[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 4 #2 1936]
At a meeting of the Society held in Clifton House on 11th December, 1935, the following papers were read:
"Ancient Structures Uncovered at Derbyhaven in 1935," by Rev. E. H. Stenning; and
"Excavations at Ronaldsway, 1935," by Mr. W. C. Cubbon.
By Rev. E. H. STENNING.
[Note that the figures were not printed]
In the levelling operations at the Aerodrome at Ronaldsway, Malew, It was necessary to remove a fold in the ground, about 15 yards from the main road from Derbyhaven to Ballasalla, and about 40 yards from high-water mark, and at a point in the, Ordnance Survey, six inches to the mile, Sheet XVI. at a point immediately South of the first 'A' of RONALDSWAY.
This fold of gound had to be levelled a matter of 5ft. 6in. at the middle of the fold, down to the existent level round the south wall of the field.
The geology of this area is simple. It is dealt with in "Geology of the Isle of Man." Mem. Geol. Surv.: (G. W. Lamplough) p. 465. It consists of blown sand of varying thickness upon glacial drift of varying thickness, in turn upon raised beach. This particular fold was entirely composed of fine blown sand. But on the edges of the fold the sand was thin, and there was a layer of from one to three feet of drift gravel.
The levelling cleared away all the sand from the portion concerned, and part of the gravel. In the gravel occurred an early grave. Reports had reached Mr. W. C. Cubbon, of Rushen Abbey, Ballasalla, that a series of graves had been uncovered some 20 yards away from this spot, and he had asked that if any others were discovered, ,he might be informed. This was done, and he sent to me to ask if I would photograph the grave. This I did. The photograph of the covering stones is shown (Fig. 1). These stones having been .removed, we found a small gravelfilled grave, carefully made, with its sides shaped by, slabs of stone mainly local slaty schists, and limestone. Mr Cubbon carefully removed the gravel from the grave. It was full of black earth, and fragments of ash, but on cne side of the grave, about the mid point of the rectangle, was a skull lying on its right side, facing towards the sea. It was complete, and its mandible was in the correct position, so well in position that it was obvious that the teeth met in an edge to edge bite. The skull was removed as delicately as possible, but it was very fragile except the teeth which were amazingly well preserved. This skull was submitted to Dr. A. E. Cave, of the Royal College of Surgeons, who made the following report:
"The remains comprise the palatial portions of both maxillae, the alveolar portion of the mandible, the left petrous temporal, part of the frontal bone, fragment of left alisphenoid, three pieces of the cranial vault and a number of teeth. All belong to one individual-a young adult person.
"It is not possible to assess stature, sex, or racial characteristics. There is no sign of either 3rd molar tooth in the upper jaw; otherwise all the maxillary teeth were present at the time of death. An incisor 'edge-to-edge' bite is evident; the hinder teeth show a fair degree of wearing down to. their crowns especially in one so young; there is no dental or alveolar disease; there has been no extraction of teeth during life.
"The mode of burial of this individual suggests an ancient date-Neolithic or later-but the exact determination must depend upon the evidence of an archaeological nature. 'Ancient British' is perhaps the safest label to adopt until further evidence may be forthcoming."
There was no trace of any recognisable bone in the black ashy earth in the grave.
Immediately beneath the grave was the raised beach with shells. The total depth of the grave from the top slab to the base of the quartz pebbles was 19 inches. The length of the grave over all was 31 inches and the width 17 inches.
The chief point of interest in this grave lay in the fact that the head had evidently been decapitated, and had not been burnt, whilst all the rest of the body had apparently been burnt, and the ashes interred with the head.
There was no attempt at orientation in the grave. It lay approximately S.S.W. to N.N.E. The face of the skull was directed in a direction about S.E. I personally knew of no other graves in which a head had been interred with the ashes of the body. I made extensive enquiries amongst authorities, none of whom could give me any parallel examples. I chanced to mention the find to Mrs. Cotton (better known in the Island as Miss Molly Marshall) who has recently been engaged in much research work at Maiden Castle, Dorchester, and other places,, and she at once recalled the finds in the cave at Ojnet, N.W. of Munich, investigated by Dr. R. R. Schmitt, 1907-8, of which she gave me references. (Stone Age Guide: Brit: Mus; 1926; "Antiquity of Man," Keith, Vol. 1; "Our Early Ancestors," Burkitt, Camb.)-all of which quote Schmitt's papers.
