Ready to go!

Author: Rachel

We have been very busy getting everything ready over the last few weeks and as a result blogging has taken a back seat. But – the first group of students and the rest of the team are on the boat tomorrow and will be putting trowel to earth on Sunday! So, watch this space! We are hoping to do a few short blog updates every week to show you how things are progressing on site.

There are still some space available on our site tours – to book one of these drop us an email at

taking photos2


Thanks for making it possible…

Author: Rachel

When we announced the dig a few weeks ago we were able to thank Manx National Heritage for their continuing support for the project. Without Manx National Heritage the project would not be possible. Their staff provide support and assistance throughout the year and most especially during the dig itself. On top of this Manx National Heritage provide financial support to the project which funds our staff during the excavation and the specialist post-excavation work that goes on during the rest of the year.


Two weeks ago we were also lucky enough to secure the support of the Isle of Man Steam Packet. Last year the Steam Packet Company offered significant financial support towards the cost of our transport to and from the island then they have generously offered to do this again this year. This support helps us get our staff, students and some equipment to the island. It makes a huge difference to the overall cost of the project and we are very grateful to them for their continued assistance.

Basic CMYK


Archaeology in schools

Author: Rachel

We are very pleased to be able to reveal that our outreach officer Amber will, once again, be visiting schools across the island this summer to allow students the change to have a go at being an archaeologist.

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Amber excavating.

We’ve run two sets of schools workshops on the island now – one last summer connected to the dig and a second last autumn focusing on skeletons with our osteologist Michelle. We offer these activity sessions to both primary and secondary school teachers. Every time we have advertised them they have booked up within the first few hours – this was the case once more a few weeks ago when we sent out the advert for this summer. It is absolutely wonderful that so many school teachers want to get their classes involved and it is always really hard saying that we have booked up to those we have to turn away!

The sessions start by talking a bit about what archaeologists do and how we learn about the past. We have lots of pictures and replica objects for the students to look at and Amber brings her trowel with her which is always a hit with the younger students! We tell the students a bit about the site we are digging and what life was like in the Bronze Age on the Isle of Man.

Next comes the fun bit!- depending on the age of the year group and how long we have with them we either get them to start cleaning muddy finds or they have a go at excavating finds we have hidden in our mini-excavation tubs.

Washing up bowls of mud and finds make great small scale excavations!

But archaeology is not all about digging – as regular readers will know – we also do a lot of recording. We have put together worksheets that allow the students to record their finds just like we would do – they do drawings, take measurements, and write descriptions. Archaeology draws on all kinds of skills and so do our recording sheets. The students try to use their observations to work out what their find is and then imagine who might have made the object, or when it might date to, or what it was for.

It is really wonderful to be able to take these kinds of activities into local schools and share more of the island’s history with our future archaeologists! This year we are thrilled to be able to work with other 500 school students!

Come and visit the site

Author: Rachel

Just as we did last year we will be offering site tours again this summer. These will be in the afternoons at 3.30pm and have to be booked in advance due to limited places.


On the tour we will take you up to the site, showing you the other mounds and the geophysics results that have informed our excavations before arriving at the site itself. On site we will show you what we are uncovering, explain how we understand the site, show you some of our finds and, give you the chance to watch our team at work and ask them questions.

We will be running site tours on the following days:

  • Sunday 8th July
  • Monday 9th July
  • Tuesday 10th July
  • Wednesday 11th July
  • Thursday 12th July
  • Sunday 15th July
  • Monday 16th July
  • Tuesday 16th July
  • Wednesday 18th July

The site is up a very steep hill, it is not far in distance from where you will park but it is a steep walk so please wear suitable shoes and bring water. We cannot allow any dogs onto the site.

Places on the tours are strictly limited and must be booked in advance. Last year all of the spots on our tours booked up very quickly. If you would like to book a place then please email:


Announcing our 2018 dig

Author: Rachel and Chris

We are very pleased to announce that in just 8 weeks time (!) we will be back on the Isle of Man to continue the excavation of our Bronze Age burial mound, Cronk Guckley, at Berk Farm!

Cairn overview 2
We are hoping for lovely weather once more! Image: Rachel

We are absolutely thrilled to be able to come back and continue the excavation of this really exciting site. We are, once again, really grateful for financial support from Manx National Heritage as well as the Universities of Leicester and Newcastle. We also continue to be indebted to the Cannell’s who own the land the mound is on and the Curphey’s who farm it: without their permissions and patience the dig would not be possible.



