Friday 19 January 2018

Mayo mountain burial chamber: human remains are 5,000 years old

Scientific anaylsis of ancient human remains found by hillwalkers on Ben Gorm in County Mayo has revealed that the bones are more than 5,000 years old.

View from Ben Gorm.  Photographer Robert Bone. Source Wikipedia.
View from Ben Gorm.
Photographer Robert Bone. Source Wikipedia.
The discovery in August 2016 was made by local hillwalker Michael Chambers, who came accross some massive boulders and a cave-like space on the mountain in the northwest of the county. Human bones were scattered over the rock floor. Once it had been determined that the remains were ancient, the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, in consultation with the National Museum of Ireland, commissioned a rescue excavation which was carried out by excavation director Dr Marion Dowd of IT Sligo.

“Large pieces of quartz had been placed in and around the bones, Dr Dowd explains. "When the radiocarbon dates came through it was very exciting. Not only were the bones Neolithic, but the dates showed the site had been used for over 1,000 years." At least 10 individuals – adults, adolescents and children – were placed in the chamber. One of the adult bones dated to 3,600 BC while a bone of a child skeleton dated to 2,400 BC.

The research has suggested that bodies were brought into the cave chamber and laid out in a pit. At some later point, the skulls might have been deliberately broken as part of a complex burial ritual and the larger bones removed.

Dr Linda Lynch, the osteoarchaeologist who examined the human bones, said this was not a burial place as such. “It was a ritual place where bodies were placed to decompose. Only a very small proportion of each skeleton was found, with the majority of bones apparently deliberately removed. The discovery indicates highly complex processing of the dead.”

Josepha Madigan TD, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, praised the local hillwalkers for reporting their find: “This is a fascinating archaeological discovery and I want to thank the community of hill walkers for reporting it to us. Such vigilance is extremely important to us in helping to protect and understand our archaeological heritage.

"The excavation has provided a glimpse into prehistoric Ireland over 5,000 years ago. Such discoveries show the enduring capacity of archaeology to enthral and demonstrate how advances in scientific research are affording us a better understanding of Ireland’s ancient past and its people."