From these references, it would appear that decapitation and burning of the corpse, with subsequent burial of the head with the ashes, was practised from Early Palaeolithic to late Neolithic times. I regret that I have not had time to follow this investigation along any further, but I will make further enquiries as to whether there are any other cases occurring in Britain. I have certainly found none so far.
Osborne, "The Old Stone Age," Bell and Sons, 1921, advances the theory. of cannibalism. He gives a full account of the custom of decapitation. It seems to me that the further investigation is justified, and that in this particular grave we may have come across (for Britain) an unique interment. The skull was not in a condition to shc.w whether decapitation had been carried out by any special type of implement. But there were no traces of any vertebrae.
Should there prove to be any further point of interest arising from this investigation. I will make a further communication to the Society. And I am inclined to think that there will. Should any small sized place of interment come to light in any part of the Island, containing only a skull, I shall be grateful if I may be asked to examine it before it is seriously disturbed.
The investigation of this curious old structure would well illustrate the perils that beset the path of the amateur investigator into archaeological finds.
It must be allowed that the circumstances surrounding the find were misleading. The grave mentioned in the first part of this paper had first been discovered. Within a few yards, the levelling of the aerodrome laid bare what appeared to be a line of stones. These stones were emedded in blown sand, and buried to a depth of about three feet. They were based on the same raised beach, and were, if anything, a little lower than the base of the grave. They were too deep to have received any plough-shave marks. The natural conclusion was, that there was some building or structure of the same period as the grave.
The stones were carefully exposed, and their line was explored. After running somewhat irregularly towards the South a mass of ruins was discovered.
It was very clear at the outset that these ruins were of a rude structure of very definite design.
The overlying earth was carefully gone over and examined. It yielded a mass of "finds" of bewildering variety. But of the greatest interest were the number of bones, and the surprising number of samples of rich galena, and pottery of two general types.
The bones were fragmentary and were all of domestic animals, the ox being commonest, but many examples also of sheep, pig, dog and goat, and one horn of goat. This was at first sight not surprising as the field had been a fertile and well cultivated field, and one might expect to find a mass of bones of domestic animals spread over the field from centuries of manuring operations.
But this was scarcely borne out by the excavations or by the depth of the finds, for the rest of the field did not contain anything like the number of bones per unit area and those were all at a much higher level, and much more decomposed. At this juncture, close beside, were found gigantic bones of what might have been an Irish elk, but which on examination proved to be those of a very recent shire horse, with modern iron shoes, and obviously fitted into its grave by sawing off the legs.
Eventually it became obvious that close to the main mass of ruins there was a well marked and obvious smelting furnace, for obtaining lead. The smelting of lead has not varied much from primitive times up to the present time. There are three chief methods, only differing in minor details, the British, the Carenthian and the Silesian.
In the British system, the smelting is carried out in a reverberatory furnace, the sole of which is paved with slags from previous operations, and based usually upon flags, or clay baked in the heat. From this floor, a runnel carries the crude molten lead to the exterior, where it is run into earthenware crucibles. Then usually quicklime is introduced to these crucibles, and considerable quantities of bone charcoal. The crucibles are then re-introduced into the fire, and the roasting process is resumed. The quicklime takes off the non-reducible and refractory material as slag, which floats to the top of the "cups" and, the bone charcoal reduces the rest and lead is left, filling the bottoms of the "cups" of a very pure quality.
In this particular instance, the floor of the furnace was a sandy flag, while the reverberatory part of the furnace was made of flaggy limestone, which, of course, had been heavily "burnt" by the furnaces. It was very obvious, therefore, that the ruins were those of a lead floor, and the accompanying 'storehouse' and probably dwelling house. The only thing needed was the approximate "date." The presence of the early grave at first inclined me to think that the furnace was an early "barter furnace," sometimes to be found near the coasts, and the scene presumably of exchanges between foreigners who come over and leave other goods in exchange for lead. The working of lead, naturally, from the nature of the case, goes back to early Neolithic times, and it seemed probable that here was a very early smelting floor. The structure of the buildings would not seem to negative this first assumption. There was no trace of mortar. The stones were very roughly placed one on the other, and probably bound together with clay, though none remained to support this theory. The buildings had only been built about two or possbily three feet high, and then presumably finished off with wattles liberally caulked with clay.
