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Time Team ‘Digs’ the Isle of Man! 3 October 2006

Time Team, the award winning television programme has just completed a remarkably successful visit to the Island to record an episode for their next series, which will be broadcast on Channel 4 early next year.

The programme centred upon the investigation of an early medieval chapel, or ‘keeill’, a type of site for which the Island is well known. Excavation at the Mount Murray Country Club revealed not only the site of the chapel itself but also the enclosure in which it stood. A number of finds were made, including a small slab of stone bearing an incised inscription.

The investigation followed a careful reconnaissance of a number of sites on the Island, after Time Team had contacted Manx National Heritage earlier this year.

Andrew Johnson, Field Archaeologist for Manx National Heritage said:

“Several months ago we considered a number of sites, based on suggestions from the public and our own research priorities. We visited several sites with representatives of the production team, and talked through the potential issues, problems and benefits. It came down to one site, which seemed to fit all the criteria for both Time Team and MNH”.

Under Manx law, archaeological excavation may only take place with permission from Manx National Heritage, which is responsible for the statutory protection of archaeological remains throughout the Island. Permission requires that professional standards are met, including the preparation of a proper archive and report, which must be lodged with Manx National Heritage.

Andrew Johnson explained:

“A lot of people probably think that Time Team travel around Britain digging wherever they want to. In fact, the team undertakes archaeological evaluations to a high standard in a short space of time. Whilst the three-day format is part of the tele-visual product, in some ways it is no different from many evaluations carried out ahead of proposed building developments within a very restricted timescale. The art comes in selecting a site which is amenable to this kind of investigation, and offers good prospects for a useful set of results”.

Several exciting finds were made, the most unusual of which was a small stone slab bearing an inscription written in a script and language no longer in use.

“A close up showing part of the Ogham inscription found duri
“A close up showing part of the Ogham inscription found during the excavation. A full translation is still awaited.”
Andrew Johnson continued:

“This find is really important – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s of national significance, and is already causing a bit of a stir amongst academics from England and Scotland”.

The letters are from an alphabet known as Ogham, which has its origins in Ireland and was in use from nearly 1600 years ago. Ogham letters could be used to write in a number of different languages, and what is really interesting is that on first reading this inscription is written in what might be described as a form of Scots Gaelic, as spoken about 900 years ago.

Andrew Johnson explained the importance of this:

“This is significant because on the Island we might expect to find Ogham used to write in Old Irish from several hundred years earlier. The inscription is still being worked on by specialists, but appears to refer to a group of fifty people. It’s still very early days, but this begs all kinds of questions about the language of the writer of the inscription as well as the identity of the people being described”.

The excavation also identified the site of the keeill itself. Almost no keeills have been excavated to modern standards, and so the investigation was invaluable in producing evidence for the construction of the walls, the doorway, and the level of the floor, and providing archaeologists with an impression of what the structure looked like nearly a thousand years ago.

Andrew also paid tribute to the film crew and the other individuals and organisations involved:

“What you don’t see, on a programme lasting an hour, is all the preparation that goes into making it work. This couldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the cooperation of all concerned, support from the Department of Tourism, practical help from Mount Murray, and permission from the landowners. With the filming on site, around the island, and not forgetting the usual helicopter ride, the Isle of Man and its archaeology will be shown off to great effect.”

The site, which lies on private land, has now been restored to its previous condition and the finished programme will be broadcast in the spring of 2007.

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