The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Meir ny Foawr, Knocksharry, Isle of Man

Os grid reference: SC 2758 8495. The prehistoric site of Meir ny Foawr, near Knocksharry, at the far western-side of the Isle of Man, is a former Bronze-Age stone circle – however not much of it has survived – and some of its quartz boulders may have been robbed away over the centuries. This collection of boulders in a sort of part circle is located on the side of the hill called Lhergy Dhoo Uplands and is nearly half a mile south-east of Lhergydhoo house, in Kirk German parish. It can be reached on footpaths to the east from Switchback road, and the stones can be seen for many miles around. However there is a dearth of information regarding the site. The little village of Knocksharry is 1 mile to the north on the A4 road, while the town of Peel is 2 miles to the south-west along the same A4 coastal road, overlooking the beautiful Doon Bay.

Meir ny Foawr stone circle is also known locally as ‘the Devil’s Fingers’ or ‘the Giant’s Fingers’ indeed many Megalithic  monuments in the Isle of Man are in some way associated with the devil, or some mythical giant. The structure covers an area of around 30 feet (9.4 metres) and is formed by five large white quartz boulders in a sort of horseshoe shape, rather than a circle, though it may originally have been a circle? Three of the stones lean over at the north-side, while that in the centre is 7 feet high and may represent the altar; the three leaning stones are considered to be part of the original burial chamber. When the site was excavated some Bronze-Age urns were dug up. On the periphery there are a couple of smaller stones known as outliers. So, infact, we might consider calling this a ring cairn or cairn circle? We must assume, therefore, that there was at one time an earthen-mound covering the stones here at Meir ny Foawr?

The area around Knocksharry is rich in ancient remains. There is the prehistoric site of Crosh Mooar about 1 mile to the north-east of Meir ny Foawr – this was a Bronze-Age burial mound – but sadly it was almost destroyed in the early 1900s. And there are several cairns and tumulus’ dotted around the immediate area; at Knocksharry there is a Bronze-Age cemetary which is located close to the ruins of an early Christian chapel. Here three badly damaged funery urns were excavated.

Sources:

Hulme, Peter J., More Rambling In The Isle Of Man, The Manx Experience, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1993.

The Ancient And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, Fourth (Revised) Edition, Douglas, 1973.

http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/iomnhas/v035p446.htm

http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/fulltext/pn1925/gn.htm


Gavrinis Tumulus, Gulf of Morbihan, Brittany, France

Entrance to Gavrinus Cairn (Photo Copyright: Wikipedia)

Entrance to Gavrinus Cairn (Photo Credit: Myrabella, Wikipedia)

Latitude 47, 571835 Longitude -2,898588. In the Gulf of Morbihan 1 mile south of Larmor-Baden in the Bretagne-Morbihan region of Brittany is Gavrinus Island (Ile de Gavrinis) with, what is considered, a world-famous prehistoric burial mound called Gavrinis Tumulus. The burial chamber at the south-side of the island is ‘variously’ referred to as a tumulis or cairn, dating back to the Neolithic 5,000 to 6,000 years. It is said by those historians that are proficient in this type of ancient monument to be the best preserved passage-grave in Brittany, and maybe Europe, if not the world, though there are other “equally good” burial mounds in Europe, one in particular being Newgrange in Southern Ireland. Gavrinis means Isle of Goats. To reach the island of Gavrinis you need to get a boat from the embarking point in the port of Larmor-Baden, but it’s only a short trip of 10 minutes! The town of Vannes is some 12 miles to the north-east on the D136 and D101 roads.

Gavrinis Decorated Stones (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Gavrinis Decorated Stones (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The great mound of Gavrinis measures 23 feet in height (7 metres) and is 328 feet in circumference (100 metres). The diameter of the mound is between 50 and 60 metres (164 feet to 196 feet). It was built around 3,500 BC and was made of earth and large stones that are piled on to the top of the burial mound. Deep inside the mound a gallery (passage) 43 feet long is covered over by stones – with 50 slabs, 23 of these are supporting slabs on top of which there are 9 capstones or tables, leading to a square-shaped burial chamber. The stone supports are richly adorned with beautiful carvings, including pattern-work, symbolism, animals and what could be a human figure – also zigzag decoration, lozenge shapes, abstract circles, axes, arcs, and snake-lines. Undoutedly, this was a funery tomb for some high-ranking person, maybe a chieftain or a king; the ceiling above is made of a large (single) stone-slab measuring 12 feet (4 metres) long by 9 feet (3 metres) wide and weighing upto 17 tons, which rests upon 8 more stone supports standing in a rectangle. The entrance (portal) is built with large slabs, two at the sides and one at the top, while the sides (faces) of the mound are stepped or tiered with thousands of large lumps of stone, not to disimilar perhaps to the pyramids at Giza in Egypt! There are some ‘spectacular’ panoramic views to be had from the tumulus of Gavrinis of the Gulf of Morbihan and the surrounding areas for many miles around, in every direction!

