2019 Interim Site Report

You can download a copy of our 2019 site report here: CG2019 report FINAL PUBLIC

The disruptive effects of covid mean the report is later than usual in the calendar and we won’t be able to dig at all this year. We remain hopeful for a 2021 season and cannot wait to get back to the island.

Interview from 2017

Author: Rachel

In the last blog we gave you the beautiful slow motion video of our first trenches being de-turfed and worked and 2017. This week we have an interview recorded by Culture Vannin in 2017 – regular followers and readers will enjoy seeing me guess what was under the mound – I never imagined a jet necklace was the answer!

Aerla’s Gift – part 3

The final part of Aerla’s Gift, a fictional story inspired by the dig by Marion Hastings

“ I have handed on my knowledge and skills to my granddaughter over the years. Many of you have benefitted from her abilities. I am now reaching the full span of years and wish to ensure the continuing well being of my clan. I now ask you to consider accepting Erith as your medicine woman and Shaman.”

Everyone knew Aerla and Erith and their invaluable part in clan life, so they soon formally agreed that Aerla’s cloak could be transferred to Erith. The clan chief lifted the woven cloak from Aerla and symbolically laid it over the new medicine woman’s shoulders. The sacred shaman stick with its intricate design of whorls and knots carved by her grandfather, was removed from the amulet bag and placed in Erith’s right hand. The future was secured and now the feasting could begin. Standing aside for a moment, Aerla realised she could start preparing for her death.

Later in the season, as the leaves turned brown and the deer called in the woods, Aerla saw that all was well. Sitting outside the dwelling she shared with her granddaughter, she slowly withdrew her precious articles from the hide bag. They would be with her on her unknown journey to the future. The rose quartz pebble was given to her by her man on the day they conceived Erith’s mother. The tiny acorn was a gift carved by her father on her womanhood day. The meadowsweet herb was to scatter over her body as she was buried. The eagle feather was to ensure she was recognised by her Peculiar when she met it in her afterlife.

Her final and most precious treasure gleamed in the setting sun as it lay on Aerla’s lap. She would wear it on her journey to the next life. This personal and beautiful part of her history was a jet necklace. Many seasons ago, when she was strong and vibrant, strangers had passed through their land. Usually there was feasting and exchange of gifts and of young people. Trading was important but occasionally blows and trouble arose. One summer, a boatload of strangers came but some were ill with fever, Aerla isolated them all in a shelter well away from the river and the huts of the clan. She tended them with all her skill and potions, assuaging their sweatings, hallucinations and tremblings. Due her continual care, only one foreigner died and none of her clan caught the fever. During his recovery, the grey haired warrior leader had listened to Aerla’s tales of her green and pleasant land and wondered if his family group could settle on the Island. In
the next sailing season, the small group arrived and offered their abilities to the clan in exchange for accepting them as new members. The warrior could help defend them as there were rumours of unrest and fighting across the water. His son was adept at breaking the flints, found on the beach, into sharp weapons. These arguments were given to the clan by Aerla to encourage them to allow the five strangers to settle.

In gratitude for all her help and friendship, the warrior gave Aerla the gift of the beautiful necklace. It had been traded from the far side coast of the other island, whether by sea or land was not known. Triangles of jet, black as night, were individually patterned with small jet beads. Each piece was linked to the next one by soft, strong gut. Intricate and like no other necklace anyone in the clan had seen, Aerla always treasured this glorious gift, wearing it on special occasions only.

Looking up at the burial mound, Aerla remembered the day they interred her daughter’s cremated bones all those years ago. They had been placed in a cist and entered into the mound near other burials before the replacement of the earth and turf. At this site, the winds blew free the spirit of the dead and the ancestors could protect the living and be part of their stories and legends. Now Aerla is ready to go to her new abode and passes peacefully into the realm of the spirits.
The people recognise her as a special person and dig her grave into a new mound near the first one. They dig a long way down so she would continue as the Earth Mother watching over her clan. Gently and reverently her body is laid on its side with the legs flexed up and a hand under her cheek. One of her nettle woven bags containing unguents is tucked beside her belly. Her necklace is carefully arranged round her neck so the beads glitter in the shaft of sunlight that glows down on the burial ceremony. As her clan sing the mourning song, the soil is scattered over Aerla’s body and both she and the jet necklace are enclosed in darkness.

Aerla’s Gift – Part 2

Part 2 of Aerla’s Gift, inspire by the findings of the dig and written by Marion Hastings

Throughout their lives, Aerla had advised the clan on matters such as the best shore to gather shellfish from, what season certain tubers were good to eat and how to deal with accidents. But her vital role was to be a conduit to the spirits and keep the balance in harmony. Propitiation of these beings was essential to everyday life and, as the Shaman, Aerla knew Erith would be strong and intuitive enough to interpret the spirits will.

