Meayll Hill remains, little has been done to prove to what particular periods those remains belong. Under the name Neolithic, we find as elsewhere, various remains classed, which perhaps, belongs to periods separated by considerable lapses of time, and very probably by the long transition from utter savagery to semi-civilization. The want of a searching classification of what has been discovered in the Island is a pressing one, as is that of an archaeological map of the Isle of Man both works worthy the attention and within the scope of the Society.
There appears, however, to be distinct traces of early and late Neolithic character in this parish. I have not come across any Urns or other relics of the Bronze Age in Rushen that I know of but such have been found, as, for example, a flint arrow head, associated with a burial Urn at Glen Chass, on the S. E. side of Mull Hills. This was .discovered many years ago. A bronze axe was found at Surby in Rushen, but when and where it has gone to I cannot. find out, though I believe someone in Castletown has it, The arrow heads found in the sepulchral circle on the Mull Hills are, it appears, of late Neolithic or Bronze Age ; of the latter, judging by the Urns found in the kists.
As regards the Mull Hill circles, it appears to be a most singular thing that most of the broken urns and flint flakes were found beneath the slabs apparently forming the floors of the graves. There were no floor slabs in the Alfred Pier graves, but every one had covering slabs, which, by reason of the decay of the corpses inside, and the pressure of the earth above, were lying on the bones, with scarcely any space between them and the earth floor of the graves. It appears to me to be most singular that those people, after taking the trouble to put floor slabs an unusual thing in the kists on the Mull Hills, should have neglected to put the customary covering slabs. If we suppose that the Urns were laid on the ground, and the covering slabs were put over them, and the earth heaped on the slabs, it would naturally happen that when the urns became too decayed to stand the weight, they would collapse, and be crushed by the covering slabs, which might lie practically on the ground. I am strongly of opinion that what were takën to be the floor slabs were really the covering slabs, but, in any case, the Urn interments apparently belonged to the Bronze or late-Neolithic period.* To this period some of the best articles appear to belong, as is proved by Mr. Iiermode's researches and a discovery of my own.
It appears very probable that if excavations were to be made outside hut-circles, where house refuse would naturally be thrown, and accumulated from year to year, that more evidence might be found than in digging in their interiors. Even Neolithic man would probably not care to sit or sleep on sharp fragments of pottery or flint.
On a piece of waste land, on the northern end of Bradda Head, immediately overlooking Fleshwick Bay, are the remains of two enclosures, which, apparently, were built in the same way as those on the Mull Hills. Some of the stones forming these enclosures are rather large, but the stones, generally speaking, are now very scattered. Enough remains, however, to show that the smaller enclosure was of circular form, and measured seventeen paces in diameter. It had an entrance as one side, planked by heaps of stones or huts. North of this enclosure is another much larger one, also circular, which joins on to the other; and, outside this again, to the north, is a round shallow depression in the sward, probably marking the site of a " weem " or primitive dug-out hut. The greater part of the stones of these enclosures have probably been carried away to help to build the modern boundary wall close by.
Here, then, we appear to have indications of two primitive cattle pens and of the owner's hut, as, perhaps, belonging to the same period as the Mull Hill remains, On the ridge called the Carnanes there are several other but circles ; and out of the earthen wall of one of these I picked a quartz-arrow head with its point broken. A later discovery shows that quartz was almost as commonly used as flint in early times in this part of the Island. This arrow head seems to show that the hut circles on the Carnanes also belong to the same period as those on the Mull Hills late Neolithic or Bronze Age but, on the other hand, some of these but circles may belong to well within historical times, as may possibly the use of stone arrow heads.
Train apparently quoting the "Chronicles of Man" says that " when Magnus Barefoot arrived in Man, the Island presented a most appalling spectacle. The whole Island was a desert, well nigh depopulated by war and famine. So wretched was the condition of the inhabitants that even he regarded them with commiseration, and caused them to build houses, of which they were nearly destitute ; for, like the Firbolgs so famous in Irish Chronicles, they lived in small huts or cells under the ground, chiefly in the mountains."
