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13 November 2014

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You are in: Isle of Man > History > The Stone Age Flight Path

The Mesolithic site in Castletown on the Isle of Man

The Stone Age Flight Path

It’s a fine example of how development and history can exist together in perfect harmony. An 8,000-year-old structure, found during the construction of the airport runway extension, is thought to be the oldest ever found in the Isle of Man.

The archaeologist in charge of the dig says it has been a defining moment in his career.  So what’s so special about this Mesolithic site in the south of the Isle of Man? Field Archaeologist at Manx National Heritage, Andrew Johnson, explains all.

Andrew Johnson from Manx National Heritage

Andrew Johnson- Manx National Heritage

“The people who built this shelter were the first settlers on the Isle of Man after the Ice Age.  That is a hugely exciting prospect and we are now busy trying to find out more about them.  

“We are literally taking the entire site away in plastic boxes to be processed.  It’s the only way to understand what was going on when these people lived. To call it a Mesolithic House is almost a contradiction in terms because the received wisdom is that people from this age did not occupy houses.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, these Mesolithic buildings are incredibly rare.  They just don’t happen very often.  Not many people ever get the opportunity to discover them. 

"If the Isle of Man airport didn’t need to extend the runway then we wouldn’t have found this site"

Andrew Johnson from Manx National Heritage

The site consists of a circular hollow with seven or eight holes around the edge of it.  It’s thought the holes would have contained posts which would have provided the structure for the house.

“This whole project has been fascinating.  Both because of the archaeology and the situation we find ourselves in here at Ronaldsway Airport. 

“We are working on a flight path and if the Isle of Man airport didn’t need to extend the runway then we wouldn’t have found this site.  We just wouldn’t have had the opportunity to excavate it- it’s that simple.”

Archaeologist at the Mesolithic site in Castletown on the Isle of Man

8,000 thousand years ago, once the climate had started to improve after the Ice age, people started moving into the north of the British Isles and we know now that some of these people crossed the Irish Sea and came to the Isle of Man. Although they were hunter gatherers, theirs was not the kind of hand to mouth existence that we might imagine. 

“At a site like this there would have been many natural resources for people to live on. They would have eaten sea birds, eggs, plants and animals.  They were not farmers so this cuts down on the amount of work they had to do but nevertheless they would have had a very active existence.  Much of their time would have spent making tools, preparing food and making use of animal skin.

“They would probably only have had to spend on average an hour every day to gather sufficient food to feed themselves.  I think their lives would have been quite comfortable; this shelter would have been quite sophisticated.  It could have housed an extended family of up to three generations.

A Post Hole at the Mesolithic site

A Post Hole at the Mesolithic site

“The structure has parallels with the North American Indian Tepees or the Mongolian Yurts.  These are buildings that can be used all year round.  They would be warm enough in the winter and cool enough in the summer.

“There are a series of post holes around where the shelter would have been. These holes have been central to our excavations.  We have actually found the decayed remains of the post hole itself.  These posts would have been covered with something like animal skin, brushwood or wattle.”

“This would have been a substantial dwelling with a hearth and flooring made up of branches.  One of the most exciting parts of the excavation is finding the rubbish which accumulated through the years.  We’ve found invaluable pieces of worked flint and hundreds of charred hazelnut shells.”

last updated: 04/08/2009 at 12:42
created: 20/07/2009

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