[From Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 3]
WILLIAM CUBBON, F.S.Q., Scot.
13th November, 1930.
The site which forms the subject of the present communication is situated on a little hill at the extreme northern point of a triangular plain.
This plain is bounded on the east by the Lhergydhoo ridge, on the eouth by Slieau Whallian, on the south-west by Peel Hill and Knockaloe, and on the west. by the sea.
The little hill on which the site, stands is slightly short of 250 feet above Ordnance datum (Fig. 1). It commands a view on the south which it would be difficult to match; it embraces a wide plain. and the rim of hills all around, finishing at Peel Hill and St. Patrick's Isle in the south-west distance.
The work was carried out between the 18th August and 3rd September, 1930, under the direction of Mr William Cubbon. The actual cost of labour was defrayed by the Trustees of the Manx Museum. Special thanks are due to Mr A. Davidson and Mr Joseph A. Wright, surveyors, who took the levels and made several useful plans. Miss L. Joughin has re-constructed three of the cinerary urns. Voluntary help was also given by Messrs C. H. Cowley, P. Bregazzi, John Nicholson and W. Moore ; and to them all the thanks of the Trustees are due.
The site is on the estate of Knocksharry, the property of Mr Percy Kaneen, who gave a very cordial consent to the undertaking. and, with Mrs Kaneen and their family, took a keen interest in it. The field is numbered 253 on the 25in.Ordnance Survey plan (Fig. 2).
There is little recorded relating to the Knocksharry site beyond the fact that it is set down in the Ordnance plan of 1868 as a "Tumulus." Mr Kermode notes it in the 1930 edition of his "List of Manx: Antiquities" as follows: "Worked flints found. A grave in this mound was built of shore boulders. C.H.C. Levelled about 1887." (p. 12, par. -1). The examination of the site, however, does not bear out the statement that there had been a grave built in this manner, or that there had been any considerable levelling beyond what would naturally occur through constant cultivation.
Tradition in the neighbourhood states that it was "a place where men killed in battle were buried." That is a common belief of the origin of many burial sites-an explanation invented to account for interments not in consecrated ground.
Like the surrounding area, the grassy hillock on which tile -,ite stands is mainly composed of stratified slate gavel, rolled gravel, and sand, characteristic of a glaciated district.*
* G. W. Lamplugh Memoir, p. 441.
Before commencing the excavation there were observed no features on the surface of the ground which indicated that the site was of special interest; the only suggestion lay in two fairly large upright white quartz stones in the field hedge directly north of, and 90ft. away from, the centre of the hillock. A narrow ridge of greensward, about 2ft. high and about twelve feet broad joined the hillock to the two white stones referred to, which gave colour to the idea that they might have been intended for a "portal." (Fig. 3).
The highest portion of the site was first of all enclosed within measuring poles, the area so treated being 180ft. running N. and S., and 100ft. E. and W. Wooden stubs were placed around at a distance of 20ft. apart. By these means it was easily possible to accurately record every stage of the excavation. (Fig. 1).
The first thing done was to cut a trench, almost due N and S. 4ft. wide and about aft. deep, going to a depth of 6ft. in the centre. It, proved fortunate that the trench was started where it did, for it soon laid open the chief burial area. The trench, in fact, had come into the centre of it, and close by on each side of the trench practically all our "finds" were uncovered.
The full length of the 15ft. working trench laid bare on each side the undisturbed drift. The cutting was made as deep as there was found any evidence of artificial construction or disturbance. At the point where the hillock stood highest, the trench was 6ft. below the and level, and well into the underlying drift. (Fig. 1).
Upon an examination of the "section" created by the cutting. it was seen that in two separate areas, A. and B. (line 60-84 and line '90-106)* the gravel hact ,when scooped away and the cavities filled in with soil of quite a different character; soil which appeared to contain a good deal of dark loam. In a few "pockets" the soil was similar to that which would come from the meadow land and contrasted with that of the hill itself. It was estimated by Mr Wright, the surveyor, that the quantity of soil so introduced must have consisted of many tons. A photograph was taken of the section at line 60-84, but is not sufficiently good to reproduce. A rough plan of the section showing the artificially-filled in soil was made.
