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1. Introduction

The Isle of Man lies at almost the geographic centre of the British Isles and is a self-governing British Crown dependency. It has one of the oldest parliaments in the world, the Tynwald, and a population of just over 80,000. The parliament and its traditions are associated with the Viking period, when the Isle of Man was a powerful trading and administrative centre for the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles. Each new law that is passed by the parliament even today cannot be enforced until after it has been proclaimed, or promulgated, at the annual open-air sitting of Tynwald. This autonomy means that in many areas the Island has slightly different laws to its near neighbours around the Irish Sea (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Isle of Man ©Manx National Heritage

The prehistory and history of the Isle of Man are very much part of the national identity of the Manx people. The earliest human settlement was in the Mesolithic period, around eight thousand years ago with the natural transition to the Neolithic occurring c. 4000 BC. One of the main characteristics of Manx archaeology comes to the fore here, with the Ronaldsway culture and its idiosyncratic pottery. This theme runs throughout Manx history—similar developments were taking place on Man as elsewhere, but with a Manx 'twist' being applied. The Bronze Age and Iron Age were not followed by the Roman period on the island. Although there would undoubtedly have been knowledge of and trade with the Roman-occupied areas, no evidence for large-scale Roman influence has been found on Man. After the early Christians made their mark on the landscape with the small chapels, or keeills, the Vikings arrived with their trade and new ideas of government. The years succeeding Viking rule were turbulent in Man, with control alternating between Scotland and England, until a relatively stable few centuries when the Stanley family of Lancashire took over the lordship until 1736, at which time the British Crown bought the rights to the Island. What this rather headline summary indicates, hopefully, is that owing to the wide-ranging influences from and trade with other places, the Island has a wealth of portable antiquities both already known and potentially awaiting discovery.

The organisation responsible for such finds is the Manx Museum and National Trust—popularly known as Manx National Heritage (MNH). MNH has the remit for protecting the natural and cultural heritage of the Island, in addition to caring for the national archaeological, social history and natural history collections, and national art collection and archives. MNH also runs twelve heritage centres on the Island, but the core of the organisation is based within the Manx Museum in the capital of the Island, Douglas. The Manx Museum (in Manx Gaelic 'Thie Tashtee Vannin' - the house of treasure of Man) is the main repository for all archaeological finds, including Treasure Trove, from the Island. The collecting policy for the organisation is quite clear: objects, works of art, and documents from or associated with, the Isle of Man. There are no set time periods for the collections and they range in date from the earliest Mesolithic flint tools right up to a Tour de France green jersey worn by Mark Cavendish in 2011.


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