Prehistoric megaliths and megalithic monuments inspired by prehistory have been recycled and redeployed throughout the 19th-21st centuries in a range of fashions and contexts. Many appear in nationalist settings. In my contemporary archaeology research, I’ve addressed the translation and reuse of materials and megalithic monuments at the National Memorial Arboretum. I recently came across a particularly distinctive example at the Manx parliament site of Tynwald, St John’s that deserves reporting on.
In rainy weather, I recently visited Tynwald, St John’s, where I had a most satisfactory ‘Red Dragon Pie’ in the Tynwald Hill Cafe and explored other dimensions of the memorial landscape, including Tynwald Hill. I encountered translated fragments of a megalithic monument that forms part of a memorial arrangement in gardens on the south side of the A1 opposite the Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist.
Basic details can be found here. It is shocking how little is available about this monument.
The tomb was discovered in a sand quarry and excavated in 1971 by Sheila Cregeen. The quarry company donated the four intact stones of the six that survived of this multi-chambered tomb of the late 3rd millennium BC to German Parish Commissioners who made the decision to erect them in St John’s. This is one of only 10 known Neolithic tombs from the Isle of Man and there is a Bronze Age urn suggesting later burials inserted into the monument.
So, this is a bizarre example of a megalithic tomb – or parts thereof at least – translated in the last quarter of the 20th century, to a national site – the unique open-air parliament that sees itself as a distinctive feature of the Manx ‘Viking’ past. More on that in another post. There are multiple degrees of absence at work from the original monument, including the absence of indication or explanation of the funerary and other potential roles of the monument, any landscape situation, any discussion of cremation to which the human remains found had been subjected to. Yet still, the antiquity of the monument is drawn upon explicitly in its new situation, within site of the Tynwald parliament site with mound and enclosure.
Next, there are a range of other features that have accrued around these memorial gardens.
- A tree with plaque commemorating the Golden Jubilee of the Women’s Institute (1965);
- A tree with plaque commemorating the centenary of the Women’s Institute (2015);
- A plinth with memorials commemorating those who died in the First and Second World Wars with a large evergreen bush with a wooden sign marking the WI
- A heritage sign explaining that the gardens were formerly the village pinpound (for stray animals), abolished in 1963 but the back wall of which provides;
- there are also two benches, but I confess that in the heavy rain I forgot to explore whether they had memorial plaques too;
- then there is the heritage sign explaining the Ballaharra stones themselves.
We have a triad of memorial dimensions – the pinpound, the WI and the war dead – wrapped around the Neolithic monument once translated into its new context.
Now the timing of the establishment of this transtemporal memorial feature is not coincidental. 1973 was but a few years before the contrived millennial celebrations of the world’s ‘oldest parliament’. Another megalith, the 1979 ‘Millennium Stone’ situated across the road commemorating the supposed 1,000 years of Manx parliamentary democracy, quickly served to augment the Ballaharra Stones’ ancient associations. So here we have a prime example of a megalithic monument whose accidental discovery was rapidly translated into a local and national Manx memorial landscape.