Ireland is famous for its peat bogs – peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. They are the most efficient carbon sink on earth and cover 1.4 million square miles of the earth. They also tend to preserve bodies and artefacts that wind up in them, so they are a great source of archaeological findings of the Neolithic and Iron Age periods.
Peat bogs don’t normally make the top lists of things to see and do while in Ireland, but they are a window into the past. Another attraction in Ireland is Sean’s Bar – it is reputed to be the oldest pub in Europe having been established in 900 AD.
The Development Of The Peat Bogs Of Ireland
Bogs are one of the things that characterize Ireland. They cover around 1,200,000 hectares or around a sixth of the island. Only Finland has more bogs relative to its size than Ireland in Europe.
There are two very distinctive types of bogs blanket bogs and raised bogs.
1.Blanket Bogs: Expensive And Generally Form In Wet or Upland Areas 2. Raised Bogs: Smaller And Generally Form In Lowland Areas
Blanket bogs are found wherever there is high rainfall and in Ireland, that’s particularly in the west. They are by far the largest in Ireland and have formed because of human interaction.
After the Ice Age, Ireland was slowly colonized and covered with forests and by 4000 BC Ireland was almost entirely forested. Then the Neolithic Age farmers came and started to clear the land to build farms. First, they cleared the upland areas because forests were not so thick there. But without the trees, the nutrients in the soil became washing out (or leached). The soil became more acidic and the land became waterlogged.
By the Bronze Age around 500 BC, farmers were clearing the lower lands as the uplands were no longer usable. But the debris did not decompose and a layer of peat began to build up. The peat also buried the remains of the Neolithic farms.
By the Norman era around 1,000 AD, the lowlands were almost completely devoid of forests and blanket bogs were well established.
Preserved Kings, Sacrifices, And Artifacts In The Bogs
Go to the National Museum of Ireland and one will see the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibit. It is the result of findings from the museum’s Bog Bodies Research Project. The project was initiated following the discovery of two Iron Age bog bodies at Oldcroghan, Co. Offaly, and Clonycavan, Co. Meath.
The remains of these bodies were dated to between 40 BC and 200 BC and were notable for being in a good state of preservation. The museum offers exhibits based on the theory that human sacrifice and the deposition of the victims in bogs along tribal boundaries are related to sovereignty and kingship rituals during the Iron Age.
Preserved Bog Bodies: Gallagh Man (Co. Galway) Baronstown West Man (Co. Kildare)
Some exhibits include preserved bodies, royal regalia, weapons, boundary markers, horse trappings, and other artefacts. The exhibits also delve into what has been discovered in other Iron Age bogs in Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, and England.
One can also learn about Cashel Man. He was found naked in at least two meters of peat with his head, neck, and left arm removed by the milling machine.
Age: 20-25 Years Oldest: One Of the Oldest Bog Bodies In Europe Date: 2,000 BC
He was a young adult male and the wounds on his body suggest he had been the victim of human sacrifice (there were injuries on the lower back and a broken arm). Although the cause of death was not possible to know because of the damage from the milling machine.
It is known that in the past the ritual killing of young men took place in ancient Ireland.
Céide Fields – Neolithic Farms
“Beneath the wild boglands of north Mayo lies a system of fields, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs which together make up the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world.”
The Céide Fields is an archaeological site in the west of Ireland and is described as the most extensive Neolithic site in Ireland. It has the oldest known field system anywhere in the world and is thought to be around 5,500 years old.
Today it is on UNESCO’s tentative list to be World Heritage-listed and was originally discovered in the 1930s.
It wasn’t for another 40 years that they were studied archaeologically. What was discovered under the peat bog was a complex of fields, houses, and megalithic tombs concealed by the growth of blanket bogs over the course of many centuries.
The people who lived there were farmers who cleared large areas of forest to farm.
Log Boats Recovered from River in Northern Ireland
History lies beneath the riverbeds of northwest Ireland. Every so often, when conditions allow, archaeologists are rewarded with another offering from the distant past.