Gavrinis was discovered back in 1832 and excavations began in 1835. In more recent years, the 1960s through to the 1980s there have been further excavations and, in recent years (2011) the decorated stone slabs from inside the chamber have been ‘thoroughly’ researched. A few miles to the south is the tiny island of Er Lanic and two stone circles (together) in the form of a figure-eight – half of the circle now being submerged in the sea. To the north of Gavrinis Island, near Auray, stands the burial chamber or tumulus of Er Grah and, near that close to Locmariquer is Les Table des Marchand. The renowned archaeologist and writer, Aubrey Burl, visited Gavrinis and ‘seems’ to have been “very enthusiastic” about what he had seen of the cairn. Burl was later to describe this and other ancient monuments in his book ‘Megalithic Brittany,’ 1988. Burl said of Gavrinis “It is for its art that Gavrinis is famous.”

Sources:

Michelin Tourist Guide ‘Brittany’, Michelin Tyres Plc, London, 1983.

Insight Guides ‘Brittany’, Ed: Brian Bell, (First Edition) APA Publications (HK) Limited, 1994.

Burl, Aubrey., Megaliths of Brittany, Thames & Hudson, London, 1985.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavrinis

http://www.knowth.com/gavrinis.htm

http://www.academia.edu/5015454/Gavrinis._The_raising_of_digital_stones


Jeppe Knaves Grave, Sabden, Lancashire

Jeppe Knaves Grave, Sabden, Lancashire

Jeppe Knaves Grave, Sabden, Lancashire

OS grid reference SD 7599 3782. On Wiswell moor above Sabden, in Lancashire, stands the prehistoric site known as Jeppe Knaves Grave, said to be named after a 14th century robber who was buried here, but it is in fact a Bronze-Age cairn that is now much mutilated and in a bit of a ‘sorry state’, although its rounded-shape can still be seen with a hollow at the centre. There are a number of footpaths heading to the site: it can be reached from Wiswell and Spring Woods (Clerk Hill road) on the A671, near Whalley, or from the Nick of Pendle along the road that runs between Sabden and Clitheroe over Pendleton Moor, where there are a number of car parking areas. From here there are at least three footpaths that reach the site – the lower one (an ancient trade route) taking you through Wilkin Heys farm where you will need to ask for permission; the other two paths will get you there but one or two ladder stiles will have to be negotiated! The moor can also be ‘quite boggy’ in times of inclement weather. In his book Pendle Hill and Its Surroundings, by Dr Spencer T. Hall, the author says “From Whalley it will be tolerably easy to find a route up by Wiswell to Pendle Hill”. He also mentions coming up via Padiham, Higham, Sabden, Clitheroe, Chatburn, Downham and Worston.

Jeppe Knaves Grave.

Jeppe Knaves Grave.

In any case, best to head for the concrete trig point/pillar known as ‘The Rough’ no s4675 (at 315 feet) on Wiswell Moor, and then walk along the path (430 metres) to the south-west over the ladder stile, past the shepherd’s rock shelter, and there ahead down in the turf and heather is the prehistoric round cairn with it’s stones scattered about both on the inside and around the edge. In the book ‘Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume Nine) The Ribble Valley’ by John & Phillip Dixon, the authors say: “To the west of Wilkin Heys, just below the triangulation point, is a small depression in the moorland turf containing rocks and stones of various sizes. Upon the largest stone are inscribed the words ‘JEPPE KNAVE GRAVE’ and a cross. The stone is said to mark the final resting place of Jeppe Curteys, a local robber who was decapitated for his crimes in the first year of Edward III, 1327”.

