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Meayll Circle is one of the most outstanding of all of the Isle of Man's neolithic remains.

The chambered cairn on Meayll Hill is the most outstanding of the Manx megaliths. It is an exceptional monument in the Isle of Man and also within the British Isles. No doubt a ready quarry of stone from the moment it ceased to have direct significance to the people living nearby, its distinctiveness attracted the attention of antiquaries whose attempts to gain a better understanding of the monument have stripped much of the outer cairn material, leaving just the skeleton of the original monument.

Located on the north-western slope of Meayll Hill, the site commands extensive views over the surrounding sea and landscape. Its position on a terrace just below the flat summit may have been deliberately chosen to limit its view over the peninsula to the south towards the Calf of Man, but the panorama to the north is otherwise most impressive. The views over the sea and of the nearby coastline strongly suggest a connection between Meayll Hill, the sea, and Bradda Hill. Longer views take in almost the whole of the southern watershed of the Island, and also catch a glimpse of the north: the area around Dalby is neatly framed by the cleft of Fleshwick.

The unique character of the site lies in the arrangement of twelve burial cists, constructed from large, irregular slabs of stone, and arranged in pairs around the circumference of the cairn. Six short passages lead through the outer kerb of the cairn to provide access to each pair of cists. In plan, the arrangement of each passage and pair of cists is T-shaped, so that the passage forms the stem and the cists the arms of the T.

The cairn is not quite circular, and measures about 23m east/west by 20m north/south. The covering cairn was probably constructed from the same stone – Manx Series – as forms the bedrock of the hill. There is disagreement about the exact form of the original cairn; early accounts suggest that it covered the entire complex, much like the later round barrows of the Bronze Age. Geophysical analysis suggests that a doughnut-shaped ring-cairn now survives beneath the surface, leaving an open area in the centre, but this might simply be the result of the removal of most of the cairn material from the centre. It has also been suggested that the structure acquired its present form over a long period, developing from a simple stone cairn raised over a single central burial, to the complex plan now visible with multiple cists and entrances arranged around the periphery of a later cairn.

Excavations carried out in the late 1800s by local antiquaries found that flint tools, particularly arrowheads, and fragments of early Neolithic pottery were deposited in each of the chambers. The chambers were then roughly paved before other objects were added: these included white quartz pebbles, and more flint and pottery. The inclusion of water-worn quartz pebbles in Neolithic monuments is well attested throughout the Island, but why they were placed in such sites is unknown; it would appear for some spiritual purpose. The excavations also revealed traces of cremated bone throughout the chambers, though many of the finds have since been lost. These excavations also revealed traces of a central stone cist close to a large white quartz boulder. More recent excavations, carried out during the 1970s, revealed traces of a low stone wall forming a kerb which would have retained the main body of the cairn. Parts of this are still visible today at the south-west edge of the cairn.

There is no other cairn quite like Meayll Hill. There are monuments in Wales, Scotland and Ireland which share similar characteristics, but none have the same combination of short passages leading to paired cists in a circular arrangement. The similarities suggest contact around the Irish Sea, whilst the differences imply that the Neolithic Manx were ready to adapt imported ideas and techniques to fit with local materials, skills, beliefs and landscape.


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