Aerla’s most challenging ordeal was the terrifying day the world appeared to die. The Sun gradually disappeared from the cloudless noonday sky. Everything fell silent. No birdsong. No animal sounds. No trees rustling their leaves. It was as if the world’s breath was held still. As if it was suspended in a void. People fell down and hid their eyes in terror. A quick glance revealed the amazing sight of the gradual reappearance of the Sun. Birds began to sing. A rustle of undergrowth meant the insects and tiny creatures were hunting again. People slowly stood up, bewildered and scared.
“What happened? Are we all to die? Is the sky going to fall in? Will hunting fail?”

Questions poured out of the clan’s distressed lips. This strange sun death was a major omen and Aerla the Shaman was hard pressed to interpret it and reassure the clan.
She fasted and ritually cleansed herself while concentrating on her Particular, the Eagle. The clan encircled the space outside her dwelling and quietly waited for the rite to start. Ingesting the appropriate fungi, holding the eagle feather and slowly rotating in a dance while the drummer beat a steadily increasing rhythm as the people chanted, the Shaman changed into a hallucinatory state. Returning from her journey to the spirit world, she was exhausted and fragile but now knew how to appease the spirits.

“ We have to hold a great ceremony with offerings to the spirits. These will be our best spear, best cloth, deer meat cooked to perfection and a carved stone. All offered in our sacred ancestors land on the hill. The spirits accepted your rapid offering of the blinded man”.

This was the man who has stared at the sun for hours when it reappeared. He began clawing at his eyes and screaming he could not see. The clan decided it was a punishment from the other world and he was now an outsider, so the hunters took the blind man up to the high mountain and left him there for the spirits to do with him as they wished.

The subsequent time of bounty and successful hunting was felt to be good fortune after the ceremonial activities. The Shaman was revered for her ability to speak with the spirits. As time passed, Aerla utilised this belief in her, to ask the clan if they would welcome Erith as their chosen Shaman when Aerla passed into the spirit world.

Aerla’s Gift Part 1

Rachel: Chris and I have been busy working on grant applications for next year, writing up the dig from this summer, and presenting a paper about the dig at the Bronze Age Forum last weekend in Durham.

For the next couple of blogs we are going to do something different. One of the people who taught me to dig was Marion Hasting, she is an expert digger (now retired) who volunteered on many Manx excavations. Marion has visisted the dig every year and keeps up to date with our reports and blogs and has used this as inspiration to write some fiction. So we present to you

Aerla’s Gift Part 1

Aerla’s gnarled hands cradled the boar’s hide amulet bag.

“Grandmother, are you with us still” whispered a gentle voice. Erith was anxious that her
grandmother’s recent dreams of her passing to the spirit world had come true before farewells could be said.
“ Just remembering my life my beloved child” came the strong-voiced answer.

Erith’s father was killed on a hunting trip not long after her birth. Her mother was wounded to death by a rampaging boar when Erith was only three summers old. Aerla had guided Erith into adulthood and taught her all her skills and wisdom over time. Continuing the family’s long line of shamanistic service to the clan, there had been much to impart.

As Erith joined Aerla on the mat, she gently mulched herbs for a poultice while begging for the retelling of the boar story for the uncountable time.
“ We strove to save your mother but she was too badly gored to survive. The hunters left to find the beast. With its tiny red eyes and pointed sharp tusks it was a dangerous quarry but the men finally cornered it and speared it to death.”
All parts of the deadly boar were used. The meat made a filling mourning feast. The marrow was extracted with great suckings and slurpings by all the clan. The bones were pounded into powder which was used to clean the living areas with the besoms. The tendons were slowly pulled out to form thread to sew clothes, tie up bundles, affix axe heads to wooden handles and a myriad other uses.

“The digging stick you were ceremoniously offered on reaching womanhood was one of the boar’s tusks” Aerla reminded her.

The women took the intestines to the river to scour them clean and, when dry, used them to store food. Even the hooves were heated on the stones and the residual gloop smeared onto woven cloth to keep the weave tight and damp proof.

“The hunters carefully removed the skin and then it was our job to scrape the inner part to remove the bristles sticking through. A long, tedious task. We carried the hide down to the water’s edge and weighted it down with big stones. It was left to soften and be cleansed by several tides. Now very heavy, we needed many of the clan to carry it up to the nearby waterfall where we rinsed and pounded it to remove the salt and extraneous material. Everyone enjoyed frolicking in the water, throwing handfuls of water at each other while the children jumped off the rocks and ran behind the waterfall. Finally, the men hauled the hide up over a strong branch and left it to dry in the wind, shaded by the leaves.”

Erith stroked the mat they sat on. It was part of the sturdy hide and her life history.