Two more boats understood to be from the medieval era, have emerged from the River Foyle. The boats, known as longboats or dugout boats, were found at a “dugout boat hotspot” near the Lifford Bridge. The bridge connects the towns of Strabane in Northern Ireland and Lifford, in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.
Marine archaeologist Dr Niall Gregory said the two boats now bring the total number found at this particular section of the river to 15. Overall, 21 such boats have been found at the confluence (meeting point) of the Rivers Mourne and Finn into the River Foyle.
Logboat’s are made from hollowed-out trees and can vary in size depending on the tree trunk used, Dr Gregory told BBC News NI.
About 500 log boats have been found across the island of Ireland, he said. One of the largest recorded was found in lower Lough Erne and measured nearly 60ft (18m) long and 3.2ft (1m) wide.
“These two boats found at the Lifford Bridge site were cargo ferry boats,” he said.
“These boats were designed as workhorses, to move and manoeuvre with some degree of agility within a moderate to strong current.
“These two boats are from a dugout boat hotspot where they have appeared over the years, usually after seasonal high-water flows.”
‘Taking a dander’
Logboat’s are “notoriously difficult” to date based upon hull size and shape alone, and carbon dating is the only definitive means of obtaining a conclusive date.
Dr Gregory estimates – based on the hull shape, use of medieval nails, distorted wood grain and remains of sapwood on the exterior – that they are of a medieval era.
Previous boats found at the site have been dated from between 600 AD to 1520 AD, he said. Dr Gregory believes these boats, from their characteristics, are more likely to be later rather than earlier in that range.
Eamon Logue, from the Strabane-Lifford Anglers Association, was one of the first people to stumble across the uncovered remains.
Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle’s Mark Paterson Show, Mr Logue said one of the boats seemed in such miraculous condition that it looked like someone had parked it there.
“Me and a friend were just taking dander down the River Foyle.
“We were about 100 yards down the bank and we have just seen it, at the side of the river, like someone had parked it there.
“There were big floods just a few weeks before, we think it has either been dislodged or the bank has caved away and exposed it.
“We have walked this river for years and found different bits but this was different.”
Nail and timber samples from the boats have now been sent to Dr Rena Maguire of Queen’s University Belfast.
Dr Maguire, who is a metallurgical specialist, will undertake an analysis of the nails and also radio-carbon date the timbers to get a more exact date. Only time will tell if, or rather when, more of these boats will reappear along the banks of the Foyle.
The Search for “Lost” Royal Graves in Britain and Ireland
The graves of dozens of what may have been early British kings, queens, princes and princesses from the era of the mythical King Arthur have been revealed by a new study. It suggests that British royal graves dating from between the fifth and the seventh centuries A.D. have been overlooked until now, possibly because they weren’t elaborate and contained no valuable grave goods.
The research reconsiders archaeological evidence from a little-understood period of British history, between the end of Roman rule and the late Anglo-Saxon kingdoms — a time traditionally described by the legends of King Arthur.
The new study by Ken Dark, an emeritus professor of archaeology and history at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, identifies what may be up to 65 graves of post-Roman British kings and their families at about 20 burial sites across the west of England and Wales, including the modern English counties of Somerset and Cornwall.
The British continued to rule in what is now the west of England, Wales, and parts of Scotland in the centuries after the end of Roman rule in Britain in the early fifth century, while the invading Anglo-Saxons settled in the east.
But while Anglo-Saxon rulers of the time were given elaborate burials with valuable and ornate grave gifts, the Christian British may have viewed this as a pagan practice, Dark said.
Instead, the British seemed to have buried their royalty without grave goods in simple graves without stone inscriptions alongside the graves of common Christians – although many of the royal graves were enclosed by a rectangular ditch and probably surrounded by a fence that has since rotted away, he said.
Dark, who is now at the University of Navarra in Spain, is the author of the study published this month in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.