Several solitary pieces of pottery of a coarse type had been met with in the cutting of the first trench, shoving that there had, at some time in the past, been considerable disturbance. On line 86 under the tap of the hillock, there were a number of pieces of pottery belonging to a vessel of a different type. They were thinner and of an unusually dark, almost black, colour. Of the pieces over 50 were counted. The rim has a design of vertical and horizontal lines (Fig. 5B), with little dots pierced above and below. Tho pottery was 2ft. from the surface. Apart from about two dozen flint chippings, and some white water-worn pebbles, nothing further, was found between lines 82-90. The fragments of the pottery were scattered, showing that the place had been much disturbed.
*Notes -This and other numbers of lines refer to the plan deposited at the Manx Museum.
Fig. 2.-View of Knocksharry and the Site of the Bronze Age Cemetery.
Extending the examination of the Burial Area A, there was uncovered on the east of the trench a platform (line 72-80) whictr appeared to have been prepared for the incineration ritual. (Fig. 4).
Fig. 3.-The White Quartz "Portal" Bronze Age Cemetery Site, Knocksharry
Fig. 4.-The Incineration Platform, Bronze Age Cemetery, Knocksharry.
A row of seven boulders-the biggest being only 15ín., lay in a straight line. It appeared to have been the eastern boundary of the incineration area, which was about 5ft. square (line 72-80).
The platform was composed of waterworn stones and compressed earth. It was covered with a considerable layer of fine earth which seemed to contain ashes of burnt material, with many fragments of incinerated human bones, and a quantity of wood carbon.
On a slightly-raised bank of earth and stones lay, close to the little boundary wall, the fragments of Cinerary Urn A. (line 74)., It had been placed on a small flat. slab of slate, with the mouth downwards. Apparently as a protection, there were around the flat slab five kidney-shaped pebbles, the largest being about five inches. beyond these there had been no protection, and the weight of theearth above had flattened the pottery into very many pieces. A very large stone pounder and a pencil-shaped pestle of slate, 74in. long, were found close to the pottery. Both instruments showed evidence of wear. There were also about a dozen rounded white pebbles and a few flint flakes.
A B C
Fif 5. Pottery removed from Knocksharry
Further extending the examination of Burial Area A, on the Western side of the trench was found, some 3ft. from the lastmentioned pottery, a fragment of the rim of a third vessel (line 74), showing a decoration of irregular dots. (Fig. 5C).
Four feet away (line 78) were found the remains of a fourth cinerary urn with a chevron pattern.
In the space between the remains of these two vessels were scattered a very large number of pieces of very white spar-like quartz, and, when the soil was brushed away, they were very striking in appearance. A photograph was attempted, but it was not a success. The stones appeared to have been humanly fractured, and some looked as if they had been intentionally fashioned as implements. The aréa appeared free from burnt material. There were a few roughly made flakes of flint, including a scraper, showing secondary work.
In the area between lines 90-108, a second incineration area was disclosed. The covering soil, which went down about 22ft. contrasted with the sandy gravel of the hill; it was darker and contained loam. The incineration platform (line 94-98) was covered with burnt ashes, wood carbon and fragments of incinerated human bones. Some of these (numbered 3 in Sir Arthur Keith's report) representing the remains of a young woman, were in this assortment. The area was covered by scores of small pieces of quartz of a different character to the spar-like pieces found in Burial Area A. They were smaller, more brittle and short-grained, and they were impregnated with a yellowish substance.
At line 90-94, at a depth of only 12m. below the sod, and above the incineration platform level, were found a piece of a human skull, an upper and lower jaw, and fragments of the lower limb bones of an adult man of medium stature. The skull and jaws, according to Sir Arthur Keith, belonged to a young woman of delicate features. (See Sir Arthur Keith's report in Appendix).