If the latter part is not Train's own, we seem here to have evidence of an historical character, that so late as 1098 these small dug out "weems" were generally used. It seems to show that the people had not learned to build houses, for it is hardly likely that such an art would have been absolutely forgotten if it had ever been in general practice.
There would be nothing surprising in this or indeed in these huts continuing to be used to a much later period, as similar or even ruder huts have been in use in Scotland down to quite recently into the nineteenth century. Moreover, certain parts of Ireland and Wales appear to have been inhabited by a small race of wild red-headed people who lived in subterranean dens called "Picts huts." In an article on "Modern Views of the Picts," in the January number of the Monthly Review, there is a most interesting reference to these people, who, to Wales, were called " the red fairies," on account of the fiery red colour of their hair, and their fleetness and agility. They lived in underground dens, and appear to have used stone weapons. They were the greatest thieves, and in Merionethshire were exterminated by Lewis Owen, the Vice-Chamberlain of North Wales, on Christmas Eve, 1554.
In view of the strong popular belief in red-capped fairies in the Isle of Man these facts are interesting, as it is not impossible that it owes its origin to similar people living in the mountainous parts of the Island in early times.
A description of Manx cabins at the beginning of the eighteenth century, given by Quayle, quoted by Train, shows that the generality of the houses at that period were of the rudest description. They were small, and made of sods, thatched with straw though the introduction of thatching seems to have been late, The floor was of hardened mud ; the chimney where there was one a funnel of sailcloth covered with a coating of lime though sometimes the smoke found its way out as best it could. The fire burnt on a stone on the hearth, without range or chimney, very often ; and cattle were kept in an extension of the dwelling-house. If such was the case at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it seems most probable that at the time of Magnus Barefoot they were much worse ; and it may be that, in some of the but circles, we have the remains of dwelling-houses of that period It is at least insignificant that, near to Cregneish, until lately the most primitive village in the Island, these but circles are numerous. I think it is a moot question if some of the wild mountain folk in the I Ith century did not use stone implements. Small undiscoloured flakes are found on the surface of the great mound called Cronk Moar, which seems to be a great sepulchral mound, converted into a small fort by the formation of a moat at its base and making a hollow at the top. The great fort at Castleward, near Douglas, has a similar hollow at top., Besides these remains, we have the Giants Casting Stones and the two large stones at Ballakilpheric. To judge by the worked flints found close to them, they belong to the Stone Age. The two at Ballakilpheric stand in a field a little distance from the village of Ballakilpheric, and on account of the positions they occupy relative to each other, suggest that they are the remains of some large structure, each as an alignment or chamber. I am informed by Mr. Lace that people now living remember other stones besides these two standing in this field. It is possible that in early Christian times this structure was so perfect that it bore the name of St. Patrick's Cell.
There are numerous flakes, chips, and cores in this field as well as implements, and in the next field to the S.E., and I submit they mark the site of a Neolithic village. I am aware that worked flints found in close proximity to such monuments have been regarded as offerings, or as provision for the departed in the spirit world, &c, ; but if we suppose that it was the custom sometimes, as among the Ho's of Bengal, to raise mounds or megalithic monuments near the village, we should have an explanation of the presence of such numbers of worked flints near these pre-historic monuments. If they were put there as offerings, &c., we might expect to find quantities in sepulchral chambers, whereas very often few, or none, are found in such places ; on the other hand, of course, quantities are sometimes found in chambers.
We need not go out of Rushen to prove that kists were some-times made on the camp floor itself during the Stone Age. It will, perhaps, be remembered that in the case at the Alfred Pier, Port St. Mary, it was shown that a large kist, made of rough, unhewn slabs of limestone, had been constructed on the ancient flake- covered surface of the ground, and that over it had been piled a small mound.
The remains of shell-fish, and other animal remains, traces of pottery, as well as the large quantity of worked flints, including castaways implements, clearly showed that occupation of the spot had preceded the original interment. Secondary interments had been made in the mound, all much smaller than the original one, and all contained quantities of sea shells ; and, among other things, were gathered from them, a rude bone implement with the point broken off ; a Neolithic arrow-head of similar manufacture to those found in the Mull Hills circle, and a scraper of quartz.
