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.


Digging for Bones Workshops

Authors: Rachel and Michelle

Following our adventures in Archallgan Plantation we spent a week running workshops for primary school children. We visited a number of schools across the island: Onchan, Braddan, Ballacottier, Kewaigue, Peel Clothworkers, Foxdale, St Johns and the Bunscoill. The workshops we designed were adaptable to suit different ages (we worked with students from year 1 (5-6 years old) through to year 6 (10-11 years old). Our main aims with the workshops were to teach the students a little about archaeology and burials on the Isle of Man and to learn about skeletons and what sorts of things archaeologists can learn from skeletons. We also wanted to make sure they had fun!

Michelle and ‘Boney Tony’ (kindly loaned to us by MNH). Image: Rachel

The workshops started with a discussion of what an archaeologist is and where archaeologists might work. We mostly let the children do the talking and tell us what they knew – and they knew lots! After this we got on to the really fun bit – we put them in teams of two and gave them a washing-up bowl full of soil and some tools. Hidden within the mud there were animal bones for them to find and excavate. We taught them how to excavate slowly (not like a dog!). Afterwards they had to record the bones they had found – they did drawings, wrote descriptions and measured them. Using all the information they had gathered they had to try and deduce what animal the bones were from and which bones they were.

Digging for bones! Image: Rachel

After all the mud was cleared away the students got the change to draw on Michelle’s expertise to learn all about human skeletons. We talked about how we can distinguish humans from other animals by their skeletons and how we are able to work out the age and sex of the dead by looking at the bones.

Year 1 and 2 students at Kewaigue pose for a photo with ‘Boney Tony’. Image: Rachel

The workshops were generously funded by Culture Vannin alongside Michelle’s research into the human remains held by the museum. We’d like to thank all the schools and teachers that invited us to come and visit them and, of course, the students for their enthusiasm and attention! We both absolutely loved our week working with the schools and meeting so many curious young people but we were both exhausted by the end!

Follow this link to see the article about the workshops from Isle of Man Newspapers.



2017 Site Report

Authors: Rachel and Chris

In this blog we are going to post a copy of our site report which you can download. The site report is a technical document that gives the detail of what we found during the excavation this summer and how we are understanding and interpreting the site. The document was officially lodged with Manx National Heritage two weeks ago – they will keep a copy of it for posterity. We also sent a copy to all of those that volunteered their time on the dig and helped out with the project.

The document is an interim report – it summarises the findings as they stand. We are still busy doing lots of post-excavation research – looking at the finds, carrying out flotation and waiting for reports from soil scientists. You might also notice that we highlight the things we do not currently understand about the site and we suggest how we might be able to resolve this in the future.

If you have any questions or comments about the report then feel free to post below and we will try and answer them for you. Happy reading!

Download the report here:

Cronk Guckley Berk Farm excavation report 2017

We’ve been on a mound hunt!

Authors: Rachel and Michelle

Regular followers will note there has been a slight hiatus – Rachel and Michelle have been on the Isle of Man doing lots of project work and the blog has had to take a back seat these past few weeks.

Mound Hunters. Image: Michelle

On Sunday 8th October in the afternoon Michelle and Rachel took part in the Heritage Open Day scheme on the Isle of Man. We ran a mound hunt in Archallagan plantation – the event was free but ticketed and all the tickets sold out beforehand which was very encouraging.

A mossy mound. Image: Michelle

Regular readers will know that the project has done geophysical surveys on part of the mound cemetery that extends from the eastern edge of the plantation into the agricultural fields on the east. We met the 30 participants in the plantation on a rainy afternoon (the trees kept us dry!) and showed them the 1860s map of the area. We showed them how hard the mounds were to spot in the field where we had done the geophysics and shared the results of the geophysical survey with them.

Mound Hunters trying to pick out the lumps and bumps on the plantation floor. Image: Michelle

We next handed them a map made from the LiDAR survey results and the 1860s map of the plantation. We highlighted 8 mounds on the map and helped to orient the mound hunters within the plantation and then set them loose to try and find the mounds!

Image: Michelle

The event was designed to be family friendly – hidden on each mound was a clue to collect to enable the mound hunters to solve a small archaeological puzzle at the end! We both really enjoyed the event and were impressed with the young participants in particular who are surely future archaeologists!

Putting the clues together. Image: Michelle

After a busy Sunday afternoon we spent the next week continuing the outreach work on the island with lots of workshops for schools and some special lectures for the Friends of Manx National Heritage – we’ll be talking more about the school workshops in the next blog!




Image: Michelle

Heritage Open Days 2017: Round Mounds event

Author: Rachel

Manx National Heritage are running two weekends of Heritage Open Days this year. One from Friday 29th September to Sunday 1st October and the second from Friday 6th October to Sunday 8th October. These events are free and offer you the chance to access some of the more unusual or less publically accessible historic sites across the island in the company of experts who can tell you all about them.

Heritage Open Day

There are numerous events scheduled for this year from walking tours of the World War II civilian internment camps in Douglas to twilight tours of Castle Rushen with MNH Director Edmund Southworth. There is a chance to tour Government House and the Parliamentary buildings for those with an interest in politics and architecture. There is also a Douglas Pub Walk which will reveal the history of some of Douglas’ pubs! Details of all the events are available via the MNH website, by clicking here.

Followers of the Round Mounds project might particularly enjoy the tour of Balladoole on Friday 29th and Saturday 30th September with MNH curator Allison Fox. Balladoole is home to a chapel, a Viking boat burial, spectacular views, and an Iron Age site! More significantly for the project it is also home to some Bronze Age burials that Michelle will be examining the bones from later this month.

We also think that the tour of Knock-e-Dhooney in Andreas will be really fascinating. This tour is run by Dave Martin who has provided invaluable help and support to the Round Mounds project. Knock-e-Dhooney is home to a keeil and an impressive Viking ship burial and Dave is a great tour guide!

Michelle and I will also be participating in the Heritage Open Days on Sunday 8th October. We will be running a family event hunting for the round mounds in Archallagan plantation. Keen blog readers might remember that we carried out geophysics outside of the plantation and have blogged before about the 1860s maps and LiDAR images of the area. We will be showing participants the geophysics results from our work and then setting them off with an 1860s map into the plantation to hunt for the traces of the remaining mounds in between the trees. Our event has limited places and requires booking to take part. To book your place please follow this link.

Check out our Archallagan blog here.