Monday, January 26, 2015

Island of Man

This thesis considers "change" using the emergence of the Bronze Age in the Isle of Man. 

Celtic-Norse foundations on Mann (Greg Kingsley)

For this paper, the subjects are kind of secondary to the subject matter of 'change', so I really can't condense this in a way that would be faithful to the actual topic or theory of the paper.  But the crest the change wave in the Isles is the Beaker culture, so even its presumed absence on one island is noteworthy.

Crellin uses Man for her subject since islands, by convention, are supposed to be like Petri dishes and this island has its own peculiarities during the timeframe in which copper began spreading in the Isles.  Man develops uniquely in the Late Neolithic/EBA so it is a bit of a test case for identifying the causes of cultural change in the 3rd millennium.  

The apparent scarcity of Bell Beaker material in the Island of Man has been used, among other things, to support the notion that Man was a very backwards place that the world bypassed.  However, Crellin challenges its supposed insularity and argues that lack of exposure to Bell Beaker or Grooved Ware were not the reason for its uniqueness.  Clearly Grooved Ware and Bell Beaker identities traded or lived on the island to some degree.  So the question is why the uniqueness of Man, or are we projecting insularity and innovation that just isn't there?

You'll see in some of the graphics of this paper, slate plaques similar to those of pre-Beaker Southern Iberia, but less refined,  located within Ronaldsway arrangements.  It is one of several solid examples of outside influence on the island.

"Ronaldsway Culture" occupies a period in Mann when Grooved people and later Beakers were moving into other parts of the Isles.  In some cases Grooved materials occur with Ronaldsway materials in Man, and even appear to be fabrically similar, but defining what Ronaldsway materials are can be dicey. 

The evidence for Ronaldsway being a distinct culture is generally kind of thin, Crellin notes some of the problems and criticisms associated with it.  She also notes the lack of organic material at these sites, although some dates have been obtained.

Figure 3-2: Colby Mooar Ronaldsway Earthfast Jar
The crude, pudding texture of Ronaldsway jars look in some ways looks like a 19th century reduction pot.  This round base pot and a bowl are the only ceramics that define the culture.  They appear to be found near gullies, not cemeteries or homes.  Also, she notes the presence of a few dome ingots in fields at these sites that are not dated.  Man has glacial chalcopyrite.*

On the other hand, the presence of slate over the tops and the way they were deposited (buried, one was upside down) would seem funerary or ritual related. On the third hand, they've been found empty, without human remains. Whatever their purpose, they don't seem to have any remotely plausible domestic function and have zero aesthetic appeal, which calls into question the Ronaldsway domestic sites.

It would seem if the cultural credibility of Ronaldsway crumbles, then the chronological question opens up.  Although this is a unique question to Man, the space between the end of the Middle Neolithic and the EBA cultures appears to be a persistent problem in the Isles.  For example, it takes about three seconds to see Petersborough and Bell Beaker traits in Food Vessels of the EBA in Ireland or Britain.

Rather than having a neat sequential chronology of A followed by B, followed by C, followed by E; it could be rather something more like A followed by E.  'Gronaldsway' may be nothing more than seasonal mining camps (or whatever strange activity) and Bell Beaker nothing more than a red herring.

I have more comments regarding the Beaker section of the paper, but more than ten paragraphs on a blog is yelling, so I make those in upcoming posts.

Changing times: the emergence of a Bronze Age on the Isle of Man., Newcastle University, Rachel Joanne Crellin, 2014 [Link]

*Two or three posts ago, I linked to a paper that questioned some of the traditional techniques for determining the provenance of copper ore.  Although Ross Island is credited with much of the early insular copper, the situation may turn out to be more complex.

**While EBA Manx copper may have been from Ross Island, it doesn't necessarily mean that an earlier phase of production wasn't performed on Man in the Late Neolithic.

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