This year we are doubling the length of our excavation season, from 2 weeks to 4, in order to give us enough time to try and un-pick the complex structure of the mound. We will be digging from Sunday 24th June until Friday 20th July. We will be bringing students from the Universities of Leicester and Newcastle who will take part in the dig as part of their degree studies. Many of the students who dug with us last year are returning again and we are really pleased to be welcoming them back onto the project. A number of our students from last year are set to graduate this summer and some of them are also returning as volunteers which is fantastic.

Lunch time on site. Image: Rachel

Once again we will be offering volunteering opportunities for locals. We operate a flexible policy for local volunteers so that you can fit participation around other commitments –  you will be made very welcome whether you’d like to take part for a day or the whole dig. We provide full training on site and allow you the opportunity to have a go at archaeology and discover part of the prehistoric past of the island. For more details please email

Learning to record. Image: Rachel

In the coming weeks we will be releasing information about our dig plans, opportunities to visit the site, our schools program, and giving you a chance to get to know those working on the dig this summer.

Busy on site. Image: Rachel

We can’t wait to get our trowels back out and see what more the mound has to reveal!

Cupmarks III

Author: Rachel

Avid blog followers will notice there has not been a blog for a while for which I offer my apologies. A great many university staff across the UK have been taking industrial action in February and March, a consequence of this has been that I have not been able to blog recently.

This week I want to conclude the short series of blogs on rock art by talking about the cup marks that are part of burial sites. A good example of a burial site with that features a cup-marked rock comes from the site of Ballakelly in Santon.

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Ballakelly. Photo: Rachel
Ballakelly – looking into the chamber, the cup-marked rock is located at the central rear of the image. Photo: Rachel

This site is in a farm field just off the Old Castletown Road. It is quite a confusing site and there is debate about when in the Neolithic it dates to (it could even, just about, be Early Bronze Age) (there is a good summary of the debate in the new Lynch and Davey book on megaliths). The site features an internal rectangular chamber with one side missing (some people see this as an entrance grave, others suggest it is a cist with a missing side), and a surrounding ring of 6 stones that form a kerb around a presumed cairn that contained the rectangular chamber. There are a number of other stones within the protected area of the site at least some of which we think were placed there as a result of field clearance. One of the stones at the back of the kerbing has two concentrations of cup marks on it arranged in rows.

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The cup marks are on the left side of the rock nearest to the camera – you may just be able to make them out. Photo: Chris

We also find cup marks included as part of sites we can confidently date to the Early Bronze Age. At The Hump, Ballaleece – excavations in the 1930s revealed a burial mound containing at least 3 cists. The mound was constructed from alternating layers of sand and gravel and surrounded by a kerb of large stones. The records suggest that found within the material making up the mound were at least 6 stones with cupmarks on them. At Ballaquine, in Braddan, the burial mound has been eroded to reveal the capstone of the internal cist at the surface. This capstone features between 12 and 13 cupmarks according to Jenny Woodcock. At the Cronk, Upper Lherghydhoo, a site we have written extensively about before, one of the burials was contained by a Cordoned Urn which had been placed on top-of a cup-marked slate slab.

So the discovery of a cup marked slab at our site last summer  is not all that surprising. We find these kinds of stones quite commonly in Early Bronze Age burials. Across a small valley, to the south-west of our site there is a standing stone referred to as the Monkey Stone or Moses Stone. This standing stone is located above an out-cropping bit of slate bedrock which has at least five cup-marks on it. The farmer and landowner have suggested that some of the large rocks used to make up the kerbing of our mound are quite similar in form and texture to the slate that outcrops in the area around the Monkey Stone. This is one of the only cup-mark sites I have never visited so I am very much looking forward to a visit this summer to see the site.

Cup Marks II

Author: Rachel

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).

Fig 1 Overall Map
Map showing the location of cup-marked panels over the Meayll Peninsular. Image from Woodcock, 2016. Map Crown Copyright

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.


Panel on the Meayll Peninsular (Site 5 in Woodcock, 2016). Image: Rachel
The view from the rock art panel at Site 5. Image: Rachel

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.

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The Niarbyl panel. Image: Marta Diaz-Guardamino

In the next blog we will explore cup marks are burial sites on the island