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The Isle of Man has been settled since the stone age and probably has the most artefacts for its area than anywhere else in Britain. Perhaps the most significant site is Chapel Hill at Balladoole in the south of the island, where there is evidence of Mesolithic settlement middens containing shells and animal bones, the remains of a Bronze Age grave, an early Celtic fort, a Viking ship burial and a keeil.

St Patrick’s Isle in Peel has been both a religious site and a fortress during its long history. Irish monks arrived here around 500AD and founded a monastery.


Many of the archaeological sites across the island are are easily visited. Artefacts are displayed in the Manx Museum in Douglas and this is the place to find out about the history and culture of the Isle of Man. Covering 10,000 years of Manx History from the stone age to the modern day, the sections on the early Celts and the Vikings are particularly good with a lot of artefacts as well as information boards describing the way of life and customs.

The House of Mannanan in Peel has reconstructions of a Celtic roundhouse, an early Christian burial, a Viking longhouse and a replica of a Viking long ship. It depends on visuals and is poor on information. Link to SE article

Stone Age #2
Chambered Cairns #3
The Celts #5
The Vikings #6
Later antiquities #7
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The Stone Age

The Isle of Man was settled from the Middle Stone Age by small family groups of hunter gatherers, who left the remains of their flint tools and stone axes on St Patrick’s Isle, Peel.



The climate was warmer than today and the island was covered with woodland and food was plentiful with deer and wild boar, fish and wild fowl in the wetland areas. Local transportation was by water using boats made by hollowing out tree trunks.

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By about 4000BC, small farming communities were established and woodlands were being cleared for fields to grow crops and rear livestock.

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Settlement evidence from that time is sparse. Cronk Karen near the Chasms is a small stone circle which is described as either a hut circle or burial circle. It is thought the population lived in small family groups. Most domestic remains from that time are fragments of clay pots used for storage and cooking.


Metal working appeared around 2600BC, first using bronze and later iron. Copper needed to make bronze was mined at Bradda Head.
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Most of our evidence of early settlement comes from their burial monuments. The earliest burials were in communal c hambered cairns which were prominently sited and probably acted as a focal point as well as a symbol of power. The earth covering has been lost and all that remains now are the massive stones.


Later burials were in individual stone lined cists. The dead were cremated and the ashes buried, usually in a clay pot and covered by a stone slab and covered with an earth mound.


Follagh y Vannin (Giant's Grave) in St Johns is one of the best surviving examples dating from around 1000BC.


That on Chapel Hill at Balladoole would be easily missed if not for a sign in the grass.


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Stone Age - Chambered Cairns

Ballaharra Chambered Cairn - St Johns

The four standing stones opposite the Church of St John the Baptist are all that remains of Ballaharra chambered cairn.


The cairn was discovered when Balaharra sandpits were being extended in 1971. The stones were erected here as part of the 2000 Millennium project.

The cairn dated from around 2300BC and came from a two chambered cairn similar to those seen at Cashtal yn Ard and King Orry’s Grave. There were originally six tall stones, but two had got crushed. A lot of Neolithic pottery was found at the site.

Ballafayle Cairn - between Ballajora and Cornaa

Ballafayle Cairn is an isolated setting high above the sea between Ballajora and Cornaa. It is a lovely setting looking down towards Maughold Head with the Lake District Hills beyond.

The wedge shaped cairn dates from between 2000-1500BC.


Ballafayle Cairn.jpg

There isn’t a lot to see apart from the wedge shaped mound which still has a small stones on one side forming a kerb round the base.


At the front is a small paved area, referred to as the forecourt and there are a few small standing stones.




Two groups of cremated bones were found when the site was excavated in 1926.

Cashtal yn Ard - Near Glen Mona

Cashtal yn Ard is a magnificent setting on the top of a hill surrounded by open countryside, just north of Glen Mona. On clear days, it has wonderful views across to the Lake District

The site dates to about 2000BC and would originally have been covered with earth. It is one of the largest and best preserved example of a Neolithic long cairn.

Cashtal yn Ard.jpg




At the west end is a semi circular paved forecourt with eight large stones. The two largest stones at the centre form an arch which gave entry into the five chambers beyond.



