[Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 1 No 2 pp42/9]



(Read February 7, 1889.)

AT the close of the Manchester meeting of the British Association, I availed myself of the opportunity afforded of visiting the very interesting Isle of Man, and was much struck by the monument known locally as "King Orry’s Grave," a name which, though repudiated by antiquaries, may perhaps be retained at present as serving to localise and distinguish it from other British monuments which have, many of them, as General Pitt Rivers has pointed out, received names equally misleading, as for instance, "Wayland’s Smithy," "Kitt’s Coty House," &c., &c.

"King Orry’s Grave," which was until recently nameless, or known only as the Cairn on Gretch Veg, belongs evidently to the class of monument denominated chambered long barrows, by Thurnam, and known in different countries as "Giant’s Graves," "Hunne-hedden," "Beds of Diarmid and Graine," "Allées Convertes," &c., &c., according to the locality in which they are found. All these have certain marks in common, consisting of a long gallery leading to one or more chambers formed of unhewn stones leaning towards each other, and covered by flat slabs forming a rude arch, and usually containing vast quantities of bones, not only of men, but of animals, which have served either as sacrifices or funeral feasts, and the general belief is, that the human remains were not introduced until they had been deprived of the flesh, that in fact the chambers served as ossiiaries, opened from time to time to add fresh bodies.

In most cases these stone chambers have been covered with a huge mound of earth, broad at one end and gradually narrowing, so as to resemble in shape an egg or pear, cut in half longitudinally. (Some of these barrows are heart-shaped or horned at the East end, especially in Scotland, but these are chiefly of the unchambered type.) Whether "King Orry’s Grave" was ever covered with earth may be doubtful, but the description given of it in "Oswald’s Vestigia," tallies precisely with that of similar monuments, particularly in Gloucestershire, as investigated by Thurnam, and other workers in England. Oswald says, "Another cairn of considerable dimensions, stands on the farm of Critch (Gretch) Veg. This example comprises a series of stones in the East, placed in a semi-lunar or circular form, from which a flat terrace of loose stones leads westward to the brow of a ravine, where it terminates in a large cairn of stones, thirty feet in diameter, out of which rises a tall thin conical slab, to the height of ten feet and upwards, in a picturesque manner. These two objects, the cairn on the West, and the semi-circle of stones on the East, are distant from each other upwards of forty yards. The terrace connecting them is bisected by the high-road, and on being opened was found to be made up of two immense flat boulders, placed edgeways, four feet apart, and inclining towards each other so as to form an arch." It does not seem easy at present to trace the plan of the monument as described by Oswald, but the tall monolith remains in position, and some of the chambers, especially at the West end, remain intact, although the covering stones are gone. I know it is a disputed point whether the stones on the East of the road formed part of the same monument, but Oswald’s testimony seems precise on the point, and is borne out by the analogy of similar monuments elsewhere, a view supported, I am glad to see, by so competent an authority as Mr Savage.

The destruction of the monument seems to have been going on for years. Cumming, writing in 1848, says, "A few years back the owner of the property on which it stands, not having the fear of fairy or phynodorree before his eyes, but seeing the stones lying convenient for a fence he was building, set to work to remove some of the lesser, from the central heap of apparent rubbish in which they were fixed. In doing this he discovered a rude dome-shaped vault, in the centre of which was a kistvaen, composed of two large slabs of schist placed parallel to each other, in a direction nearly East and West, but inclining towards each other above, at the extremetics of which seemed originally to have been placed vertically, thin slabs of the same rock, which had been broken."

The dome-shaped vaulting here described, seems common to almost all of these chambered tumuli. In one at Leighterton, described in "Rudder’s History of Gloucestershire," three of these vaults, arched like ovens, were found, and at the entrance of each an earthen urn, wherein (that is in the vaults) were many ashes and men’s bones imperfectly burnt and broken, but the skulls and the thigh bones were whole." It would be of interest to know whether, by the kistvaen described in the extract given above, Cumming intended the two stones with the ovate opening still standing in "King Orry’s Grave," or whether the reference was to two other stones now gone. The assertion that they stood nearly East and West, would, as far as I remember, certainly not apply to the present stones, and would rather point to the existence at one time, of a feature which is found in many of the Gloucestershire barrows, that of a cromlech or trilith, supposed to have served as an altar. The curious trilith found intact at Rodinarton (described in Archaeologia, vol. 42) "was so buried beneath the soil at the East end of the tumulus, and so supported and fenced in by three walls of horizontal masonry, that the notion of their ever having occupied any other position cannot he entertained." There were no human remains near this cromlech or trilith, but beneath, and in front of the sloping incumbent stone, were many bones and teeth of oxen and horses, and the tusks of boars, also distinct traces of fire. These curious triliths have been found in many of the chambered tumuli in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. Mr Lysons looks upon them as sacrificial altars. Thurnam regards them as the place for funereal feasts and other rights, and what is of especial interest in connection with "King Orry’s Grave," is, that in almost every instance bones of horses, sometimes the skulls entire, have been found; in some cases the skulls of children have also been discovered, which are supposed to represent an alien race offered in sacrifice. One of the most distinctive features of " King Orry’s Grave," the tall monolith, seems far from common, although a monolith of smaller size, and sometimes two or more upright stones, are frequently found at the entrance of chambered tumuli, and the "Long Stone" in the parish of Minchin Hampton, seven to eight feet high, probably belonged to a chambered tumulus which has been destroyed. Near the bottom of this stone is a natural perforation, through which children were formerly passed for the cure of disease, having often been brought from considerable distances for that purpose.

