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Time Team – What Happens Next? 19 January 2007

The Isle of Man emerged from the bright lights of television coverage with its standing considerably enhanced following the broadcast of Time Team on January 14th. Aerial footage showed off the Island to full advantage, and two days’ worth of perfect weather soon dispelled any memory of stormy conditions at the start of the excavation. But although the programme has now been aired, the story is by no means over, and behind the scenes work goes on to complete the project.

Andrew Johnson, Field Archaeologist at Manx National Heritage stated:

“With all the excitement surrounding the broadcast, the public and media interest, it’s easy to lose sight of what we set out to do, and what we successfully achieved. First and foremost, we went into this project with clear scientific intentions of evaluating the site of a keeill to see if such sites could still yield up new information. The majority of similar sites were investigated nearly a century ago, and the techniques of the day leave a lot to be desired if measured against how we do things now. That in no way disparages what was done previously: those surveys were written up in an exemplary fashion and still provide the starting point for everyone researching the whole phenomenon of keeills and Early Christianity on the Island”.

The keeills were the subject of the first-ever organised survey of monuments on the Island. The project was begun in 1908, and driven by the noted Manx antiquary (and first director of the Manx Museum) P.M.C. Kermode; the governing committee included such notables as Lord Raglan, Governor of the Island and restorer of Castle Rushen, several Captains of Parishes, and leading members of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society.

Andrew Johnson, Field Archaeologist at Manx National Heritage commented:

“When a masterly academic project is published, such as Kermode’s work on the Manx crosses, or the survey of the keeills, it is sometimes the case that the subject is then put to one side for a while. In the case of the keeills, much energy was initially expended on the chapel buildings themselves, but not on the surrounding features: this was absolutely appropriate at the time because it was the keeills themselves which were under the greatest threat. But, as with all archaeology - be it a whole structure or an individual artefact, its date, or its location - the context of something needs to be understood as fully as possible. We believed that there was still scope at this particular site to find out more”.

As the programme showed, this was demonstrated in spectacular fashion through the discovery of artefacts such as the ogham stone, the recovery of a cross slab, and the opportunity to investigate and understand the keeill and its burial ground. Very significantly, it proved possible to recover some accurate dating evidence.

Andrew Johnson continued:

“One of the enduring problems with the keeills has been the question of dating. Not only are datable artefacts often few and far between, but, because these sites seem to have been in use for many centuries, one can’t be content with just one date. It’s enormously important that we’ve been able get scientific dating from the cemetery and that all three dates are consistent with each other. It’s also significant that the ogham stone appears to be of a later date than the burials, and it’s certainly very possible that the surviving keeill structure is also later than the burials”.

Andrew Johnson also emphasised that the nature of the excavation programme needed to be understood,

“It was never anyone’s intention to try to dig the whole site in such a short space of time, but rather to ask a sensible number of questions and to try to answer them by careful sampling. We always had clear targets in the keeill itself, such as looking for the altar, the floor, and the doorway, because these are diagnostic features which tell us a great deal about the building as a whole. We also wanted to test the possibility that there was a burial ground around the keeill which was defined by a clear boundary such as a bank or ditch, whether there were any other buildings in the immediate vicinity, and to see whether we could relate each of these different pieces of evidence together. The Time Team programme demonstrated quite clearly I think that we opened up only a small amount of the site in order to try and achieve this, and that we left plenty of opportunity for further work in the future. This was an evaluation, a sample, not a full excavation. It would have been absolutely wrong, for instance, to have uncovered any more graves than was strictly necessary, even though this might have been quite popular in some quarters and made for exciting television”.

Andrew Johnson went on to clarify that filming really is just the beginning. A great deal of research and analysis has since been undertaken, not simply to provide results for the programme, but also, and more importantly, to create an archive which will be available for researchers in the future.

Andrew Johnson said:

“I know there is a lot of interest in the finds, and although there are not many individual items, several of them are very sensitive and it is vitally important that they are properly conserved and stabilised, and that their future is agreed. The finds are presently off-Island receiving specialist attention, but will be returned as soon as practicable. They remain the property of the landowner, though in the fullness of time we hope through his generosity to agree their transfer to Manx National Heritage so that they are readily accessible to the public”.

In the longer term Manx National Heritage hopes to be able to display some of the finds and incorporate them into the archaeological galleries in the Manx Museum alongside other nationally significant artefacts. The redevelopment of the Viking and Medieval Gallery at the museum, due for completion early this summer, will offer the opportunity to interpret a range of items from national collections, some of which have not been displayed before. The work on the gallery constitutes a significant £½ million Government capital scheme and is being undertaken at the same time as the development of a new display reflecting the life and work of poet T.E. Brown and a temporary exhibition of TT artefacts and memorabilia to be opened in time for the centenary race meeting in June.

Returning to Time Team, Andrew Johnson concluded:

“I think it is appropriate to take the opportunity to thank all the organisations and individuals who got this project off the ground and supported it throughout the process – Time Team, the various agencies of the Isle of Man Government especially the Department of Tourism and Leisure, the landowner in particular, the enormous support of the public who turned up, and later tuned in to watch, and last but by no means least, to re-emphasise that the work continues”.

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