Bronze Age cremated remains yield artefacts carved from bone

Reassessment of a box of cremated human remains excavated from a cist tomb in 1947 led to a discovery of a a collection of 4000-year-old small bone objects, among which was a bone pommel for a bronze knife – the first to be found on the Isle of Man.

Bone knife pommel (by Manx National Heritage)
Bone knife pommel (by Manx National Heritage)

The bones had been buried almost 4000 years ago at Staarvey Farm in what is now German parish, Isle of Man. The crematory urn was discovered during excavations in 1947 at a site reported by a farmer who had hit a large stone during ploughing. Archaeological investigation revealed a stone-built cist grave containing fragments of burnt bone, two flint tools, and two Collared Urns (Bronze Age vessels) buried upside-down. Osteological analysis of the urn’s content, as part of the the reassessment of finds from earlier excavations, revealed four skeletons, very fragmented and mixed together – 2 adults, one of which is a male, an adolescent, and an infant. The bone objects were burned as well and mixed in with the cremated human remains.

The bone pommel of a bronze knife was one of the found objects inside. According to the experts it is an extremely rare object as there are only about 40 surviving knife and dagger pommels of this period from the British Isles, and none have been found on the Isle of Man before. The size and shape suggest it was once attached to a small knife which archaeologists call a “knife-dagger”. Several other bone objects were found amongst the cremated bone. One is a burnt bone point or pin. The objects may have been worn by one or more of the dead as they were placed on the funeral pyre, or may have been placed by the dead on the pyre by mourners. The burial itself is fairly unusual among contemporary burials we know of from across Britain and Ireland. It is rare to find cremated remains buried in both a Collared Urn and cist – it was typically one or the other.

(after Heritage Daily, Isle Of Man & Manx National Heritage)

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