Child grave goods from Isle of Man castle and Viking beach market discoveries head to Cornwall

By Ben Miller | 27 January 2015

Glass beads, bronze pins, a sword and iron nails from a Viking ship burial are about to move from the Isle of Man to Cornwall. Allison Fox, the Archaeology Curator for Manx National Heritage, explains more

A photo of various multicoloured circular artefacts from Viking archaeology in Britain
Orange, yellow and blue glass beads from the Viking period on the Isle of Man© Manx National Heritage
“As a collection there are more than 50 objects from one particular site – what we think was a beach market, almost one of the potentially first contact sites between the Vikings and the Isle of Man.

The artefacts are debris, really – fragments of broken coin, tin…but in total they tell us that there was trading and commerce that the Vikings were really well known for on the Isle of Man.

Some of the fragments are the Arabian dirham fragments from potentially the early 800s AD. As individual things they’re not the most glamorous, but as a collection they’re really important.

A photo of a dark green archaeological artefact
A copper alloy bell© Manx National Heritage
We didn’t know about this site until about three years ago, when one of our metal detectorists started bringing stuff in. We have quite a small group of metal detectorists over here. They’re really very good, quite knowledgeable about what they find, very keen to share the information.

A couple of those guys, in particular, went out into a field they’d not really been on before. A few things came up like lead weights, even little bits of pottery.

Over the course of a few months we started to realise that there had been quite a lot of activity on the site over hundreds of years. It wasn’t just a one-off event like a hoard deposition.

We get a lot of coin hoards over here but this site was obviously being used over and over again. It’s an interesting aspect to it.

We assumed that the markets were the first wave of contact the Vikings had with the Isle of Man, but until these artefacts came up we didn’t really have the evidence of that.

It was basically like a temporary seasonal market. The thing about the Isle of Man is where we are, right in the middle for people coming from Scandinavia, the west coast of Scotland and Ireland, having somewhere to land on in the middle of those important trading routes was vital. They did some metalworking, bought some stuff and then went again.

A photo of a dark green archaeological artefact
Copper alloy ring (left)© Manx National Heritage
Our parliament is of Viking origin. We’ve got the sword which is typical of Viking stuff. We are also loaning a small number of really tiny blue glass beads.

They came from the grave of a child buried during the Viking Age. One of our major archaeological sites is Peel Castle, on the west coast of the island, and there were really major excavations there in the 1980s.

They uncovered evidence for all periods, but from the 900s-1100s there were quite a number of graves, including men, women and child burials.

Obviously it’s quite poignant anyway, but it also highlights that the Viking Age wasn’t just about the big men from Scandinavia, it encompassed Manx society.

It’s almost that end point of the Pagan world in a way, as well. People were being buried in a Christian manner but still with some sort of nod…‘we’ll give them grave goods, we’ll put their necklace in there’.

The beads are really…it’s amazing that they were found, it just shows the quality of whoever was excavating the grave.

They’re literally two millimetres in diameter but they’re really deep blue. There’s an amber bead as well that’s a wee bit bigger and a yellowish bead as well.

A photo of a series of light brown circular archaeological finds stack on top of each other
A stack of weights© Manx National Heritage
It wasn’t just that particular child’s grave that had beads in – a lot of others were found in that cemetery. Some of the beads that were found at Peel Castle weren’t in such great condition – the amber can fracture – but these blue glass beads are fine.

The biggest challenge is going to be displaying them so that people can really see their super quality. They’re not usually on display in our Viking gallery.

We’re refreshing one of our galleries at our other sites so we’re hoping to put more Viking artefacts on display over here.

One of the nice things about inter-museum loans is that you get things out which you can’t normally display.

Later this year we are going to be borrowing some materials from Jorvik, in York, and in the past we have borrowed material from the British Museum, the British Library and National Museums Scotland.

Most people are happy to at least have a discussion about things. It can be a long process organising it but it’s usually worth it, especially somewhere like the Isle of Man where you don’t get that much passing trade.

If you’ve got a shop window, like another museum that’s showing artefacts from the Isle of Man, then potentially it’s not only people who would come to see what we’ve got, but it’s also researchers who think ‘I’d never have thought of the Isle of Man’. You start to build an information exchange about all these sorts of things.”

  • Visit Manx National Heritage to find out more. Viking Voyagers is at National Maritime Museum Cornwall from March 20 2015 - February 22 2017.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a dark green archaeological find in a cone shaped placed on its side
© Manx National Heritage
A photo of a series of light brown archaeological shapes in round and square shapes
© Manx National Heritage
A photo of a series of light brown archaeological artefacts in circular chunks at various angles
© Manx National Heritage
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Incredible how the article missed out England, which is also next door to the Isle of man. Scotland only had a few very small settlements that were eventually abandoned. Ireland drove out its Vikings. Whereas in these islands, by far the biggest permanent "colony" of Scandinavians/Norse/Germanic folk, is called England, - who united to become the indigneous English nation, and we are still here.
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