Beyond these is a raised burnt area surrounded by small kerb stones, which may have been a cremation platform. The ash would have been collected into pottery urns for burial.


The site is signed off an unclassified road between Glen Mona and Cornaa, at a bend opposite a small house. A narrow and overgrown pathway leads up between hedgerows joining a track by a ruined tholtan. Ignore the gate and horse trough on the left and continue along the track, keeping the field boundary to your left to the top of the field. A gate and stile lead to the cairn.

If the gate to the right of the sign is open, go through that and head up the side of the field to a ruined tholtan at the top of the field and then follow the instructions.

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Stone Age - Chambered Cairns cont...

King Orry’s Grave - Laxey

Despite the name, there are actually two chambered cairns here on either side of the road. Both are about 5000 years old, and are smaller versions of Cashtal yn Ard.

King Orry is an almost legendary character revered by the Manx as their greatest king and founder of Mann. This mythical figure is based on King Godred Crovan, a Viking warrior who created the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles upon his arrival on the Island in 1079. The two monuments were named after him sometime in the early C19th and there is no connection between the historical Godred Crovan and either of the monuments.

The larger cairn stands above the road on a raised bank of earth surrounded by edge stones. Part of it was destroyed when the surrounding housing was built .



The entrance was between two boulders at the centre of an arc of standing stones which formed the forecourt to the tomb.


There were at least three chambers beyond the entrance which were roofed with stone slabs and then covered over with earth and stones to form the cairn. The chambers would have been used for burials although when excavated few remains were found. (Bodies may have been left exposed until only the bones were left which were then placed inside the cairn).

The tomb was abandoned during the Neolithic period and the blocks above the entrance have collapsed into the forecourt. Material has been robbed out for use as building stone.

The second cairn is across the road behind a small cottage and reached down a narrow footpath. It has yet to be excavated. It stands above a steep gully with a small stream that flows into the Laxey River.


The tall standing stone, along with a few smaller stones, is all that remains of the arc of stones forming the forecourt. Beyond, the tomb consists of three chamber which originally would have been enclosed within a cairn of stones and earth. The chamber furthest from the tall stone is the oldest and was reached through a narrow opening between two stones.


The two cairns are on either side of Ballaragh Road in Minorca, the settlement above Old Laxey. They are signed off the main A2 Douglas to Ramsey Road.

Meall Circle - Port Erin

Meayll Stone Circle is set on a north facing terrace of Meayll Hill, with views overlooking Ballyfesson, Bradda Head and north to Cronk ny Arrey Laa.


Meayll is Manx for bald and the headland is bare open heathland with bracken gorse and heather. On the top are the remains of a World War Two early warning radar system.

The Meayll stone circle dates from around 4000BC and is late neolithic or early bronze age. It is thought to have originally begun as a central burial mound but was later extended with six stone chambers around an eighteen foot diameter stone circle. The stone chambers or ‘tritaphs’, are arranged in two groups of three with entrances to the centre of the circle at the north and south.

Meayll Hill .jpg


The tritaphs are sunk below the present day surface and are surrounded by tall upright stones of the local slatey schist. The floors are paved with flat stones and they were probably roofed over with more stone slabs. They are all built to the same pattern with two large cists on either side of a longer, narrower cist that extends beyond the diameter of the circle and has an entrance into it.


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Each was used for urn burials. The bodies were cremated elsewhere, placed in a pottery urn made from the local clay and placed in the cist. Twenty six urns have been discovered containing ash and fragments of burnt bone, along with flint arrowheads and tools.

Meayll stone circle is signed off the unclassified road running from Port Erin to Cregneash and is reached up a very steep footpath. Easier access is from the old tracks to the early warning station, near the junction with the A31 Sound Road. The circle is just over the top of the hill from the buildings.
The Celts

The Celts arrived around 500BC and their settlements can be recognised by the Balla prefix, meaning homestead. These were peace loving farmers. There is little written history although there is a strong oral folk lore involving Manannan the Celtic Sea God.

They brought iron working with them, and iron ore was mined at Maughold Head. Axe headsand thier moulds have been found across the island.



Early settlement was in defended hill top or coastal forts.