The buildings consisted of a square room about loft. in width, surrounded by a perfect set of "lockers." These lockers during the first excavation had led us to think that here was a burying place, with the charred bones in situ. Examination of the bones, however, showed no trace of human remains, and all the bones and teeth were those of domestic animals.
At this juncture, Professor Fleure came over and spent the day in reconstructing. Photogaphs are attached, showing the chaotic mass of stones before he started, and the comparative order to which he reduced it, viz., that of the square room with centre pillar, evidently the living and sleeping room of the community, and the surrounding bins of charcoal, and bones not charred.
Evidently there had been a great demand for bones, and apparently every bone in the neighbourhood found its way to the charcoal hearth. In the N.E. corner of the buildings was almost certainly this charcoal hearth, a long narrow flue, which could have been set smouldering on, and covered over with turves, while the bones were charred. Even more interesting were two bins containing very obvious traces of clay for the manufacture fof the crucibles, as well as for domestic utensils purposes. The clay was of two sorts, local red clay, and fine koalin, like white clay. From the former the crucibles had been manufactured, and from the latter, the finer domestic china. It only needed now to get the fragments of china examined for an approximate date. There were two types, and one of these coarse types was found in heavily burnt, and light burnt, varieties, corresponding presumably with the amount of use it had received. The ,domestic pottery. was glazed with a yellow glaze. It was quite prettily coloured and ornamented in greens and yellows. This was submitted to the British Museum, and it was reported as being XIV.-XV. century pottery and distinctive of that period.
The buildings were therefore probably last used at about this time.
The ruins must therefore be classified as those of a XV. century reverberatory smelting furnace, domestic house, and stores. Four interesting problems now remained, and still remain:
(i) Whence was the supply of galena obtained?
(ii) How did the settlement come to be smothered in silt and earth?
(iii) To whom did the place belong?
(iv) How did it come to be built on the same level, and within so close a distance of the ancient grave?
The sources of lead would appear to be Foxdale, or Rushen mines, or possibly the famous argentiferous Glenchass working. It is apparently very difficult to identify which is the more probable. The galena was in quartz veins. This would seem to point to Foxdale or Rushen as I did not find any sign of copper pyrites, or zinc blende in any specimen I examined. All the specimens seemed to be pure quartz and galena, the galena being very rich in every case.
As regards the destruction of the settlement (for presumably it must have been overwhelmed in some gigantic flood) it is difficult to say, either as regards date, or cause. The whole area is made up of glacial drift. This, of course, was a good reason at first for supposing we had uncovered a more ancient settlement than it proved to be. In Castletown, not two miles away, in the silt and drift, had been discovered traces of man in company with the bones of Cervus gigantŠus. We were, therefore, justified in assuming that here was another such settlement. (See Stenning: Discovery of Bones at Castletown, Proc. I.O.M. Antiquarian Society, Vol. III., po. 234). But the presence of XV. centuary pottery and the absence of any other signs of a neolithic character in the buildings made it impossible that the inundation in this case was within centuries of Cervus! Yet here we found the walls thrown down, and the whole area filled up with silt and gravel. It would suggest some gigantic flood that brought down enough silt to cover over these buildings completely after having thrown them down, and later they were more deeply covered by the dune-like formation of blown-sand.
As regards the ownership of the settlement, it is impossible for me to suggest. Mr. W. C. Cubbon, of Rushen Abbey, sent me a most tempting suggestion, that here was the smelting floor granted to the monks of Rushen Abbey by Harald in 1246, "Oliver Monumentum," and in my ignorance I wondered if the Bakenaldwalh could be identified with Regnaldwalh. At least the last part of the name seemed identical. Mr. W. Cubbon supported it, but Mr. Kneen would have none of it, and my ignorance of names and, indeed, of the history of the monks of Rushen Abbey is such that I am perfectly content to be certain the idea was fanciful. This is still further borne out by the discovery in the other area of more lead-smelting floors.
As to why there should have been this pair of interesting objects in such close proximty, and totally unrelated, I can only suggest the most amazing coincidence. Presumably the builders of the lead floor had no idea that covered up close beside them was this ancient grave. Presumably, had they known, they would have thrown the skull into their old bone bin!
I must, in conclusion, give my most sincere thanks to Professor Fleure for his hard work in laying clear the plan of the building, as well as for his countless suggestions that saved me from so many of the pitfalls that surround the enthusiastic amateur; and similarly I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Mrs Cotton for her tireless search into the records -f decapitation amongst our ancient forefathers.
| Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received MNB
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