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5 August 2017
Ancient funeral practices at Carrowkeel

New insights into death rites of the ancient people of Ireland are being provided through  studies led by a researcher at the Department of Anatomy at New Zealand's University of Otago. The findings, which have been published in the journal Bioarchaeology International, are part of a project applying modern techniques to human remains that were originally excavated more than 100 years ago.
     The new paper, whose lead author is Dr Jonny Geber, focuses on the 5000 years-old passage tomb complex at Carrowkeel in County Sligo in the north-west of Ireland. This site is one of the most impressive Neolithic ritual landscapes in Europe, but despite that, is relatively unknown.
     The research team analysed bones from up to seven passage tombs that included both unburnt and cremated human remains from around 40 individuals. Dr Geber says he and his colleagues determined that the unburnt bone displayed evidence of dismemberment. "We found indications of cut marks caused by stone tools at the site of tendon and ligament attachments around the major joints, such as the shoulder, elbow, hip and ankle," he says.
     Dr Geber says the new evidence suggest that a complex burial rite was undertaken at Carrowkeel, that involved a funerary rite that placed a particular focus on the 'deconstruction' of the body. "This appears to entail the bodies of the dead being 'processed' by their kin and community in various ways, including cremation and dismemberment. It was probably done with the goal to help the souls of the dead to reach the next stages of their existence", Dr Geber concluded.
     This study has been able to show that the Carrowkeel complex was most likely a highly significant place in Neolithic society in Ireland, and one which allowed for interaction and a spiritual connection with the ancestors. According to the researchers, the people of those times may have shared similar beliefs and ideologies concerning the treatment of the dead with communities beyond the Irish Sea.

Edited from PhysOrg (3 August 2017)

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