“The royal graves are very standardized,” he told Live Science. “They have some variation, just like the ordinary graves do — some are bigger, some are smaller, some have only one grave in the centre while others have two or three.”
Roman rule in Britain lasted from A.D. 43, following a Roman invasion under the emperor Claudius, until about A.D. 410, when the last Roman troops were recalled to Gaul (modern France) amid internal rebellions in the Roman Empire and invasions by Germanic tribes. (The Roman general Julius Caesar invaded southern Britain in 55 B.C. and 54 B.C., but he didn’t establish a permanent Roman rule.)
Between the fifth and seventh centuries, the Christian British ruled what are now western England and Wales as a patchwork of small kingdoms that tried to continue Christian Roman traditions. In the same period, pagan Germanic tribes — the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who originated in the north of Europe — invaded and settled in the eastern parts of the country.
The legends of King Arthur, who was supposedly British and Christian, are set in this period, although most historians think Arthur didn’t actually exist. (Dark, however, suggests that a real person or a fictional hero of that name was famous as early as the sixth century because Dark’s previous studies have suggested there was a sudden spike in the use of the name “Arthur” among British and Irish royal families at the time.)
Dark began his investigation to address a long-standing archaeological mystery: while many British kings were known to have lived during this time period, almost none of their graves had ever been found.
Until this study, the burial of only one British king from this era was known after being discovered in the northwest of Wales; an inscription on a gravestone name the person buried there as Catamanus (Cadfan in Welsh) and declares that he was a king (rex in Latin.)
But Cadfan may have retired from the kingship to become a monk before his death, and the phrasing of the inscription implies his grave was being commemorated because of his status as a monk, Dark said.
Meanwhile, the graves of at least nine Anglo-Saxon rulers from the period have been found, including one at the famous ship-burial at Sutton Hoo near the east coast of England.
To get to the bottom of the mystery, Dark reviewed the archaeological work previously done at thousands of burial sites from this period in the west of Britain and Ireland. His study suggests that the British royal graves were placed within early Christian cemeteries; and while they were marked out as those of high-status people, they seem very humble compared to ornate pagan graves and none have stones with inscriptions stating who was buried there.
The outer enclosures vary in size and some contain up to four graves, but they are typically about 15 to 30 feet (4 to 9 meters) across and up to 30 feet (9 m) long.
“We’ve got a load of burials that are all the same, and a tiny minority of those burials are marked out as being of higher status than the others,” Dark said. “When there are no other possible candidates, that seems to me to be a pretty good argument for these being the ‘lost’ royal burials.”
At one site at Tintagel, a fortified peninsula on the coast of Cornwall that’s long been associated with post-Roman British royalty and legends of King Arthur, what are thought to be five British royal graves in an early Christian cemetery take another form. Each was covered by a mound of earth, possibly because Irish royal graves are also covered with mounds called “ferta,” he said. (The post-Roman British had strong links to Celtic Ireland; the ancient Irish and British were both of Celtic origin and had similar languages.)
But the pattern of placing the royal graves at the centre of an enclosure – usually rectangular, but sometimes circular – appears to be a burial style developed by Christians in late Roman Britain, he said.
“The enclosed grave tradition comes straight out of late Roman burial practices,” he said. “And that’s a good reason why we have them in Britain, but not in Ireland — because Britain was part of the Roman empire, and Ireland wasn’t,” he said.
Although previous studies had noted the enclosed graves were thought to hold people of high social status, rather than royals; and archaeologists were expecting royal burials to be covered by mounds of earth or marked with inscriptions on stone, he said. “But I’m suggesting that this burial practice was specifically royal.”
The Royal Burials of 65 Celtic Kings Identified in England and Wales
Roughly 60 newly-discovered royal graves in the north and west were of British or Irish Celtic origin, according to a new study. A number of English kings in the post-Roman era were of Irish origin, with several Celtic tombs uncovered in the west and north of Britain.
