Gearóid Mac Cuinneagáin wrote:
> Family grave throws light on Irish Dark Ages
> Paul Colgan
> SOME of the mysteries of life in Ireland in the first and second centuries may
> be solved after the discovery last week of a 2,000-year-old family grave in Co
Most interesting. How do they know after less than a week from which
period the grave is? Are the Radiocarbon laboratories working that fast
in the RoI? And how do they know that it is a family grave? DNA-samples
taken last week and already completely analysed?
> Eight skeletons, including an infant, were found perfectly preserved in
> stone-lined graves by a farmer digging for gravel in a mound on his
> Sarsfieldstown farm.
So there were several graves next to each other, not eight people in one
> Early indications from the site suggest the family had a quiet and subdued way
> of life, contrary to the popular image of Ireland in the early years of the
> first millennium as a war-torn society with small groups engaged in constant
Most interesting! What indications are this that tell that those people
had a quiet and subdued way of life?
> Victor Buckley, a senior archeologist with Duchas, the heritage service, who
> examined the site after it was discovered last Monday, said the skeletons were
> in excellent condition, and the find would help to build a picture of the
> everyday stresses and strains that the people suffered.
The first really intelligent sentence in that article.
> It has been established that the site, 50 yards off the Dublin-Belfast road,
> was neither a battle-grave nor a plague burial, as the remains do not show any
> signs of fatal trauma.
So a slit throat or a cut abdomen can be deducted from the cranial
structure? Well, that's new to me. And I've also never heard that
plagues result in fatal traumas - but I probably am not up to date with
the newest medical research - probably the black plague was not an
illness but a psychopathic killer organisation that spread over all of
Europe once in a while.
> A palaeopathologist's examination of the remains should reveal some of the
> farming methods used by the people when they were alive. "If they had to make
> repeated movements, or use particular tools while they were working, that will
> show up in the muscle marks on the bones," Buckley said. "We're starting to
> build up a more complete picture of what life was like at that time."
If this holds true, I would be very interested in the results. However,
given what I know from palaeoanthropological studies carried out by
various experts on the continent on skeletons of about the same age and
in approximatly the same condition I doubt that they will find out much
very specific information about what farming methods were used.
> The use of a rotary quern - a stone bowl with a stone handle for grinding corn
> in bread-making - left grit in the diet of the people found in the grave. The
> grit acted as a natural toothbrush, and the skulls have perfect teeth as a
Well, this really is a surprise, as on the continent exactly this grit
seemingly led to strong wear of the teeth - apart from the fact that
karies was a widespread problem.
> The bodies are about the same height as people in Ireland today, putting paid
> to the commonly held view that people were shorter 2,000 years ago. The adults
> died aged between 35 and 40, having reached the average life expectancy.
Well, then either the Irish today are especially small or the skeletons
found are not very representative - in all of continental Europe, a
definite size difference between the average 2000 year old grave and
modern people can be documented. Only the rich who could afford a varied
diet on a regular basis and who would not be forced to do hard physical
work from a very early age on usually are of about the smae height as
> According to Buckley, illnesses such as a common cold developing into
> pneumonia, or an attack of appendicitis, were likely to have been the cause of
Possible. The results from the palaeoanthropologists probably can
clarify if Mr.Buckley is right or not. Maybe he should have waited for
> The skeletons were buried without any archeological treasures. Buckley said the
> lack of cultural artefacts surviving from the early centuries AD has caused
> the era to be seen as a kind of Irish Dark Ages.
Well, Irish prehistory is full with such Dark Ages. Maybe it's just a
problem that there exists no serious chronological typology for the
Irish archaeological material.
> Buckley said: "The warring classes would have gone off once a year to fight.
> Otherwise it was a peaceful time for most people in Ireland, a country of small
> farms. There were no towns, no monasteries, and for people like we found at
> this site, life just went on."
Oh. How nice. Now why have the warring classes gone off for a fight once
a year? Whom did they fight? And if this was irrelevant for the people
like those they found on this site, what did they fight for at all?
Bloodsport? How is all of this documented?
> Just 100 yards away from the grave are the remains of an early Christian
> church. Buckley said there was no connection between the two sites, and that
> the grave dated from a much earlier period.
And how did he date that grave, if there were no artifacts in it?
> Increased activity in the building sector over recent years has upturned a
> series of graves dating from the Iron Age and the early Christian period. With
> more than 700 excavations carried out this year, Duchas has been hiring private
> companies to undertake the digs.
Dated how? Good guess? Radiocarbon? Mystic insights?
> Excavations are continuing at the Sarsfieldstown site and the skeletons have
> been removed for further analysis.
Oh nice. So, if I interpret this correctly, Mr. Buckley found some
graves that contained nothing except for bones, which are now sent off
to be analysed, and not only was able to date the burials but also could
conclude how those people lived, what they did during their lives and
why they died. I'm impressed. I've always needed some research time to
come to any results.
Mag.phil. Raimund KARL <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Universität Wien, Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte
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