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

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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:


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).

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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

Cup Marks

Author: Rachel

This week the blog is going to discuss cup marks. Avid blog followers might remember that we mentioned cup-marks when we discussed the Bronze Age Burial Site: The Cronk Upper Lherghydhoo. At this site a Bronze Age Cordoned Urn burial, containing cremated remains, was found to have been placed on top of a cup-marked slate slap.

Cup marks are a kind of prehistoric rock art – they consist (in their simplest form) of small hollows carved into the surface of rocks. We find them outcropping in the landscape but we also often find cup-marked rocks incorporated into the architecture of other prehistoric sites. One particularly common place to find them is on the rock panels that make up the sides of a cist. Indeed, one of the sides of the miniature cist which we recovered this summer from our dig had a cup mark on its outer edge.


Spot the Cup Mark from the side of our cist! Images: Rachel

Cup Marks are usually a few centimetres across and are pecked into the rock. The concave depressions may be found alongside concentric rings, radial lines, channels and cracks. They are referred to as a form of rock art as they decorate the surfaces of outcropping rocks though they do not form the kind of ‘picture’ we might readily associate with the term ‘art’. Cup marks are found across the British Isles and more widely through Atlantic Europe.

A Cup Marked panel from Northumberland. The lichen makes it hard to see but you should be able to spot lots of small hollows when you get your eye in and even a more complex design in the lower right of the image. Image: Michelle

Archaeologists have excavated around some cup-marked rock panels in Scotland in Kilmartin Glen and Ben Lawer and in Northumberland at Hunterhaugh Crag. The excavations have revealing evidence for the production of these marks. In Kilmartin Glen excavation recovered evidence of quartz hammerstones which had been used to make the marks.

Hopefully now you have your eye in and can spot the cup marks. Image: Michelle

There are a few tricky things about studying cup-marks – firstly it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between a cup-mark carved by people and hollows that form through natural geological processes. Secondly, their abstract form can make them hard to spot. Thirdly, they can be very hard to date – we most commonly find them on open air panels where there is little that we can use to assign a date to their creation. When we can date their creation in open air panels we still cannot necessarily tell for how long they remained in use. When we find them included within the architecture of monuments, burial mounds, and cists we can date their association with the site but it is very hard to tell whether they were made specifically for use in the burial, or whether they could have been quarried from an open site elsewhere and potentially be much older than the site they are included within. Generally speaking, most archaeologists think that cup marks were created between the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.

Cup Marked panel on the Isle of Man – more about the Manx cup marks coming in the next blog! Image: David Horan

The abstract form of cup marks means that debate about their ‘function’ can be quite varied and that they attract all kinds of interpretations of their ‘meaning’. One of the aspects of research that I find most interesting about cup marks focuses on the way that decoration of the surface ties into natural rock features. Work in Kilmartin Glen has shown that cup marks were often placed specifically so that they would be ‘framed’ by geological fissures and cracks in the rock.

In the next blog I’ll focus specifically on the cup marks known from the Isle of Man and like the one we found last summer.

Manx National Heritage – Heritage Walks

Author: Rachel

Just a very brief blog from me today – I wanted to highlight some upcoming events run by Manx National Heritage for those readers on the Isle of Man. Throughout March they are running a series of weekend Heritage walks around Cregneash and the surrounding area. The area itself is stunningly beautiful and has an incredibly rich history including not only the cummals (Manx for home), but also the farming landscape, and World War II archaeology. The weekend walks will explore this rich and varied history – there is a walk focusing on the RAF radar station from World War II (3rd March), one on the cummals (18th March) and one on the wildlife and farming history (10th March). From our perspective though the most exciting is on Sunday 4th March when Dr Andrew Foxon will be leading a walk around the Meayll Circle (follow this link to read our blog about the site). Andrew is a wonderful speaker and a real expert: this is sure to be an engaging afternoon. Follow this link for more information.