It is well known that mounds of Stone Age often contain interments belonging to subsequent periods. It is quite possible that the grave containing the arrow-head belonged to a much later date than, the original interment, more especially as no arrow-heads of that character were found amongst the flints on the camp floor.
But all these graves contained unburnt bones, and, judging by the length and height of the original grave, the corpse must have been buried in a contracted position.
To the S. W. of this tumulus was a field in which I found numerous flakes and cores, marking, perhaps, the site of another pre-historic encampment, or an extension of the first. At the east end of this field, near the shore, some labourers engaged in making new roads connected with the improvement of Port St. Mary, found some eight years ago, just such another grave as the second ary interments at the Alfred Pier. It contained unburnt bones, but the only thing saved was a skull, broken by a pick of one of the labourers. The cranium is nearly perfect, but the facial bones have perished, It has been pronounced by Professor Boyd Dawkins to be of an aged woman, and to be a broad skull of ordinary Goidelic, i.e., early Celtic type. The condition of the skull shows it to be very ancient.
It is most unfortunate that no intelligent person was near when this grave was found, to see if it contained any stone implements. I have been to the spot, and near to where the grave was found I picked up a couple of small flakes and a roughly made drill. These, of course, may have no connection with the graves ; but taking into consideration all the circumstances, the quantity of worked flints, marking an old encampment in the vicinity, the tumulus a little distance away containing graves of similar make, and bones in about the same stage of decay, it is hard to resist the conviction that we have here the skull of a person who lived in Neolithic or early Bronze Age. It yet remains to be proved that the early Celts in this Island were not in their Stone Age.
During the last few months I have had the opportunity of examining the site of another ancient camp one I knew of before but had no opportunity of investigating. As it appears to be the site of a pre-historic settlement of considerable size, to have probably been fortified, and on account of some spear and arrow heads I have found there, to have belonged at one time to a rude and warlike people, a description of the natural features of the place will be of interest, as they may shortly disappear beneath the ranges of lodging-houses planned to be built on the spot. The rough map will show the natural outline of the field, called Rhenwyllin the Mill Ridge from the Smelt Mill close by perhaps. It is on high ground at the south end of the bay Carrickey, not very far from where Dr. Cumming found the foundations of a primitive but on the shore. The field is bounded on the north by the Castletown Road, which, running east and west at this point, passes through a gap in the ridge and then turns north. This gap is a natural feature, formed by a small stream which still finds its way to the shore through it, and which originally must have run down a little glen the bottom of the glen being thirty or forty feet below Rhenwyllin ridge, which overlooks it.
Facing the sea, the ridge rises not less than So feet above the shore at one point, and may have been scarped in prehistoric times. The ridge runs along the east and south sides of the field, becoming lower towards the south. To the west the field slopes down to a small stream, now carried in an artificial channel, partly underground. This stream enters Rhenwyllin from the north, runs south for some distance, and then turning east, along where it must have run originally, discharges into the sea about 300 feet from the south end of the field. About half-way between this stream and the Castletown-road is the highest part of Rhenwyllin, formed by a ridge, probably of an artificial character, running east and west, backwards from the front ridge. From this ridge the field has a gradual slope to the south, as far as the small stream rising again beyond it to where it overlooked Chapel Bay. At the north-west side of the field there is a low hump, which may possibly be the remains of an earthwork to protect the weakest point lying between the two streams. Altogether the place seems to have been selected on account of its natural strong position, and it may have been fortified by escarpments and mounds, but the plough has so levelled up and levelled down the artificial features that it requires a practical eye to, detect them. On all the higher parts of Rhenwyllin worked stones are found in considerable numbers. In many places the soil when freshly turned up by the plough has a dirty or refusy look. It is precisely in such places that implements are most numerous. At these spots decayed sea shells, very decayed fragments of bones, nodules of stone, many broken by being used as hammers, and some burnt stones are found, as well as flakes and cores of flint and quartz, implements of quartz, flint, and slate, and arrowheads. It is easy to see that the quartz used were round nodules from the shore, and I have found a few bits of rock crystal.