South Barrule is the earliest hill fort and the only large summit hill fort. The stone face turf rampart enclosed at least 85 houses. The remains of gateways can still be seen in the ramparts.

South Barrule .jpg

Cronk ny Marriu is a coastal promontory fort with bank and ditch, which was later reused in the Viking era.



Chapel Hill was also the site of a Celtic hill fort and the rampart is clearly visble in aerial photographs, although only the bank remains of the stone faced walls


Later, family groups lived in round houses and the remains of one can still be seen at The Braaid. On a slope in the Central valley, this would have been good farmland with access to water. All that is left is the circle of standing stones that would have supported the roof.


Walls were made of stone infilled with earth. The turf roof was placed on brushwood rafters supported by timber posts.



Domestic and decorative artefacts from the period are on display in the Manx Museum.




Early Irish missionaries Known as Culdees arrived in the C5th bringing Christianity with them. They established small keills, which were simple stone or earth and timber structures and their remains can still be found across the Island.



St Patrick's Chair

High on an isolated hillside near Marown Old Church, are three standing stones, which are thought to be an early Christian site. Two have simple crosses carved on them. The stones may mark an ancient preaching place. According to local legend, St Patrick preached here in the C5th. He may not have done, but other local saints may have done. St Runius, St Lonan and St Connaghan were all thought to be buried in the churchyard at Marown.

Christian graves were marked by carved stones and many of these can be seen in the original parish churches around the island, which were usually built on the site of an earlier keiil.

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The Vikings

The Vikings arrived at the end of the C8th, first as traders but later as settlers. They lived in long houses, although in the summer months animals were taken to graze on upland pastures.


They intermarried with the native Celts. The language of the home was Celtic, although Norse was used for place names. The Braaid in the central valley is the only place where Celtic and Viking settlements have been found together. As well as the remains of a Celtic roundhouse, there was a Viking farmstead with long house and byre.


Only the stone foundations remains, The longhouse was made of turf with timber ends. The roof was supported by two rows of posts standing on a large stone. There were no internal walls.


The byre was smaller and the remains of stone stalls can still be seen.


Silver was the everyday currency of the Vikings and the amount of silver needed for each transaction was weighted out on portable scales carried by the merchants.


‘Money’ was worn as bangles not only to show off wealth but it was also practical as parts of the bangle could be hacked off and traded for goods. Examples of Viking silver have been found around the island and are displayed in the Manx Museum



Gradually silver coins appeared in circulation as well as silver ingots.


Important male Vikings were buried in ship burials along with possessions needed for the afterlife. One of the best examples is the ship burial at Chapel Hill near Balladoole in the south of the island.

Balladoole Ship Burial.jpg

The ship burial at Knock y Doonee near Smeal in the north of the island contained the body of a man wrappoed in a cloak and buried with domestivc items including fishing gear and a pin. The smith's hammer (2), tongs (1) whetstone (3) and nails that were buried with him may indicate that he was a blacksmith.


One of the richest graves to have been found is that of a C10th Pagan Lady on St Patricks Isle, Peel. She was about 40 years old and buried in a stone lined grave along with personal possessions. No one knows who she was but she must have been very high status as she was buried with stunning necklace of amber, glass and jet beads. she was not born on the island and may have been revered as a a wise woman able to foretell the future as well as acting as a ‘healer’.



Other graves have produced evidence of buckles, pins, shield bosses, strap fasteners as well as fragments of material.


Later antiquities

The Vikings settled the island from the C9th and brought their system of government with them. Known as Tynwald, this is the oldest parliament in the World.

The word is Norse and means ‘assembly field’. Meetings were originally held in the open air to discuss matters affecting the community. Several small Tynwald sites can still be found around the island. These were small raised mounds were the chieftain and local population would meet to discuss matters affecting the community and administer justice.

St John’s, with its central location became established as the main site from 1417. The ‘Hill’ is of unknown date and is an artificial four tiered mound about 250’ in diameter and 12’ high. It may have been built on the site of an old tumulus or barrow.


