In the last blog I introduced cup marks – a form of prehistoric rock art. This week I want to explore the cup marks that we have on the Isle of Man. We have a good few examples of cup marks on the island some of which are combined into monuments, some of which are found at burial sites, and some of which are open air panels. To date all the cup mark sites we have found consist only of simple cups (rather than the concentric rings and radial lines that were visible in some of the photos from Northumberland last week).
The biggest spread of cup marks can be found over the Meayll peninsular – that is the area between the Calf Sound and Cregneash – which is accessible via the coastal footpath. There are a large number of different panels spread across this area (some of which are not accessible and others are). We know of at least 14 different ‘sites’ with panels in this area following a survey in 1994 and 1995 by the Centre for Manx Studies (there is a summary published by Jenny Woodcock in the journal of Isle of Man Studies from 2016).
Lots of the cup marks are on the high ground around Conk Mooar but those that are perhaps most easily accessible are within the promontory fort of Burroo Ned. The promontory fort, defined by the big bank that runs across the cliff, is later in date (Iron Age) than the cup marks. Across the whole of the peninsular the cup marks are all on rock faces that have stunning views out to sea, often south towards the Calf of Man and the Sound.
Another panel that is particularly easy to visit is built into the sea wall at Niarbyll. The cup marks are facing upwards near the end of the sea wall, sometimes they might be filled with pebbles/debris that makes them hard to spot! There are at least 22 cup marks, arranged in 3 rows on this rock and they are well formed. We know that the rock was moved to the site and built into the wall but we don’t know when it was moved or where it came from. I was lucky enough to get the chance to take archaeologists Andy Jones, Hannah Sackett and Marta Diaz-Guardamino to visit this piece of rock art (and lots of other sites). Andy and Marta have been researching prehistoric art across Britain and Ireland over the past few years with great effect (we published a paper together on the ‘Ronaldsway plaques – decorated pieces of slate from the Late Neolithic). Marta carried out Reflectance Transformation Imaging (abbreviated to RTI) on the rock. RTI works by taking numerous photos of the rock art from the same position, but moving the light source in each photo. The images are then analysed by a computer and we are then able to manipulate the light in a composite image that makes it possible to see differences in surface texture and shape that are not perceptible to the naked eye. Below are some of the amazing image Marta took.
In the next blog we will explore cup marks are burial sites on the island