Jetting Across the British Isles

Digs & Discoveries November/December 2019

(Manx National Heritage and Rachel Crellin)

Queen Victoria is known for wearing only black clothing during a mourning period for her beloved Albert that endured for no less than 40 years. She even went so far as to favor black jewelry made from jet, a gemstone that is composed of fossilized wood from a type of Jurassic-period British coniferous tree. But the queen was not the first Briton to wear jet jewelry. Archaeologists recently unearthed a jet necklace dating to sometime between 2200 and 1900 B.C. in a tomb under an earthen mound near the village of Kirk Michael on the Isle of Man.

The crescent-shaped necklace consists of 122 decorated beads between 0.4 and 2 inches long. These jet gemstones came from Yorkshire, in northern England, suggesting that communities on the Isle of Man were connected to far-flung trade and exchange networks 4,000 years ago. “Whether or not the person who wore the beads lived on the Isle of Man for their whole life, left and returned, or was born elsewhere,” says project codirector and Newcastle University archaeologist Chris Fowler, “the beads can be taken as an indication that this was a person of some importance because of the rarity of the material and its exotic nature.”

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