Finding the Ronaldsway Late Neolithic

Author: Rachel

In the last blog we talked about the final burial we uncovered on site this summer. This week we want to talk about a very unexpected discovery. When we went into the dig back in 2017 we suspected we were excavating an Early Bronze Age burial mound but we could not be sure. It became clear around the end of week 1 during that first season that the mound was indeed Early Bronze Age in date when we discovered the cist burial [link] though we did not know if there would be more archaeology below.

 

In the majority of the trench when we dug through the occupation layer we came down onto a ‘natural’ layer underneath. That is the layer before Early Bronze Age activity at the site properly began. However, in one area of there was a cut feature into the natural layer. Mareike was in charge of this part of the site and as she and Seb excavated together they came across some very large, very coarse fragments of pottery that were quite unusual looking to them. The pottery fragments were found alongside some pieces of flint and some stones all within the cut feature.

mareike at work
Mareike is busy at work excavating the pit in the middle of the photograph with the assembled crowd of antiquarians watching her.
Drawing 54
Drawing of the cut feature by Mareike. Image: Mareike

On the Isle of Man the Late Neolithic (which precedes the Early Bronze Age) is markedly different from other regional Late Neolithic’s across the rest of the British Isles and Ireland. Cremation burial dominates in the period (you can read about one of the sites, Ballateare), there is little evidence of large scale monumental construction, and there are distinctive ceramics and flint tools. Generally speaking, Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites do not tend to overlap (there are some exceptions).

pottery sherd
They very thick, very coarse pottery emerging from Mareike’s pit. Image: Rachel

The Late Neolithic period is marked by the use of very course, very thick, very large, pottery vessels. These vessels, termed Ronaldsway Neolithic pottery, are usually found in two main ways: either they are buried up to their necks with just the rims showing, or they are found as fragmented sherds, often in pits and often associated with lithics. For those familiar with the Isle of Man Ronaldsway is the name of our airport, this is where one of the first sites from the period was uncovered during world war two as the airport runway was extended.

Mareike and sherd
Mareike and the Ronaldsway pottery! Image: Rachel

The unusual pottery that Mareike and Seb found is Ronaldsway Late Neolithic pottery. This is really exciting for the project – not only do we have an Early Bronze Age burial mound with multiple phases of activity, we also have an Early Bronze Age occupation layer that pre-dates the mound, AND we now have evidence of Ronaldsway Late Neolithic activity at the site that pre-dates all of that. We certainly didn’t go into the project expecting to find any Ronaldsway material. At the moment we have two cut feature which contains Ronaldsway pottery, they are at the edge of our current excavation area and we are keen next year to explore the nearby area and see if there is any more evidence of Ronaldsway Late Neolithic activity in the area.

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