This holed stone brings us to another distinctive feature of "King Orry’s Grave," that is, the two stones cut out so as to form an ovate opening. This kind of opening is not very frequent, in fact, besides this in "King Orry’s Grave," I can only enumerate three in Gloucestershire; at Rodmarton, Avening, and Leighterton; two are described also by Mr Lukis in Brittany, and there appears to have been one in Jersey. There are holed stones connected with graves in many places, and, like the one named above in Minchin Hampton, they are usually connected with a superstitious belief in the efficacy of passing through them for the cure of disease. The most celebrated of these stones is the Menan-tol, in Cornwall, which perhaps may have formed the entrance to a tomb, although Mr Lewis, well known as an archaeologist, does not think so; there is however, one now standing at the entrance to the museum of St. Germain, near Paris, which certainly does form the entrance to one of these allêes couvertes, or chambered tumuli, but in this case, as in the Men-an-tol, the hole is round. These holes in tombs are generally of a small size, and exist in that form not only in Europe, but in India and Peru, in the latter country they are however square. They are supposed to have been made for the exit and entrance of the spirit of the deceased, a view which Sir John Lubbock advocated in the discussion on my paper at the meeting of the British Association in Bath, and which I also have many times enunciated. But the ovate opening, formed in two stones, the holes being cut with great labour, so as to form an egg shaped opening, as in "King Orry’s Grave," seems to me to belong to a different class, and to refer to that well known doctrine of Egypt and the East, the new birth, symbolized everywhere by the egg, inculcated in ancient Britain by those mysterious priests, the Druids, and even to this day surviving among ourselves in the Easter egg used to symbolize the Resurrection. It is evident that these large and peculiarly shaped openings would not have been cut without some object beyond that of leaving an opening for the burial of fresh bodies, especially as we find the ordinary opening to have been the much more simple one of a rude doorway consisting of three stones. Even where there are several external openings to the sepulchral chambers in the some monument, as at Rodmarton, one only assumes this ovate form.

It appears to me, therefore, that we are justified in assuming that this peculiar opening had a special significance, and I think we may conclude that it was used as the entrance to the tomb of a chieftain, or of priests. I venture to suggest that it may have served the same purpose as the golden image of the cow in India, through which certain rulers have to pass, in order to become re-born into a higher caste, and that, through it, a newly made ruler may have crept into the ancestral tomb, issuing therefrom as the re-embodied ancestor. Certain it is, that these openings were very carefully guarded and concealed, having always been closed with other stones, and covered in with rubble, in addition to the mound of earth, so that it must have been a work of considerable labour to re-open them, and could only have been done with the consent and assistance of the whole tribe.

