Isle of Man Remains Bronze Age – but show Evidence of Tragedy

A team of archaeologists working at a site on the Isle of Man have uncovered evidence of a potential ancient tragedy on a site, once thought to be Neolithic but now dated to the Bronze Age.

The team from Lancaster based Oxford Archaeology North have been mapping and excavating an area of Bronze Age settlement discovered as the island’s airport is extended.

They are working on a theory that fire could have burnt part of the Bronze Age village to the ground.  The fire may have been so devastating that the village was abandoned and subsequently only used as a burial ground.  This may explain why three skeletons were found at the site, the area becoming a graveyard rather than being used as a settlement after the disastrous fire.
When the prehistoric human remains were found, they made headlines around the world.  At this time, it was thought the site dated from the Neolithic but further research and a close examination of the many pottery fragments found indicate a more recent Bronze Age settlement.
The excavations have been completed some two weeks ahead of schedule and the site, approximately 4 acres in size, is now ready for construction work to resume.It is now believed that what has been uncovered is a further part of a Bronze Age village first discovered when the runway was built in the 1930s.

Several of the half-dozen circular structures unearthed at the site featured charred earth indicating evidence of burning.  These were the homes and storage areas for these Bronze Age people.  The archaeologists believe these are Bronze Age homes dating back 3,500 years that appear to have burnt down.

Two cairns, in which were found the human skeletons, appear to be slightly more recent. One of the burials contained fragments of a ring or bangle which had been worn around the upper arm.  This indicates that after the fire the area may have undergone a change of use with the locals abandoning it and only using it for burials.

Andrew Johnson, field archaeologist at Manx National Heritage, said: “We now think these circular structures are Bronze Age homes. It certainly seems possible that some of these buildings have in some way been burnt down.

The site stretches from a south west to a north east direction and it does seem likely that if fire took hold in the south west then, given the direction of the prevailing wind, the possibilities of disaster are obvious. It’s an interesting speculation”.
Johnson went on to state: “The cairns appear to have been built slightly later, potentially after the conflagration. Perhaps in what psychologists would now describe as a process of closure, the settlement’s use was changed from a living community to a place of the dead.”
The Remains of a Circular Cairn
Picture Credit: IOM
Hundreds of pottery shards and pieces of worked flint were recovered, together with domestic rubbish in the form of shellfish and bones.  These items will be further analysed so that the scientists can build up a picture of living conditions on the island more than 3,000 years ago.Mr Johnson said the age of the remains had been revised after a much more detailed look at the pottery fragments. Radiocarbon dating may be used to get a more accurate date for the human skeletons.

He said: “We are certainly not disappointed that we are now looking at Bronze Age rather than Neolithic remains, absolutely not. Slight revision of working theories goes with the territory.
This dig has been an enormous success in terms of working with the airport and the construction team. It has been quite a difficult job but everyone involved in it can feel justifiably proud”.
All artefacts have been removed for study and conservation and a preliminary report will be prepared by Oxford Archaeology. It is likely that the team will return in the spring of 2009, when construction work moves to the eastern end of the airport where the promontory is to be built out to sea.

Commenting on the excavations, airport director Ann Reynolds said: “I understand that no archaeological project of this scale and complexity has been undertaken in the Island before in the course of a major construction contract. It has been a major achievement for all concerned”.Mrs Reynolds confirmed the runway project had not been delayed and was scheduled for completion by December 2009.

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