Professor Ken Dark of the University of Reading and Spain’s University of Navarra, a leading expert on the period immediately after the collapse of Roman rule in Britain, has published a new report revealing the locations of between 55 and 65 Celtic-British royal graves from the dark ages.
The newly-discovered graves are located in Wales, Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset and share several similarities with Irish royal tombs, according to Dark’s research.
England consisted of a series of tiny states following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, with Anglo-Saxons of Germanic origin dominating in the south and celts of British and Irish origin ruling in the north and west.
The names of the kings buried in the newly-discovered graves are currently unknown, but Dark says that they are likely to have been kings, sub-kings, or other royals in the British kingdoms of Gwynedd (northwest Wales), Dyfed (southwest Wales), Powys (central east Wales), Brycheiniog (modern Breckonshire) and Dumnonia (now southwest England).
The study of early Celtic graves in Britain remains in its infancy. Archaeologists only ever identified one definite indigenous British royal burial site, while the graves discovered by Dark represent just 0.1% of British-Celtic dark age burials.
The graves have square or rectangular ditched enclosures around them, while many appear to have entry gates or access causeways.
The enclosures, which measure up to 10 meters squared, often feature timber posts or a stone-lined pit.
The graves had been gradually discovered over the years, but Dark is the first scholar to realize their probably royal status.
Dark has also identified a further 43 sites as likely royal burial sites in Ireland.
4,500-year-old Neolithic tomb collapses in South Dublin
The tomb, which dates back to the Neolithic period before the start of the Bronze Age, appears to have collapsed in late 2021, with photos showing the capstone having fallen in. The tomb itself is located on farmland in Shankill and is known as the Carrickgollogan wedge tomb.
Andrew Bambrick, who runs a heritage conservation community, says that the capstone appears had fallen in between the two supporting stones and that it was sad to see it like this.
“It’s sad, it’s been in the country for over 4,500 years and it’s collapsed,” said Bambrick.
Photos taken of the monument in early 2021 show it surrounded by fencing and overgrown with brambles. In more recent photos, there are fewer brambles surrounding the tomb, but the capstone has collapsed inwards.
Bambrick says that while wedge tombs have collapsed in the past, it is usually due to factors like tree roots displacing the tomb and over long periods of time, erosion.
Bambrick says that he has reported the collapse to the National Monument Service, but had yet to receive a response.
However, the Department of Heritage said that the National Monuments Service was made aware of the collapse and that they plan on investigating further.
“The National Monuments Service was recently made aware of an apparent collapse of a capstone at the monument and will be investigating the matter,” said a spokesperson for the Department.
The wedge tomb is included within the most recent Record of Protected Structures (RPS) published by Dun Laoghaire – Rathdown County Council.
While there is awareness of large scale monuments, like Newgrange, Bambrick says that there needs to be more done to raise awareness of smaller, local heritage sites like the Carrickgollogan Dolmen.
He says greater awareness of these historical sites will lead to greater preservation efforts and called for local community groups to be set up to look after dolmens.
Bambrick said that while there were laws in place to protect historical sites like dolmens, there needed to be further efforts to investigate and enforce these protection laws.
He says that a separate organisation specifically to tackle monument vandalism needed to be set up by the Government.
The National Monuments Service is responsible for archaeological matters arising at larger monuments in the care of the State, as well as carrying out surveys on areas that may have historical monuments.
The body also provides advice to planning authorities on development proposals, like development plans, around the impacts they may have on historical sites.
Wedge tombs were the last tombs to be built during the Neolithic period, acting as burial grounds. All wedge tombs in the country are protected under the National Monument Service.
Similar tombs constructed during the Neolithic era include passage tombs, portal tombs and court tombs. These were constructed earlier in the Neolithic era, before wedge tombs became more common.
Well-known wedge tombs include the Labbacallee wedge tomb near Glanworth in Co Cork. It is noted as the largest in Ireland and dates back to 2300 BC.