When we come to inquire who were the people who made and used these monuments) and when did they live, we find that chambered long barrows of this particular kind, are by no means widely distributed. In England they are confined almost entirely to Gloucestershire and the adjoining counties. Of twenty-eight explored, thirteen are in Gloucestershire, eleven in North Wilts, one in Berks, and three in Somersetshire. They are also found in Brittany, but the chambered barrows in the Scilly Isles, Wales, the Channel Islands, the North of Scotland, the Orkneys, ansi Ireland, are round, and not long barrows, and may probably he assigned to a later date, as in many of them may be found sculpturings probably of the Bronze Age, whilst, as far as I am aware, no markings have been found on stones connected with these long chambered barrows, the type of skull found in which is also long, although, according to Thurnam, slightly less dolicocephalic than those found in the unchamhered long barrows, which are assigned to an earlier date. The chambered long barrows are all believed to belong to the age of polished stone, and Thurnarn regards them as the burial places of the Dobuni, an ancient British race, whose capital was in Gloucestershire, on the site of what is now Cirencester, and who were gradually dispossessed by the Belgae. General Pitt Rivers finds the remnant of this small dark race in the Romano-British settlements he has been exploring in Dorset-shire and Wiltshire, and Dr. Beddoe traces them among the living inhabitants of the Isle of Man, but whether they reached the Island from Gloucestershire through Wales, or came by sea from Brittany, we do not know. There are legends connecting Wales with the Isle of Man, and especially with the Cloven Stones, which would appear to have been originally a chambered tumulus like "King Orry’s Grave." Of this monument Cumming writes, "Mr Feltham mentions the discovery, in the centre of the circle, of a stone sepulchral chest or kistvaen, and in the view which he has given of it as existing at the time of his visit, there is a clear indication of a covered roof of stones, forming an arched vault in the centre of the mound." Train adds to this, "The circle was considered to be Druidical, but an excavation laid open a tumulus of about 200 feet in diameter, exposing on two opposite sides of it, the base of an arch, which in rough stonework was formerly sprung over the spot, enclosing an interior vault of fifteen feet square." It may be remarked that this rude archway, which is a distinctive mark of long chambered barrows in Gloucestershire, does not appear in those of Scandinavia. "Near the centre of the vault is a tomb of most singular and unique construction. Two large convex stones form the sides of this tomb. They measure nine feet in length, by six feet broad, and eight inches in thickness. They evidently bear the marks of detached pieces of stone, worn by the action of water into a flat ovate form, and made convex and concave not unlike the form of a clam shell; these are placed upon one edge about three feet apart at the bottom and inclining towards each other as they rise, leaving a small aperture at the top, of a foot or eighteen inches in width. Over this, in all probability, a thin cover stone had been laid, so that the tomb originally was a case of concave stones, like three clam shells, so placed as to form an ovate space within their cavities. Within the vault, human bones and teeth in considerable quantities have been found." (Train’s History of Isle of Man, p. 267.) The various points in this description seem to agree with those of the chambered turnuli, especially as regards the arched roof, the square inner chamber, (the square form being that usually used to denote death and the under world), and the ovate stones, but from the circle mentioned, it may perhaps have been a round and not a long chambered barrow, although a circle was apparently connected with "King Orry’s grave," and is also to be seen in the plan of other long chambered barrows, as at Mane Lud, Brittany, and West Kennet, Wilts. But the plans of chambered barrows varied greatly: the usual arrangement, however, was a long gallery or avenue, leading to one or more chambers. It has been remarked that in ancient as in more modern times, the houses of the living probably formed the model for the tombs of the dead, and Thurnam has pointed out how nearly these chambered tumuli resemble the houses of the Esquimaux at the present day.

A very curious fact in connection with the contents of these long chambered barrows in the West of England must not be omitted, especially as it seems to bear upon certain discoveries in the Isle of Man. In almost all the barrows of this kind opened, have been found cleft skulls, similar to the one from Rodmarton, where four, out of thirteen skulls found, were thus mutilated. Sometimes, one skull only was entire, and all the rest cleft. Thuroarn thinks these represent human sacrifices, and that the victims belonged to an alien race, the form of the skull differing from that of the neolithic barrow builders. When I was shown, in Peel Cathedral, the tomb supposed to hold the remains of Bishop Simon, and was told by Deemster Gill of the singular discovery of the cleft skull and of the remains of a dog, I immediately thought of the cleft skulls of the long barrows, and seeing outside the Cathedral the remains of what appears to have been a long barrow, I thought it possible that the remains interred as those of Bishop Simon, might probably have come originally from this "Giant’s Grave," cleft skulls and the bones of dogs and horses being constantly found in monuments of this kind. (See Long Barrows, Thurnarn; Archaeologia, voi. xliii, and Journal Auth. Inst., Oct. 1873.) My belief in this origin of the remains of the supposed Bishop Simon has since been confirmed by finding the following incident related in Leland’s Collect., iii.. p. 407:—Ludlow probably derives its name from a chambered barrow which existed on the site of the present churchyard. In clearing this away, in 1199, three stone chambers, or cists were discovered, the remains in which, the clergy of the place maintained, were relics of three Irish saints, and had them buried within the church, where it is related that they performed many miracles."

It appears to me highly probable that the so-called remains of Bishop Simon may in like maner have been originally removed from some chambered tumulus, and buried under the altar of the Cathedral as a holy saint and martyr; while it also seems probable that a dim recollection of this burial with the skeleton of a dog, handed down from generation to generation, may be the origin of the legend of the Moddey Dhoo.