Jeppe Knaves Grave (Inscribed Stone)

Jeppe Knaves Grave (Inscribed Stone)

The circular-shaped cairn is about 15 or 16 metres in diameter (22 feet) and it’s stone filled hollow in the middle is 5 metres by 3 metres. An  outer ring of stones, which vary in size can be made out amongst the grass, but it is not particularly circular. Some larger stones make up the cairn (tumulus) itself but are in a somewhat tumbled, mutilated state. Some historians believe this was originally a chambered tomb of the Neolithic Age, though in fact it probably dates from the Bronze-Age. At the side there is a large stone with a worn inscription that says: JEPPE KNAVE GRAVE as well as a small incised florrated cross, thought to have been carved in the 1960s by boy scouts. According to the legend, Jeppe Curteys (Geoffrey Curtis), a highwayman was hanged for his crimes of robbery in 1327, and was subsequently buried here at this solitary spot (in a pre-Christian grave) on Wiswell Moor. The word “knave” is usually taken to mean ‘a wrong doer’, but it could also be the Norse word for a boy, youth or servant. The suggestion is that is much more likely to be an earlier prehistoric or Dark-Age burial site for some noble chieftain, and so pre-dating the highwayman by a few thousand years. But, we may never really know the true answer with regard to this ancient site.

About 1 mile to the north-west of Jeppe Knaves Grave at Carriers Croft near Pendleton is another (possible) Bronze-Age site. Here in 1968 a circular earthwork was discovered and, during excavations there in 1968-75 three collared urns and other antiquities were found. These finds were put on display in Clitheroe Castle Museum. There are two other Bronze-Age sites in this area too. Just 215 metres to the north of Jeppe Knaves grave at Harlow (SD759 380) in the direction of Parker Place and, on the opposite side of the road from the Well Springs inn at Nick of Pendle, along a footpath (SD776 390), there is another earthwork that may be prehistoric in date? (See John & Philip Dixon’s book – Journeys Through Brigantia (Vol 9) The Ribble Valley). Also, there are a number of glacial erratic boulders in the area, some having been used to prop up farmers’ walls! or put into use as marker stones.

Sources:

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume 9) The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

Hall T, Spencer Dr., Pendle Hill and Its Surroundings, (orig. published 1877) re-published by Landy Publishing, Staining, Blackpool, 1995.

http://pendletonvillagehistory.webs.com/bronzeagediscoveries.htm


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Delf Hill Cairn Circle, Extwistle Moor, Lancashire

English: Cairn Circle, Extwistle Moor. Looking SE.

Delf Hill Cairn Circle (Photo credit: Mark Anderson Wikimedia)

OS grid reference SD 9006 3373. On the moors to the east of Burnley some 2 miles north-east of Worsthorne at Hellclough Head is the prehistoric site known as Delf Hill Cairn Circle. The site can be reached best via Haggate and Cockden, then along Shay Lane, Monk Hall lane, and then by walking due south-east across Extwistle Moor to the concrete trig pillar no 2049 on Delf Hill, which is 378 feet. About 77 metres to the east of the trig point lies the low mound forming the cairn with small stones jutting out, close to a drystone wall. The area around Extwistle Moor abounds with tumuli, cairns and ancient earthworks, and so it’s well worth having a good look around. The Lancashire town of Burnley is 3 miles to the west and Nelson is roughly 3 miles to the north-west – as the crow flies!

Delf Hill Collared Urn [Courtesy of Donald Jay]

Delf Hill Collared Urn (Courtesy of Donald Jay)

The cairn circle, sometimes wrongly called a stone circle, covers an area roughly 5-6 yards in diameter with a central, small mound and ditch, while the outer low bank has 6 small stones jutting out of it, 2 of the stones are still in an up-right position. The stones vary in size between 12 to 18 inches high. Originally there were 7 stones here but this one was probably robbed away or used in the wall nearby. At the centre of the cairn circle a cist-type burial was excavated with two small urns containing bones, charcoal and flints inside a small chamber or pit surrounded and topped by stone slabs. The two small funery urns were of the collared ‘Pennine type’ with faint patterning and stippling on their sides, which probably date from the Bronze-Age. Recent quarrying around the cairn circle has luckily not caused much damage, though farming methods are another kettle of fish!