At line 102, 8ft. away from where the human bones lay, were the :remains of a fifth cinerary urn. The place had been much disturbed, being nearer the surface; only a few sherds of very coarse material remained (one showing a pattern of lines and dots).
In order to exhaust the examination of the area, eleven trial cuttings (Fig. 1) were made at various points above and below the marginal curve of the hillock, but without any encouraging result; the underlying drift gravel was invariably met with at a depth of from 1 to 2ft. below the surface. A second long trench, made at right angles to the main trench, was also cut for a distance of 35ft. towards the centre of the hillock, but with the same abortive result. A plan showing each "trial" cutting has been prepared for reference.
It is worthy of record that the district around Knocksharry is .of great interest to the archaeologist. An earthwork, overlooking the sea, near Knocksharry, is called Castal y vuggene mooar, the "Castle of the big buggane." On the crown of the great hill of Lhergydhoo overlooking Knocksharry are the remains of a megalithic monument, consisting of five huge white quartz stones which can easily be seen out at sea. It is called Meir ny Foawr, "giants' fingers." Another megalithic work, the Liaght ny Foawr, "giants' grave," at Kew, is in the neighbourhood. Not far away on the crown of the hill of Lhergydhoo, are six tumuli which have not been examined. About 750 yards from Knocksharry to the south, at the haggart of the White Strand farm, there was opened by Mr C. H. Cowley, in 1924, a Cist made of large sandstone slabs, 2ft. 3in. to 4ft.* Near by, at Ballagyr, was found the black stone axe-head 9in. long and 4m. broad, the finest example found in Man. I have not mentioned the large cairn at Corvalla, Glen Cam; the site of the discovery of the Bog Oak Canoe at Ballakaighen ; and what is known as "The Court" on Lhergydhoo. It will be seen that Knocksharry lies in a district which is rich in prehistoric remains.
*An account appears following this article.
Besides its strategic value it is not improbable that the extensive view was one of the determining causes which led to the selection of this site for religious purposes, for it must be reinembered that the southern face of the hillock is the site of an Early Christian Church and Burial Ground, from near which a cross-slab (Fig. 6) of about the 8th century came. It was found by Mr Clementson, near the brooghs at a point 650 yards N.W. of our site (O.S. VI. 15, area 207). The presence of the Chapel so near by suggests that the hillock may have been used as a local Thing in the Early Norse period. The distance of the Chapel from the summit of the hillock is less than 400ft-almost identical with that at the St. John's Tynwald. In the case of the latter, however, the Chapel is east of the mound, and at Knocksharry it is south. At the Keeill AbíDan Tynwald above Baldwin, th Chapel is also on the south of the promulgation mound.
The excavation has shown that Knocksharry goes back to the Bronze Age; the presence of the pottery would indicate that. At Lynauge near by, and at Ballabooie, and all along the sea coast further north, quantities of well-fashioned flint implements and arrow-heads of various types have been found; but only the crudest flakes were picked up at Knocksharry. In comparing the flints found at Lynauge and Ballabooie with those of Knocksharry, the differences are evident. Those from the former places are chiefly of a deep red colour and well fashioned, while those from Knocksharry are all grey and crudely flaked. There is in the Museum a large collection of flints. froin Lynauge, and an examination of them will convince anyone that they are quite distinct in material and in workmanship from those of Knocksharry, which is only a short: distance away.
The presence of the bed of white quartz chippings in Area A has not been noted as occurring elsewhere in Man. It would appear certain that they had been broken outside the area (for there were no very small bruised fragments), and laid on the bed as part of the funeral ritual. Over 160 pieces from lie. to 3ins. were counted.* Most of the pottery found was fragmentary. bliss Joughin has, with great difficulty, reconstructed three of the seven vessels which were in the site. One of the vessels, of unusual form (Fig. 513) has a decoration very similar to that on one found in a tumulus in Ballaugh, the chief feature being vertical and horizontal lines alternately. There is a broken piece of a rha marked very similarly to one described by Mr Reginald Smith in Archaeologia 1xii, in his article on "The Development of Neolithic Pottery," and illustrated by Mr O. G. S. Crawford in his "Long Barrows of the Cotswolds," p. 128.
