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19 July 2003
School children visit Neolithic project

More than 150 of the Isle of Man's (United Kingdom) school children experienced one of the most important Neolithic sites in the British Isles when they visited the Billown Neolithic Landscape Project. Students were shown around the excavation work done by Bournemouth University in conjunction with Manx National Heritage.
     Excavations this year have covered the final part of the field. They have revealed a Neolithic ditch filled with broken pottery and worked flint, some more cobbled pathways similar to the Bronze Age farmyard found last season and an Iron Age ring-ditch forming the foundation of a circle of closely-set posts. Another complex of pits filled with burnt material from domestic hearths and metalworking has also been found.
     Excavations at Billown began in 1995 after fieldwalker Robert Farrar discovered 30 pieces of worked flint, three projectile points and two scrapers in the field. Every summer since then, students have conducted intensive excavation of the site. The site is on land quarried by Colas Holdings (IOM) Ltd and the company's plans to quarry in the area gave MNH a unique opportunity to excavate, said field archaeologist Andy Johnson. With co-operation from Colas, the whole area has given a vivid picture of life in the Island some 5,000 years ago.
     "People were coming here for 1,500 years digging pits," said Professor Tim Darvill, professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University. "They'd be coming here for a few days, it was an ephemeral thing. There was an enclosure around the space, we found that. Some of the pits go down two to three metres. It was hollow in the pits. One of the very distinctive Manx things was to take a ceramic pot, its mouth level with the surface of the ground, perhaps they were communicating with the spirits of the ground, we do not fully understand what we believe."
     At the centre of the site is a very obvious circle of stones with solid impressions where the wooden roof posts went in the middle is a darkened patch of soil where the clay oven and its hearth sat. This is the impression of one of five or six round-houses, from around 1,200 BCE. Professor Darvill was surprised to find an enclosure so far north west in Europe and the site helped him create a picture of Neolithic man in the Island and its relationship with communities in the Irish Sea basin.
     Mr Johnson said excavation this year had confirmed "that a wide range of activities has taken place on the site for several thousand years during prehistoric times".

Source: Isle of Man Online (12 July 2003)

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