Relics of this kind would naturally be walled up and concealed at the time of the Reformation, but a dim and hazy memory, distorted by tradition, would remain. I would suggest to the Isle of Man Antiquarian Society, not only the necessity of preserving the many interesting monuments of antiquity in the Island, but also the advisability of undertaking a scientific Investigation of them, carefully noting every peculiarity, mapping and photographing every stone, and carefully preserving every relic, whether bone, or tool, or potsherd, to form the nucleus of a local museum, Unfortunately these tombs of a forgotten age have all been previously rifled, but the marauders were seekers of treasure, or utilitarians wishing to turn the tombs of the dead to use in building houses or walls, and these would leave behind them such things as flint implements, rude potsherds, picks of stag’s horn, or needles of bone, and these, with portions of bone, human and animal, would help to restore the date of these monuments, and to give some sort of history of their constructors, who, judging from all the notices I can find of King Orry’s Grave, and other similar monuments in the Island, I believe to have been the same race which constructed the long chambered tumuli of Gloucestershire. These are always assigned to the Dobuni and to neolithic times, no metal tools having been found in any of them. If, then, "King Orry’s Grave" may be regarded as of the same age, it is needless to say that it must be assigned to a period long anterior to the Scandinavian invasion, and that the so-called horse-shoe is an intrusion, pointing perhaps to the time when the tomb was rifled. As to the bones of the horse found there, as I have shown, these bones are common, as are also those of the dog, in the long chambered barrows of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. The presence of the remains of the horse in these monuments is supposed by some antiquaries to denote Sun worship, since the horse was sacred to the sun, not only in ancient Greece, but also in India, and it is certainly to Eastern lands that we must look for the origin both of the monuments themselves and there constructors, although it is possible that the horse in those times was used simply as an article of food.

At all events it seems reasonable to assign the date of "King Orry’s Grave" and similar monuments in the Isle of Man to that shadowy pre-historic time when, according to tradition, Mananin, son of Lleir, identified by archaeologists with the Celtic God of the Sea, ruled over the Island, and shielded it in impenetrable mists from the outer world.

Mr Lewis gave a short description of "King of Orry’s Grave" in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for 1871, with plans of the stones remaining at that time; from these it seems quite possible to trace Oswald’s cresent at the East end.


This tumulus, explored by Thurnam, and described by him in Archaeologia, vol. 38, appears to bear a strong affinity to "King Orry’s Grave," and also the "Cloven Stones." The West wall of the chamber was composed of four sarsen stones, each about a ton in weight, and below these were two large uprights, one of which had been split, perhaps by the weight of the covering stones. There is also an indication of an ovate opening. In this chambered tumulus were found cleft skulls similar to those at Rodmarton, also flakes and knives of flint, a bone pin, fragments of British pottery, and a single head made of Kinirreridge shale.

The length of the barrow is given as 336 feet, width at West end 40 feet, East end 75 feet, height about 8 feet. The tumulus had been surrounded by a circle of standing stones. The chamber and avenue leading to it are at the East end.


I extract the following description of this monument from the Journal Anth. Inst., August, 1885, p. 109. The Mane Lud, or "Mountain of Cinders," is a barrow 300 feet long, 150 feet broad, and 30 feet high. It is composed of clay and mud from the sea shore; it contains three places of sepulture it has a small chamber in its centre, an aliCe of menhirs within its Eastern end, which were found to be capped with horses’ skulls. There is a very fine dolmen at the its Western end. The chamber in the centre was formed by overlapping stones projecting gradually till a dome was formed, which was closed by a slab. The remains of two bodies were found in it, one of which had been incinerated. There were a quantity of horses’ bones, also incinerated, outside the vault. The dolmen is a handsome one, having seven of its supports sculptured There is a raised sculpture on the floor There is a crypt below the stone floor of this dolmen.

With the exception of the sculpturings this seems to resemble strongly King Orry’s Grave, and, perhaps in the latter may also be found a crypt beneath the hollow sounding stone.

NOTE.—The geographical distribution of these chambered tumuli is of especial interest. At a meeting of the Anthropological Institute on March 26, 1889, three papers were read on these interesting monuments. The first described them as existing in Japan, the second traced them in Syria, and the third described those known in Brittany. There seems every reason to suppose that, as far as Europe is concerned, they were the work of a sea-faring race coming from the East, as they seem to be traceable from Syria along the North coast of Africa. Then in Brittany, a few on the coast of Holland, in the Channel. Islands; the West coast of England, Wales, the Isle of Man, Ireland, and along the South West coast of Scandinavia, but are never found very remote from the sea or navigable rivers.



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