Although Tynwald now meets regularly in Douglas, there is a ceremonial meeting of Tynwald every year on July 5th. Following a church service, the sword bearer, Lieutenant General and Lord Bishop, followed by Legislative Council and Members of the House of Keys process to Tynwald. The two chairs on the top tier are for the Lord Lieutenant and Bishop, with the Legislative council grouped round them. The Members of the House of Keys are on the middle tier. The title and brief summary of all the laws passed is read out. There is time for people to present petitions and public officials are sworn in before the procession returns to the church.

Cronk Howe Mooar - Port Erin
This is the remains of an C11/12th motte that was possibly one of the three castles built by Magnus Barelegs.

The motte stands about 35’ above the flat landscape and is surrounded by the remains of a ditch. It is on private land but can be glimpsed from Ballafesson Road but is best seen from the public footpath running from Ballafesson Road to Honna Road.


Castle Rushen - Castletown. #3
in the ancient capital of the Isle of Man, was once the residence of the Kings and Lords of Mann.It is still one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe.

Monk’s Bridge - Ballasalla
This is a narrow pack horse bridge built around 1350 by the monks of nearby Rushen Abbey to cross the Silverburn. It is still paved with quartz cobbles and one of the best preserved examples in the British Isles.



Derby Fort - St Michael's Isle near Castletown
St Michael’s Isle is a small rocky island off the Langness peninsula and reached by a causeway. A circular fort was built here in 1540 by the 3rd Earl of Derby as part of Henry VIII’s system of coastal defences against invasion by the Scots or French. It provided a secure base for a garrison of six. It had thick walls with a rampart walk, a single entrance and 8 gun points.


The fort was refurbished by James, 7th Duke of Derby during English Civil War as part of his upgrading of the island defences by increasing the defences on the west and north to protect Castle Rushen and the safe anchorage of Derby Haven from Parliamentary troops.

By the C18th, the fort was no longer needed and became a lighthouse and was used by the herring fleet.



Kerroogaroo (Ballachurry) Civil War Fort - near St Judes
Kerroogaroo Fort is a star-shaped earthwork, erected in 1640 by the 7th Earl of Derby and Lord of Mann as part of the Isle of Man's civil war defences. It would have been the stronghold for the north of the island, defending an important route between Ramsey and Peel.

It consists of thick earth walls with a bastion in each of the four corners and is surrounded by a ditch. There would have been a wooden stockade around the top of the walls. The fort was surrendered to
parliamentary forces in 1651.

A video about the fort can be watched here.

Set in fields, the fort is signed off the A17 about a mile North east of the St Jude’s crossroads.

Quaker Burial Ground - between Ballajora and Cornaa

A small group of Friends arrived on the Isle of Man around 1650 and quickly made many converts. They were persecuted for their beliefs. They were imprisoned, their property confiscated and they were expelled from the island.

The Quakers were not allowed burial in consecrated ground, so William Callow, a farmer and person of some importance, set aside a small plot of land near a ruined keeil on his land for the burial of himself and his Quaker friends.

William's wife and family were deported, although William managed to stay on the island. He was buried here on his death in 1676.

This is a lonely and isolated site, surrounded by a wall with a few trees. A stone stile leads into the burial ground with its single grave stone. The inscription is modern.




Few people find the graveyard and there is little information available about it. It is on the unclassified road between Cornaa and Ballajora, opposite Ballafayle Cairn.

Mining heritage
Lead, zinc, copper, silver and iron have all been mined on the Isle of Man.

The earliest mines were at Bradda Head and copper was mined here in the Bronze Age with large scale workings from the middle of the C17th. Ore was taken out by boat. The veins were worked out by the late C19th.. The remains of the old buildings and chimney can be seen at the base of the cliffs. The headland was honeycombed with mine workings and the remains of old adits can still be seen .


Lead was mined around Foxdale from the early C17th but many of the mines were short lived and all mining had finished by the early C20th. Little can be seen of the mining heritage in the village although there is a small heritage centre there.

The remains of Cross Vein Mine and Beckwith Mine surrounded by mining waste, stand on the bare hillside to the west of Foxdale, overlooking the A36.

Cross vein mine.jpg

The Great Laxey Mines flourished from the C19th and were a major source of zinc as well as lead. They are covered in more detail in this travel article.



Other sites of imterest
Castle Rushen #3
St Patrick’s Isle (monastic site and castle) #3
Rushen Abbey #2
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