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Cashtal yn Ard is an exceptional Neolithic long cairn dating to around 3,000BC.

Until victorian times this site was popularly associated – like several others – with the legendary viking king of Man, hence its alternative name, King Orry’s Castle. even its preferred name still preserves the tradition that it is a fortification.

Some clearance in 1884 and more scientific investigation in 1932-33 have since proved it to be an exceptional example of a Neolithic long cairn dating to around 3000 BC. The latter excavations were extensive and shaped the site as we see it today, with almost all of the covering cairn removed, several fallen stones re-erected, and new stones, each marked with their date of erection, placed where old ones were missing in the forecourt. More recently, geophysical survey was carried out in 1999 which helped clarify the site.

Three separate features are thought to predate the cairn. At the west end, a small stone cist, over which a low mound had been created, was disturbed by the construction of the façade of the forecourt: the cist and mound lie under the last stone of the north-western edge of the façade. east of the forecourt, about two-thirds of the way along the cairn, excavation revealed a mass of burnt stones on a raised area of stone flags, which had also been reddened by heat. This may have been a cremation platform, its position still apparent as a low oval mound. The platform predates the cairn, which was raised over it. It may be similar to Ballafayle, where evidence for cremation was also found within the cairn. The third feature is an unusually large standing stone placed approximately on the edge of the cairn at the south-eastern end. Though such stones are difficult to date, it is so out character in this location that it is assumed to have been raised into position before the cairn was built. It is not clear whether or not these three features were constructed or used simultaneously.

The other visible remains represent the structural elements of the cairn built during a later phase of activity on the site. Most of the stones visible would have been beneath or peripheral to a stone and earth cairn. An illustration from the 1820s suggests that the cairn was then still almost complete, but by the 1880s, most of it had been removed.

At the west end an arc of large upright stones originally defined a deep U-shaped forecourt. At the centre of the façade a pair of low portal stones form a constricted entrance, to either side of which are two much taller standing stones. The loss of some of the original stones, despite their replacement, has diminished our appreciation of the original architectural intentions of the tomb’s builders, but it would seem likely that the façade gradually reduced in height beyond these two particularly massive stones. The gaps between these orthostats were filled with dry-stone walling to support the body of the cairn behind, and in the centre of the facade this may have stood as high as the top of the portal stones. The taller orthostats would have cast their shadows across the forecourt, which was paved and apparently used for rituals which left charcoal and burnt debris.

The portal stones at the centre of the façade are veined with quartz which may have held special symbolism for those who built and used the monument. The inner face of the northern (left) stone bears slight traces of cup-marks, but whether these were carved before the stone was built into the cairn, or whether they were added later, possibly during the Bronze Age, is unknown.

The portal provides a narrow access to the chamber behind, which is formed out of large slabs of stone and subdivided along its length by partitions into five smaller units. one surviving slab suggests that the chamber was also roofed with similar slabs, perhaps corbelled where necessary, to support the weight of the overlying earth and stone cairn. The excavation suggested that these stone chambers originally contained burials and pottery, some of which is on display in the Manx Museum.

The perimeter of the cairn was originally defined by slabs which formed a kerb retaining a small cairn covering the chambers. This was later replaced by a second outer kerb of slabs and dry-stone walling which retained a much larger extended cairn, completely covering the original cairn and the cremation platform to the east.

This kerb is visible on the south side of the monument, but now lies under the modern field wall on the north and east.


Text from 'A Guide to the Archaeological Sites of the Isle of Man' by Andrew Johnson and Allison Fox.

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