In the same area there are prehistoric earthworks at Twist Castle, Beadle Hill and Swinden, and there are numerous burial sites (tumuli) on and around Extwistle Moor.

Sources:-

Gomme, G.L., The Gentleman’s Magazine Library-Archaeology-Part 1, Houghton & Mifflin Co., Boston, 1886.

Thanks also to Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian, and to Mr Donald Jay of Nelson for the use of the image.

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King Orry’s Grave, Laxey, Isle of Man

Grid Reference: SC 4389 8439. At the north side of Laxey village, about 70 yards to the north of the junction of the A2 road and Ballaragh road, stands the largest prehistoric monument on the island known as King Orry’s Grave, a section of which is in a garden. The original name for the monument was apparently ‘Gretech Veg Cairn’. It is actually a chambered long barrow from 4,000 years ago in the Neolithic age. There is uncertainty as to just who King Orry was, and why this monument should be associated with him, but probably he was the legendary King Gorse or Gorred of Crevan, a Viking who died here in the 11th century AD. However, as we already know, the long barrow pre-dates King Orry by thousands of years.

King Orry’s Grave, Laxey, Isle of Man

The chambered long barrow with it’s single chamber at the top end is formed by two standing stones with a lintel slab that has now fallen. Here at the west end the cist burial would have been located beneath a cairn, but whether this long barrow ever had a mound over it we do not know for certain, so perhaps it would be safe to say that it did. There is a well preserved U-shaped forecourt that is 12 metres long and 4 feet wide, and is formed by 6 stone slabs, two of which are quite long. The eastern section of the moument has a second barrow with possibly two chambers, a forecourt and entrance, and a line of cists running roughly north-east to south-west.

But, unfortunately this section has a road running through it and has largerly destroyed this part of the monument, it’s cairn of stones having been robbed-away to be used in the building of the two cottages close by in 1868. The western section of the long barrow was originally in a private garden and had never been excavated but, in the 1990s, the cottage and garden were purchased by MNH (Manx National Heritage), allowing access for visitors to the main part of the site, which is some 30 feet in diameter; the whole site being over 170 feet in length.

The site was first excavated back in 1830 when the cist was uncovered and, more recently in 1953-4 when only one burial of unburnt bones was found along with a few grave goods, including a pottery bowl and some flints.

Source:-

The Manx Museum And National Trust: Fourth (Revised) Edition, The Ancient Monuments And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man (A General Guide), Douglas, 1973.


Yockenthwaite Stone Circle, North Yorkshire

OS grid reference: SD 8997 7938. The Yockenthwaite stone circle stands by a footpath in a valley on the north bank of the river Wharfe, close to the hamlet of Yockenthwaite in Langstrothdale, and just west of the B6160 road. Buckden village is 4 miles to the south-east, while another hamlet, Deepdale, lies just a little to the north of the winding country road to Hawes. The circle is near to Yockenthwaite farm. Although many historians call it a stone circle it is actually a Bronze-Age ring cairn with a circle of small stones (kerbstones) that are still quite clearly defined.

The stone circle consists of 20 small stones set almost edge to edge that are roughly 3 feet high, covering a diameter of 25 feet. These stones are, infact, the kerbstones of what remains of a burial cairn or ring cairn where a prominent tribal chieftain was buried. Just outside the circle at the north-west side are a few other stones that make up an outer, concentric ring, and a few portal stones that formed the entrance. In the middle of the circle a small mound can just be made out, which would have been the site of a burial. Originally, there would have been a mound of earth covering the stones but this has long since gone. Just to the north of the circle are what could be the remains of another burial cairn.

English: Yockenthwaite Stone Circle A small (2...

Yockenthwaite Stone Circle by John Illingworth (Photo credit: Geograph)

The name Yockenthwaite is said to be of Scandinavian origins. Thwaite meaning ‘a clearing’, while Yocken could be a derivation of ‘Eogan’ of probable Irish origins – hence we get the place-name ‘Eogan’s clearing’. Thwaite is quite a common place-name is the Yorkshire Dales and also in north-eastern England giving us some idea where Norse invaders came to settle in the 9th-11th centuries.

 

Sources:-

Raistrck, Arthur., The Pennine Dales, Arrow Books, London, 1972.

Geograph/Wikipedia photo by John Illingworth. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/549996

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yockenthwaite