The flakes and chips of flint are in many cases very massive for the Isle of Man, one flake measuring 3½ in. But it is rather singular that for implements such as drill or hollow scrapers, quartz or slate was more commonly used than flint. The arrow and spear heads of quartz are also found. I found quartz implements also at the Alfred Pier, but, at the time, paid no attention to them, as flints were so numerous. At the north end of the field, undiscoloured flakes are more numerous; red dots on the map will show where the flint and quartz refuse is mostly found, the black crosses mark where new-looking flints are found.
All we can gather from the implements as a whole, perhaps, indicates a long occupation of the spot. The numerous quartz and slate implements, though a new feature in Manx archaeology, have not, perhaps, been found elsewhere, simply because they were not looked for. It seems clear that any suitable stone was used. If we take the spear head as finished, they would indicate a low perception of symmetry on the part of their makers. Some of the hollow scrapers were probably intended for rounding spear or javelin shafts.
If any but circles were ever in this field, they have now disappeared. But I believe, so far, flint finds have not been made associated with but circles in Rushen, and, at Glen Willyn, in Michael, where an undisturbed camp floor was found at a spot indicated by the Rev. J. Quine, were also found holes containing burnt matter, which these people had used for cooking their food, no trace of but circles were visible, such as would easily have been detected if they had been there. As regards Rhenwyllin, it is certain that if search is made every year immediately after ploughing, remains will be found showing a long occupation and more implements than are sufficient to stock all the cases in Castle Rushen, and many more. The ridge I have described as forming the front of Rhenwyllin extends to the north of the Castletown Road as far as Mount Gawne, where it sinks to a lower level in the boggy field I have mentioned.
On the ridge near Mount Gawne, and in a ploughed field behind it, I have found some cores of flints and flakes, as well as one implement a sort of hollow chisel, fellow to one I found at Rhenwyllin. Behind Mount Gawne is an elevation called Cronk Crane, where ancient graves have been unearthed. West of Rhenwyllin, in the next field, a bluff rises rather abruptly. It faces east, andoverlooks Rhenwyllin. A few worked flakes are found on the face of this bluff, but the field is under grass at present. Search after ploughing would probably result in a find of numerous worked flints. N.W. of this hillock, a short distance away, stands one of the Giant's casting stones, and further away to the S W. of this, stands the other monolith on the slope of Cronk Skibbylt. Near the former stone I have found a few flakes and a small core, but here again the field is unploughed.
It is quite clear that the coast in this part of the Island, all along the bluffs from Perwick Bay to Mount Gawne, was a most one continuous line of settlements in prehistoric times. It will not be extravagant to attribute to them the Giants' Casting Stones ; but, in any case, there is plenty to be done in the fields I have indicated.
As regards what the implements tell us : The rocks used were flint, quartz, basalt, porphery, and slate ; in fact, any suitable stone, as well as bone implements. The number of quartz implements found so close to the shore, where flints are most numerous, indicate that farther inland we might expect to meet with greater quantities of quartz refuse than of flint refuse. It is a remarkable thing that though I have hunted the Mull Hills well I have not succeeded in finding a single flake of flint. On the other hand, the quantity of quartz fragments is remarkable, and I am convinced some of them have been intentionally chipped.
It is also to be noticed that Mr. Kermode and Dr. Herdman found numerous nodules of quartz in the kists of the circle on the Mull Hills, as well as in some of the huts. I suggest that these may have been placed there to serve as cores for the departed to strike flakes from in the spirit world. Their presence was evidently as Mr. Kermode points out part of the funeral rites, and I think the fact that worked quartz, nodular and quartz flakes, as well as implements of that stone occur at Rhenwyllin, is strong evidence they were placed in the graves for that purpose.
If we suppose, as seems probable by analogy, that in early times there were numerous villages, strongly fortified, and probably a continued state of warfare, it might have been difficult for tribes or families living on the Mull Hills to avail themselves of the numerous flints found on the east beaches. The villagers living near the shore may have objected to inland people carrying off flints lying within their territory.
