Over the past month Chris and I have been developing a database of round mounds on the Isle of Man. The database brings together all kinds of information, it plots locations of mounds, it details their names (and the many alternative names they often get called), it gives a description of their size and, if we can tell, what the mound is made of (earth, stone, a mixture of the two). In the case of mounds that have been excavated we have data regarding what was found (the number of burials, the finds associated with them, how the body was deposited, whether or not it had been cremated) and any dating evidence we might have. Most archaeological research projects rely on a database of some form and creating and working with one is an ongoing process.
We started this process using the dataset I gathered during my PhD. Chris added to this using data I gathered from the Manx National Heritage National Monument and Historic Environment Record. This record holds data on sites, and possible sites, which have been identified over 100s of year, it brings together the work of antiquarians and modern archaeologists. Going through this data is a time consuming process where we have to interpret the records and decide whether what we are reading about is a round mound or not. This might seem like a simple process but it can be quite tricky as we discriminate between different antiquarian accounts, the descriptions of OS mappers, and those of famous Manx archaeologists like P.M.C. Kermode regarding whether there is or, is not a mound at a given location and whether there is one mound, two mounds or even ten mounds!
In addition to the tricky issue of deciding which of the many characters from Manx archaeological history offers us the most accurate description of a given site we also have to decide whether or not we think it might be the kind of round mound we are interested in. Round houses, which began to be built in the Middle Bronze Age and continue in use through the Long Iron Age can, in some descriptions, be confused with a round mound – this is especially difficult if we are reading about a site that has since been ploughed or built over where we can’t go and look on the ground.
We are primarily interested in prehistoric round mounds but there are also a number of Viking mounds on the Isle of Man as well. These mounds are typically by the coast and often steeper and taller than a prehistoric round mound. The other category of site that often confuses the dataset is called a ‘shieling’ – a shieling is a stone hut. Shielings were often used as temporary seasonal shelters for shepherds in the uplands during the summers (you can read more about them here). We are actually recording data about all of these kinds of sites as we are interested in researching whether we can tell these different types of sites apart from descriptions, aerial photographs, LiDAR data and (in some cases) geophysics without needing to excavate.
You can learn more about the excavations at Ballateare in this video https://vimeo.com/127283661