2.1 Reports of archaeological objects

During the calendar year 2011-2012, there were 31 separate reports of archaeological finds. Broken down, the categories of finders were as follows:

Numbers of reports have been higher in other years, but considering the cold winter last year, which deterred and prevented some fieldwork, an average of over two reports (not necessarily single objects) per month is fairly high. The chance finds include reports by walkers, builders and people having a house-clearout, but most of the reports were from metal-detector users. The Island has a thriving community of metal-detector users and most are members of the Manx Detectorists Society (which recommends membership of the Federation of Independent Detectorists, and others are affiliated to wider British associations. The excavations were one research-led, one development-led.

The range of material was, as is usually the case over here, quite varied; some suspected human remains, medieval silver coins, Bronze Age metalwork and Viking Age hack silver. The coins and hack silver are currently (as of April 2012) going through the Treasure Trove process, the human remains turned out to be animal and it is hoped that the Bronze Age metalwork will enter the Manx national collections.

The reporting requirements are just that—requirements to report only. However, over recent years, there has been a steady flow of reported archaeological objects being donated to the Manx national collections. Treasure Trove items come under different legislation, as discussed below, but around two-thirds of all finds that fit the collecting policy are donated to the national collections, with the majority of the remainder being retained by the finder and/or landowner. Overall, the metal-detector users on the Isle of Man have a strong commitment to ensuring the preservation of important finds and will regularly offer to donate these to the national collections, with the landowners' consent.

Figure 1  Figure 2

Figure 2: Neolithic pottery jar ©Manx National Heritage
Figure 3: Early Bronze Age copper axeheads ©Manx National Heritage

Some highlights of recent finds that have been donated include Neolithic pottery (Fig. 2), two copper early Bronze Age axeheads (Fig. 3), a Viking Age sword pommel (Fig. 4), a Romano-British brooch (Fig. 5), and a number of bone dice (Fig.6).

Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6

Figure 4: Viking Age sword pommel ©Manx National Heritage
Figure 5: Romano British brooch ©Manx National Heritage
Figure 6: Bone die ©Manx National Heritage

The pottery, of a distinctive Manx type known as Ronaldsway, was found during foundation work for a house extension. Almost all the pieces from an entire pot, c. 50cm high, along with cremated bone, were donated to the collections by the finder/house-owner. These 'clay bags' were rounded at the base, so they were always meant to be buried in the ground, and are usually found associated with cremations.

The axeheads were a metal detecting find, and are important additions to the relatively low amount of metalwork from the early Bronze Age on the Island. They show the characteristics of the first attempts at metal axehead production, being very similar in their simple shape to the stone axeheads that came before. Again, these have been donated to the collections by kind permission of the landowner and finder.

Finds from the Viking Age on the Island are not uncommon. The Island was a vital trading hub during this period and the legacy includes place names and personal names as well as material culture. There have been around 20 finds of Viking Age swords from the Island, but the one discovered by two metal-detector users in 2008 was of a type previously unknown in the Island. The remains of a pommel, upper guard and remains of a lower guard of a copper-alloy sword handle, richly decorated with carved designs and silver twisted wire were, again, kindly donated by the landowner and finder to the national collections.

Romano-British period finds are less common, but they have been increasing thanks to the use of metal detecting. A wonderfully preserved example of a brooch with an incised line decoration was uncovered in 2011, and it is hoped that this will be donated.

There have also been a number of research excavations in recent years, the archives of which (artefact and other) will be placed in the national collections. The bone die pictured (Fig. 6) was one of six that was found during excavations at Rushen Abbey, a Cistercian monastic complex dating between 1134 and 1543 AD, and their discovery helped to create a flurry of interest in the process of excavation and the site itself, as well as initiating discussion on what these little objects were doing in the middle of a religious complex.


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