The remains of at least 58 individual cattle were recovered from the ditches of an enclosure excavated at Kilshane dating back some 5,500 years, and the site is one of the few with large faunal assemblages to be unearthed in Ireland.
Cattle are widely recognised as having important economic, social, symbolic and religious roles in Neolithic communities in Europe, and it has long been assumed that cattle in Neolithic Ireland had similar important roles.
However the absence of large faunal assemblages like the one found at Kilshane has, to date, precluded direct comparison with the rest of Europe, where the special status of cattle was strongly expressed by feasting and commensality.
Dr Fabienne Pigiere, zooarchaeologist in the UCD School of Archaeology, who led the study stressed the unusual character of this osteological assemblage compared to feasting remains from other sites: “Unlike contemporary British or continental sites, the Kilshane assemblage is nearly fully composed of cattle remains.
Its analysis shows the importance of sharing meat during this special gathering event and also allows us to investigate the husbandry economy of the Neolithic communities who exploited cattle for milk and as working beasts for traction”.
The kill-off pattern found on the bones at Kilshane indicates that the bulk of the cattle killed was of an optimum age for meat production, at around two and a half years.
Another small group of individuals aged over three years were also slaughtered; likely having been kept for milk production or breeding stock, and to be used as draft animals.
The numerous females identified in the Kilshane assemblage also confirms the importance of milk production in the husbandry economy of Middle Neolithic Ireland.
Similar kill-off patterns, indicating a focus on milk and meat production, have been recorded at Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in the UK and North-Western Europe.
“This cattle assemblage is providing key insights into prehistoric farming in Ireland, and Europe, right at the time that passage tombs are starting to be constructed. It’s giving us a real sense of the communities behind these monuments and how they supported themselves”, said Dr Jessica Smyth, Lecturer in the UCD School of Archaeology.
The discovery at Kilshane not only has implications for understanding how the economy of the communities of Neolithic Ireland functioned but the larger role that cattle husbandry played in their social, symbolic and religious activities.
This recent research carried out at Kilshane was undertaken as part of the IRC Laureate ‘Passage Tomb People’ project, building on earlier post-excavation analysis funded by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
“We are delighted to see further research emanating from the exceptional faunal assemblage discovered on the N2 Kilshane excavation,” said Mary Deevy, Senior Archaeologist with Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
Incredible 5,500-year-old tomb discovery is ‘find of a lifetime’
It appears as if Meath is in the midst of a golden age of archaeological discovery after the unearthing of a 5,500-year-old megalithic passage tomb at Dowth Hall.
After last week’s incredible discovery of a previously uncharted henge site near Newgrange in Co Meath, another fascinating find nearby is shedding even more insight into ancient Ireland.
According to RTÉ News, a 5,500-year-old megalithic passage tomb has been revealed on the grounds of Dowth Hall, just down the road from the Newgrange monument. It is the most significant find of its type in Ireland in the past 50 years.
So far, two burial chambers have been discovered in what is the western section of the main passage tomb, buried by a massive stone cairn measuring 40 metres in diameter.
A series of six kerbstones have been found around the perimeter of the cairn, one of which is adorned with a number of well-preserved Neolithic carvings and drawings.
The discovery was made as part of a collaboration between the agritech firm Devenish and the University College Dublin School of Archaeology.
Speaking of its importance, Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin, who led the Devenish part of the dig, said: “For the archaeologists involved in this discovery, it is truly the find of a lifetime.”
Adding to this, Devenish’s executive chair Owen Brennan compared its decision to choose the site with those made by the tomb’s constructors thousands of years ago.
“From our archaeological research, it seems we made the same decision for the same reasons as a long line of our farming colleagues from the Neolithic, the Bronze Age, medieval and more recent times,” he said.
“The monuments here, created by some of Ireland’s first farmers, capture our imaginations and those of our visitors to the Devenish Lands of Dowth.”
The Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site at the tomb’s location is now a real hotbed of archaeological activity, and with the recent henge discovery made after an intense heatwave, more major digs could be in the works in the region in the years ahead.