Consequently the Mull Hill villages would be largely restricted to the beaches lying within their territory, and it will be noted that these beaches, such as at Fleshwick Bay, or the Sound, though they have any amount of quartz nodules, have very few flints. Certainly not so many as the beaches on the Port St. Mary side.
It appears to me that the round quartz nodules found in the graves on the :Mull Hill were put there to serve as cores for the departed to strike flakes from in the happy hunting grounds. Similar quartz nodules were found along with quantities of sea shells in Alfred Pier graves, as well as implements and flint flakes.
Moreover, the superstition among modern fishermen regarding "the "White Stone" being unlucky in their boats, if rightly considered, may be accepted as evidence that quartz nodules were put into graves for use in the spirit world. Thus
1st Quartz nodules were commonly used to strike flakes
from, ,and to make implements from.
2nd Such nodules were put into graves for the use of the departed in the spirit world.
3rd Probably long after the use of stone weapons had ceased, this custom held its ground.
4th The dropping of white stones into graves would associate corpses with white stones in people's minds.
5th The dropping of white stones into anything as suggesting a funeral practice would grow to be considered unlucky.
6th A white stone in a fisherman's boat would be considered unlucky after its original meaning had been forgotten entirely.
Thus a religious practice among Neolithic people may have come down to us in the form of a popular superstition, having its origin in the remote past when some savage found that quartz was good to make implements out of.
There are some curious small implements found at the Alfred Pier as well as at Glen Wyllin in Michael, which, though very small, are invariably chipped to the same peculiar form and size, whose use seems obscure. But on examining some North American halibut hooks in my father's collection, I find that a piece of sharpened bone forms the point and barb. The hook handle is of wood, and the whole thing is most ingeniously constructed. These small chipped flakes I refer to may have served the same purpose, as the sharpened bone of the Indian hooks, and I am very strongly of opinion that whether used in that precise way or not, they served as part of fish hooks or fish spears.
The arrow heads and javelin heads I found at Rhenwyllin are very much ruder than those or some of those found in the circle on the Mull Hills. I found no similar over at the Alfred Pier camp floor, nor at Glen Wyllin, Michael, but, on the other hand, at both places were found small flakes delicately chipped to a very sharp point, which would have served admirably as arrow tips.
At Rhenwyllin I also found a hollow chisel, and near Mount Gawne another similar one. They are not polished like those found in the Danish Kjokkenmöddings. A large broad flake I found, seemed to be in process of being made into a spear head, or had been used as a scraper. Taking the implements as a whole they bear a striking resemblance to those of the Kjokkenmöddings, which are classed by Professor Worsaae as belonging to the late Paleolithic period, in contradistinction to the beautifully worked arrow and spearheads found in tumuli, etc., which he classes as belonging to the later stone age. To whatever period the Rhenwyllin implements belong, judging by their rough workmanship, their makers were as low in civilization as the cave men of France, and they may very well belong to the same period. We cannot unfortunately take the state of surface decomposition of flints as evidence, but in the cases of flints which after lying long enough to acquire a patina, have been taken up again and reshipped the newer chipping showing no trace of stain it appears probable that, generally consider the flakes weathered white are more ancient than the undiscoloured ones, and, taking this evidence for what it is worth, it might indicate that all the flints found at the Alfred Pier camp floor, the majority of those from Rhenwyllin, a few at Ballakilpheric and at Glen Wyllen in Micheal are the most ancient ; while the majority of those found at Ballakilpheric, and at Glen Wyllen, and near the Giants Casting Stone, and at Cronk Moar, and a few at Rhenwyllin, belong to a much later time. This would indicate that Cronk Moar, the Giants Casting Stones, and the Ballakilpheric stones, are not as old as kists with small mounds, and for other reasons this would seem to be the fact.
I conclude by hoping that a liberal application of the pick and shovel will in future mark our Insular researches.
*. See Vol. II, p. 117- ED.
The small flat stones were certainly the floor pavement, being even partly under the large side slabs. There must originally have been lintel coverings, but these had doubtless been removed for fence building,&c
a slightly edited version was included in his 1909 pamphlet