[From Manx Soc vol 15, 1868]
BY J. M. JEFFCOTT, ESQ., H.K.
ONE of the most remarkable monuments of antiquity on the island is a circle on the mountain called "The Mule," or "The Mull," in the parish of Rushen. It is situated on a rocky eminence about midway between Port Erin and the hamlet of Cregneese.* The spot is wild and desolate, and has probably undergone little change since the circle was first formed. In the immediate vicinity of the structure is a valley which abounds with crags and slaty stones. From this valley is derived its local name, "Rhullick y lagg shliggagh ;" i.e., "the graveyard of the valley of broken slates." I had much difficulty in ascertaining its name, for which I am indebted to two aged natives who live at Cregneese: indeed, had it not been for the information afforded by these venerable islesmen, the name would in all probability have been lost. The noun shlig means shell, shred, or fragment; and my informants explain the adjective sidiggagh as having reference to the pieces of stone or slate usually found about a quarry.
An engraving from a drawing which I had made of this circle accompanied the Rev. E. L. Barnwell's "Notes on the Stone Monuments of the Isle of Man," in the number of the Archaeologia Cambrensis for January 1866, and is given on page 101 supra. The circle is formed of kistvaens arranged singly: throughout the whole ring two cannot be found placed side by side. Some of them are nearly entire; and of these, the imposts only are wanting. The grey, flat stones of which they are composed were, doubtless, originally obtained close to the place where they now stand.
Several of the stones are seven feet long, and some are upwards of three feet high. They vary in thickness from six to sixteen inches, and are of a very rude character. The width of the spaces which they enclose varies from thirty-four inches to three feet seven inches.
This monument has one novel feature deserving of special notice. At different points two rows of stones are placed parallel to each other, outside of, and diverging from, the circle. These, at first sight, might appear to indicate passages into the interior; but after several careful examinations of the remains, I have no hesitation in saying that the spaces which they inclose were not openings into the structure, nor were they kists. The stones are unquestionably in their original position. The spaces enclosed by the several rows are no where more than two feet wide; and, though opposite the vacancies between the ends of the kistvaens, such vacancies seem to have been, at least in two instances, not more than fourteen or sixteen inches wide, and therefore too narrow to have been used as entrances. The kistvaens were originally covered with turf and soil, combined, probably, with fragments of stone; and, with their covering, formed, I believe, a circular bank or an elevated ring. The present appearance of the structure indicates clearly the former existence of an annular embankment; and when this was entire, the narrow openings between the ends of the kistvaens must have been closed. Moreover, if the spaces, which I have described, were entrances or avenues, why do they project five or six feet from the circle? The manner in which the stones are placed does not warrant us in assuming that they formed kistvaens. Their character is distinct from that of the stones of which the kist vaens in the circle are composed.
The double rows of stones were eight in number: four of these rows faced very nearly the four points of the compass, and the others divided equally the intervening portions of the circle, in the manner represented in the accompanying plan.
Four are still distinctly visible; one opposite the west, and another the north-west: one opposite the north-east, and an other the south. These diverging rows of stones must, I think, have been originally built upon, and have given to the circle, when entire, an asteriated appearance. The structure may, perhaps, have been intended to represent a star or the sun. Is it not possible that the sun and stars were objects of worship among the primeval occupants of the island?
Sepulchral mounds and circles are of very frequent occurrence in Man, and might seem to point to the existence, at a very remote period, of a dense population. There is, however, no reason for the belief that the early inhabitants were numerous. The monuments themselves are generally of very limited size. The circle which I have described could not, I think, have contained more than eighteen kists; and, indeed, the actual number may not have exceeded sixteen. It was, perhaps, used by only one family; or it may have been the joint property of a few families dwelling in close proximity to each other. At a comparatively recent date, soon after the introduction of Christianity into the island, and anterior to its division into parishes, numerous families had, it seems, their respective cemeteries, on which they erected, of sods and stones, rude and diminutive chapels. (See Dr. Oliver's paper, supra.)
I have been informed that fragments of human bones have been taken from the kistvaens on the Mull. Most probably these bones had been partially burned, but unless others be discovered the fact cannot now be ascertained. Any cinerary urns, which may have been deposited in the kists, must long since have been destroyed. It might be interesting to excavate within the circle, but it is hardly likely that any valuable discovery could by excavation be made. Its whole area is covered only by a small quantity of soil; the kistvaens stand upon rock.
The early sepulchral monuments of the island seem to have belonged to different periods, for they are not all of the same class. There is one class which differs very materially from that to which the circle already described belongs. I refer to that composed of tumuli capped with great masses of quartz. A tumulus of this sort occurs iu the neighbourhood of Orry's Dale, in the parish of Michael. On the summit of the mound, which is partially a natural one, huge stones, each weighing upwards of a ton, are arranged in the form of a circle. These ponderous stones are supposed to have been brought from the bed of Sulby River, a distance of five or six miles; for no such stones, it is thought, ever existed in the neighbourhood of the tumulus. I have no doubt that they were, in their present position, once covered with turf and soil; and there is still on one of the stones a heap of earth. Cinerary urns have been found in this tumulus. The differences in the form and character of the Manx tumuli lead to the conclusion that they were not the works of one tribe. Small Allophylian colonies were doubtless occasionally formed in the island, and they introduced among the primordial inhabitants foreign customs and a foreign idolatry. The frequent occurrence of ancient tumuli and circles within a short distance from the sea renders it probable that the aboriginal possessors of the land usually dwelt in creeks and bays, where they were more likely to obtain subsistence than in the interior of the country.
It would be interesting to know for a certainty to what use the spaces within the circles, whether formed of kistvaens, or solid masses of stone, were applied. It is exceedingly probable that within such enclosed spaces the bodies of the dead were subjected to the process of cremation. It can hardly be supposed that there were not certain places where the practice was invariably carried out. We know that in the later times of the republic, when the custom obtained among the Romans, they had their ustrinae, where cremation was performed.
In further illustration of the subject of the foregoing paper, it may be stated that the arranging of kistvaens (cistveini) in circles is, though rare, not without parallel in Wales. Not far from Newport, in Pembrokeshire, there is a collection of five kistvaens, or small cromlechs, arranged in a circle; not, indeed, on the circumference, but radiating from the centre: that is to say, there is an evident approximation to this form.
One idea, however, started by Mr. Jeffcott is novel, and yet well worthy of careful remark; viz., that the kistvaens along the circumference were once all covered by a continuous ridge of earth, forming a kind of embankment. Now we find in Wales, and, I believe in Britanny, numerous examples of circles composed of a continuous embankment; but hitherto, I believe, no kistvaens have been found within these embankments. It would, therefore, be worth while to probe, not to destroy, some embankments of this nature, in order to see whether they covered any places of sepulture.
With regard to the kistvaens themselves, they seem to resemble what we find commonly both above and below ground in Wales; but the rows of stones radiating from the outside of the circumference would seem to be altogether peculiar. The nature of the soil beneath these stones, being rocky, certainly damps the expectation of finding sepulchral remains connected with such a circle as that on the Mull; still search should be made, and conducted with all precautions calculated to ensure the preservation of this interesting monument of early Manx-men.
It is curious that no Roman remains should yet have been pointed out on the island; for it is hardly possible that the conquerors of Britain should not have known, and even established their supremacy over it. Possibly future discoveries may solve this part of the problem of Manx history.
H. L. J.
* This is, perhaps, the oldest and most primitive of the existing hamlets of the island, and is formed chiefly of thatched cottages. Creg, in the Manx dialect, signifies "rock"; and neese, in the same dialect, means "below." Hence the name of the village denotes its position, "below the rock."