It was hoped that some stone building, or at any rate evidence of a constructed grave would be disclosed. In this we were disappointed. Throughout the whole of the very thorough excavation no stone structure of any kind was met with, unless the slender line of sit boulders forming the boundary of the platform or pavement. used for burning in Area A could be termed such. Apart from the two white "portal" stones, there are no flags or boulders in the adjacent hedges which would indicate the likelihood of their having formed portions of a cist.
The absence of a stone chamber or other receptacle is worthy of note. There was no lack of suitable blocks of red sandstone at `f'ill's Strand, not half a mite away; but this kind of stone may have been taboo at the period.-+' On the other hand we know that the builders of megalithic monuments frequently went for their material very long distances, as for instance, in the case of the huge white quartz boulders at Billown.
One of the remarkable features of the site is the two large white quartz boulders standing in the hedge on the north side of the mound. (Fig. 3). They are two and a half feet high, and one and a half feet broad, and appear to have been shaped. They have certainly been brought to the site, but whether they are in situ cannot be said. They must have beer. associated with the burials, and were probably used as a "portal."*
*In Cronk yn How, Lezayre, was found a "pocket" of 125 round white shore pebbles. There were in that site (which was over a mile from the shore) "two wheelbarrow loads of white pebbles." but there were only a couple of dozen such pebbles found at Knocksharry, although any number could have been had on the shore. a third of a mile away. For the description of Cronk yn How excavation see Arch, Camb. Dec. 1930, and N.H.A.S. Proc. iii, 1932.
+Mr C. H. Cowley opened in 1924 a Cist on the White Strand farm, less than half a mile to the S.W., which consisted of boulders of local sandstone. (See Mr Cowley's description p. 453).
Another feature is the vast quantity of earth which had clearly been moved to the site to cover the burials. The labour involved in this transfer of soil in primitive conditions must have been immense.
It is difficult to account for the presence of portions of two human skeletons in Area B. alongside of fragments of pottery and calcined bones; the inference is that these had been secondary burials. The complications caused by the secondary interments have been accentuated by the disttarbance in more recent times, causing the remains to be scattered.
Sir Arthur Keith's Report.
Three individuals are represented in the remains you have submitted to me. The small assortment of cremated fragments, which I have numbered "3" represents a woman-so I judge from her eyebrow ridges, and thin skull bones. No. 1 is part of the skull of a very small-faced, delicately featured woman, about 25-30 years of age. Her lower jaw, in size and in strength of development, corresponds to that of a child of nine or ten years of age. She was one of these ultra-feminine, child-faced women-still abundant in our modern population. Although her jaws are so small-indicative of good living her teeth are full sized and free from disease. Her two upper wisdom teeth are very small, while the two lower have never been formed.
In box No. 2 are, fragments of the lower limb bones of an adult man of medium stature-about 5ft. 6in. The bones show no unusual feature.
I am returning your boxes and specimens, and hope they will reach you safely.
Royal College of Surgeons, London. October 6th, 1930.
*Mr O. G. S. Crawford gives the opinion that "without doubt the "portal was functional; it stood at the threshold of the tomb, and "through it passed the corpse to its last home . . outside it may have "gathered the people of the tribe to do reverence to the spirit of the "dead, and perhaps to leave their offerings."-Long Barrows of the 'Cotswolds.
Report as to an Iceland Sheep's Hair.
When examining the pieces of pottery discovered at Knocksharry, a hair was seen to be attached to one of the sherds. It was carefully preserved and sent on to the Director of the Wool Industries Research Association at Headingley, Leeds, for his examination. The investigator's report is as follows:
"This hair is definitely not a human hair. As far as we have been"able to ascertain, by comparison with the various kinds of animal "hairs which we possess, this specimen appears to resemble most "closely the non-medullated hairs of the Iceland Sheep, which, oĽ "course, is known to be a primitive breed.
H. R. HIRST,
12th December, 1930. Investigator.