All this had happened many many moons ago. As the season’s turned, Erith’s aptitude for herbal understanding increased; identifying the plants, knowing when to pick them and how to make unguents, salves and poultices. Gradually, she also developed an instinct for the aura of the spirits surrounding the clan and which herbs to be burnt in ceremonies. Aerla gently nurturedthese skills as Eith had no parents or siblings so would need to be strong and have a distinctive voice to survive in the clan. The only other path was to be paired with a member from another group. Aerla felt that, with her accomplishments and empathy, Erith deserved to be more than a tribesman’s mate. It was with great joy that Aerla had handed the role of medicine woman over to Erith with the acceptance of the clan.

Jack’s Blog

Author: Jack Barber – History and Archaeology student, Newcastle University

Greetings!

My name is Jack Barber and I have recently finished my second year studying History and Archaeology at Newcastle University. I have been digging the round mounds at Berk Farm on the west coast of the Isle of Man. My involvement began with deturfing which essentially required us to stamp on spades and shovels to remove the topsoil, going through it in squares or small rectangles and piling them near to the trenches which are labelled 1b, 1c, and 1d (1a has been completed). Following this, we mattocked through the topsoil until we reached a new context, where we could excavate with trowels. Since this, large amounts of flit have been found and recorded. This differs from my previous excavation experience which came at Wallington Hall in Morpeth, where we excavated a mill from the 1780s whereas on site here the trench dates to roughly 2000BC!

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Jack (left) and Jenny (right) digging. Image: Dave Horan

 

Maddy’s Blog

Author: Maddy Raine, Archaeology BA student, University of Leicester

I am an archaeology student at the University of Leicester going into my final year. I am part of a wider group of students from Leicester and Newcastle universities who are currently doing fieldwork on a Bronze Age burial mound.

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Maddy (left), Taran (middle), and Nick (right) recording trench 1E.

My part of the project started by doing outreach, which is when we go into local schools to teach the children about about the archaeology of the island and the project. I spend the whole day at one school and we worked with three different classes. They were told about the archaeology we are doing on the island and we gave them buckets of sand, filled with finds, and toothbrushes so they could conduct their own excavations!

My second day was then spent on site digging on top of the mound near Kirk Michael looking out over the sea. It was a backbreaking day as we had to mattock away at the topsoil and then clear the earth away with shovels and wheelbarrows. Whilst we were doing this one of the supervisors, Michelle, discovered a small cremation deposit which is exciting because it probably means there are more to come further down! In the afternoon we moved onto trowelling and cleaning so that we could see more of the features emerging in the trench. I was on a particularly tricky patch with lots of stones to work around. Lots of people were finding bits of flint, however, I was not lucky enough to find anything yet!

My third day was spent on the finds processing team. We were based at the campsite and had to wash, photograph and record all the finds so far. The majority of the finds were flint,  but there was also modern ceramics, prehistoric pottery and a few pieces of cremated bone which cannot be washed. Once everything has been cleaning it is recorded in a spreadsheet alongside the 3D location data for each find. We got through all of the finds so quickly that we had to go back to site to get some more! Some of the pieces of flint were so tiny you could hardly see them in the bags!

Whilst digging we are staying at Glen Wyllin campsite which is right by the beach and the view is amazing across the sea. From the beach you can see both Ireland and Scotland, it is beautiful at sunset.

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Glen Wyllin beach at sunset. Image: Rachel

Jonny’s Blog

Author: Jonny Graham, Newcastle University graduate

Hello! My name is Jonny ‘flint’ Graham and I have returned to the Isle of Man for my third season digging at Cronk Guckley, Berk Farm having excavated here since 2017. I’ve just finished my degree in archaeology at Newcastle University with a first and am mainly interested in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age archaeology, particularly lithics. Since 2017 I have earned a bit of a reputation for finding excessive amounts of flint objects, especially those deemed to be so small they can be referred to by some members of the team as ‘nano-liths’. This has understandably frustrated those that do the 3D recording of finds using the total station and, recently, also frustrated me! The reason I have been frustrated is that I have been working in trench 1b in an enigmatic deposit, below the mound, where we have found a massive amount of flint debitage from knapping. Whist archaeologically this is fantastic, in the interests of cleaning sections and efficiently trowelling, it can be more annoying! It seems I am only ever in the trench for 30seconds before I find another nanolith and have to stop digging to record it! Nevertheless, this provides evidence that implies that someone knapped flint in this exact position in the Neolithic. It is a real privilege to handle the same pieces of flint millennia later sat in the same place which was undoubtedly imbued with meaning to the people of the Neolithic.

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Jonny recording his flint scatter. Image: Dave Horan

Recently I have been conducting a casual phenomenological experiment into flint knapping on the beach at Glen Wyllin near the campsite. I’ve been using flint cores from the beach and hammer stones of various sizes, shapes, and geologies. Whilst this is a casual experiment I have concluded that it is very difficult, and potentially dangerous activity that requires, days, months and years of attention and skill; you can’t just smash the hammerstone onto the core and expect a barbed and tanged arrowhead because flint is a hard and unpredictable beast.

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Jonny and Rachel, individually bagging the jet beads with damp material. Image: Dave Horan