[From 1st Report Archaeological Commission, 1878]
MEETING AT DOUGLAS, FEBRUARY 13, 1877. J. M. JEFFCOTT, Esq., Chairman, Presided.
The chairman read the following paper:- I produce drawings of two bronze colts. I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. McMeikin for permission to take the sketch of the larger one, and to that of a lady friend residing at Castletown, for having been allowed to make the drawing of the smaller one. It will be seen that they are both axe-blades. The larger weapon was probably used for the purposes of war, and is 8 inches long by 4½ wide at the edge. It was found near a field called " The Ruillick," at East Surby, a well-known mountainous locality in the parish of Rushen. It is similar to that recently discovered at Ballawoods, in the parish of Malew, but is an inch shorter. It is entirely without decoration. The other is a small socketed axe-blade. It appears as if the handle had been too large and had burst the socket. The instrument is only 3½ inches long by 2½ inches wide at the edge. It is fluted near the socket, and was, doubtless, used as a tool. Both colts are similar to some which have been found in Ireland. As bronze weapons are likely to be occasionally met with, perhaps I may be allowed to throw out a few suggestions relative to them. It would be interesting to know the age of such relics, and how they were introduced into the Island. We know that several of our most eminent modern antiquaries have divided European civilisation into three distinct archaeological phases or ages- the stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age.
Doubtless stone implements were and are used by the less civilised of races, while the manufacture of bronze represents an intelligence superior to that which belongs to the lowest form of savage life. The use of iron indicates, of course, a still higher civilization; and stone or bronze implements may have been employed in some countries when iron was used in others.
Mr. Thomas Wright, F.S.A., the author of the very interesting book entitled "The Celt, the Roman, and the Saxon," ascribes the use of bronze war weapons to the Romans during their occupation of Britain; but this view is not now generally approved by archeologists. There are no indications, as far as we have been able to discover, that the Romans exercised any supremacy over the Isle of Man. Indeed, no remains have as yet been found to justify the inference that they ever visited the Isle: though in a note which I received some years ago from Mr. Wright, he says, " From the position held by the Romans on the opposite coasts all around, we can hardly doubt that they did visit the Isle of Man."
It is now generally admitted that the weapons of war used by the Roman armies in Britain were of iron. There are, I believe, very few, if any, authentic instances of a bronze war-weapon having been found associated with Roman relics in England, and the few said to have been discovered near Roman stations are not of Roman type. Bronze, indeed, was largely used in Britain by the Romans for the manufacture of numerous articles, but these were chiefly for the purposes of decoration, and for domestic uses. Moreover the bronze employed by them contained a large quantity of lead, and was unlike the hard metallic compound of which axes and other weapons were composed. The remains of Roman ironworks, of considerable extent, in Sussex and Kent, leave no doubt that iron was largely used in England during the Roman period. At the time of the Roman conquest, or, at any rate, soon afterwards, the weapons of the Saxons were of iron. Sir John Lubbock, in his " Pre-historic Times " informs us that " Great numbers of Saxon interments have been examined both in this country and on the Continent, and we know that the swords, lances, knives, and other weapons of that time were all of iron."
There is another circumstance to which it is well to refer, as it is more to our purpose. M. Englehardt discovered a few years ago in a peat bog in Denmark a large number of ancient weapons, coins, and other relics. The coins were Roman, and ranged in date from A.D. 67 to A.D. 217. The weapons were all of iron. Referring to this "find" Sir John Lubbock proceeds to say, " From these and similar discoveries it appears evident that the use of bronze weapons had been discontinued in the north before, probably long before, the commencement of our era." Now, if Sir John Lubbock's conclusion be correct that bronze weapons had been discontinued in the north before the Christian era, it is almost impossible to adopt the opinion that they were imported into this Island from Scandinavia, for they must have been in use here anterior to the piratical invasions of the Vikings. But were they manufactured in this Island? I am not aware that they were, though they undoubtedly were in Ireland, for moulds in which bronze axe-blades were formed have been found in that country. Such instruments are abundant in Ireland, and it is highly probable that they were imported thence into Mann. The fact that the axe-blade in the possession of Mr. McMeikin was found near a field called " The Ruillick," may not be without significance. On the 5th instant I visited this field, on the surface of which there is now no trace of any remains except low mounds indicating the remains of a former structure. I am informed that there are there numerous graves from which human bones have occasionally been exhumed. I have no doubt that this ancient graveyard was a Christian cemetery. I believe no charred bones have been discovered in it. There is another circumstance connected with it worthy of note. A considerable quantity of white shore stones, many of which were not bigger than hens' eggs, have been turned up within it. These probably formed the pavement of a keeyll. An example of such a mode of pavement occurs in the monument or the cliff at Cronk-yn-irree-laa. If the axe could be associated with the Christian remains, not probably distant more than 200 yards from the spot where it was found, it might reasonably be inferred that weapons of the kind were in use in this Island within the Christian era. I believe, however, that early Christian cemeteries not Infrequently occupied the sites of Pagan tumuli. It may be interesting tic excavate in the place where the weapon was found.
Graves have, I am informed, been discovered in a field in the vicinity of that called "The Ruillick," but whether Pagan or Christian I have not been able to ascertain The period at which bronze weapons were in use in this Island is a subject well worth our inquiry and consideration, and I shall be glad if any light be thrown upon it by our explorations.