A 4,000-year-old jet necklace comprising over 100 ornate beads has been discovered during the excavation of a Bronze Age burial mound on the Isle of Man.
For the past three seasons, archaeologists have been excavating at Berk Farm, near Kirk Michael, as part of the Round Mounds of the Isle of Man project. This initiative is working to investigate how and when Bronze Age ‘round mounds’ were constructed, and how funerary practices evolved, on the Isle of Man and surrounding islands during this period.
While investigating one such mound, the team discovered the jet beads in a grave covered by the first of several phases of barrow and cairn construction. Only a few bones survived, but their positioning suggests the individual had been laid in a crouched position – bracketed by two rows of stones – and that they were wearing the necklace at the time of burial.
This elaborate piece of jewellery comprised 122 beads in total, all made from jet that probably came from Whitby in Yorkshire – a tangible link between the Isle of Man and mainland Britain during the Bronze Age. It dates from c.2200-1900 BC, and is the first to be found on Man, though such discoveries are rare generally – fewer than a hundred examples are known from Britain, and most of those were found in Scotland.
Dr Chris Fowler, from Newcastle University and co-director of the dig, said: ‘This intricate necklace is a good indicator of long-distance contacts and interaction in the Early Bronze Age across the British Isles. Our project examines how burial practices and associated monuments in the Isle of Man developed in relation to those in the surrounding islands, so this kind of discovery is particularly important to us.’
Dr Rachel Crellin, from the University of Leicester, the project’s other co-director, added: ‘This is an exceptional find but the real value of it lies in the excavation that led to its discovery. Our careful excavation means we have lots of detailed records and data that will complement the application of scientific techniques to allow us to learn as much as possible about the necklace, the person who was buried with it, and the burial mound.’
The current phase of excavation has also uncovered pottery vessels, flint and stone tools, and cremated human remains, demonstrating that this mound was a well-used monument during prehistory. The Round Mounds of the Isle of Man project has been run by Chris and Rachel since 2016, and is supported by Manx National Heritage. Along with traditional excavation, the project uses aerial photography, LiDAR data, and field surveys of Bronze Age burial sites, and is enhanced by the detailed study of prehistoric human remains that have already been excavated on the island and which now reside in the Manx National Heritage collections.
Berk Farm, in particular, has proven to be a major site for the project. As Dr Emily Banfield from the University of Leicester, who helped excavate the burial, emphasised, ‘The fact that this burial was found undisturbed, with both the skeletal remains and associated artefacts in place, is critical for our understanding of how Bronze Age people on the Isle of Man treated the dead.’