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The Isle of Man


Isle of Man unearths a prehistoric tragedy

From IOM Today

ARCHAEOLOGISTS may have unearthed evidence of a prehistoric tragedy at Isle of Man Airport.
They are working on a theory that fire could have razed a Bronze Age village to the ground in a cataclysmic conflagration in the area known as Ronaldsway.

Prehistoric remains including three human skeletons, discovered during earthworks for the airport runway extension project, made headlines around the world.

The excavations have been completed some two weeks ahead of schedule and the site, equivalent to about 20 football pitches, cleared ready for construction work to resume.

It was initially thought that pottery fragments, found under the route of a proposed taxiway extension in the north east of the airfield, dated back some 4,000 years to the late neolithic era.

But following a further study of the artefacts, experts from Lancaster-based Oxford Archaeology North have provisionally revised that chronology by some 500 years.

It is now believed that what has been uncovered is a further part of a Bronze Age settlement first discovered when the runway was built in the 1930s.

Several of the half-dozen circular structures unearthed at the site featured charred earth indicating evidence of burning.

The experts now believe these are Bronze Age homes dating back 3,500 years that appear to have burnt down.

Two cairns, in which were found the human skeletons, appear to be slightly more recent. One of the burials contained fragments of a ring or bangle which had been worn around the upper arm.

Andrew Johnson, field archaeologist at Manx National Heritage, said: 'We now think these circular structures are Bronze Age homes. It certainly seems possible that some of these buildings have in some way been burnt down.

'The site stretches from a south west to a north east direction and it does seem likely that if fire took hold in the south west then, given the direction of the prevailing wind, the possibilities of disaster are obvious. It's an interesting speculation.

'The cairns appear to have been built slightly later, potentially after the conflagration. Perhaps in what psychologists would now describe as a process of closure, the settlement's use was changed from a living community to a place of the dead.'

Hundreds of pottery shards and pieces of worked flint were recovered, together with domestic rubbish in the form of shellfish and bones.

Mr Johnson said the age of the remains had been revised after a much more detailed look at the pottery fragments. Radiocarbon dating may be used to get a more accurate date for the human skeletons.

He said: 'We are certainly not disappointed that we are now looking at Bronze Age rather than neolithic remains, absolutely not. Slight revision of working theories goes with the territory.

'This dig has been an enormous success in terms of working with the airport and the construction team. It has been quite a difficult job but everyone involved in it can feel justifiably proud.

'By providing a body of new evidence on the Bronze Age period, it will probably contribute several important pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. But it also gives us an opportunity to completely reassess the excavation that took place in the 1930s when the site was being developed as an airfield. It will take us forward some significant distance.'

All artefacts have been removed for study and conservation and a preliminary report will be prepared by Oxford Archaeology. It is likely that the team will return in the spring when construction work moves to the eastern end of the airport where the promontory is to be built out to sea.

Airport director Ann Reynolds said: 'I understand that no archaeological project of this scale and complexity has been undertaken in the Island before in the course of a major construction contract. It has been a major achievement for all concerned.'

Mrs Reynolds confirmed the runway project had not been delayed and was scheduled for completion by December 2009.
baza Posted by baza
24th August 2008ce
Edited 24th August 2008ce

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