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17 October 2017
First evidence of dismemberment in prehistoric Ireland

A new analysis of bones taken from an old excavation at 5300 years-old passage tomb complex at Carrowkeel, in County Sligo has revealed evidence of the burial practices and death rites of the ancient people of Ireland.
     The team of researchers includes Sam Moore, lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology at IT Sligo. "The bones were analysed from an original excavation of Carrowkeel in 1911, led by Prof R.A.S. McAlister," explains Sam. "They were subsequently presumed missing or lost until a group of boxes with the name 'Carrowkeel' on them was discovered in the archive in the University of Cambridge in 2001. The bones date from between 3500 and 2900 BCE"
     The project was led by Dr Thomas Kador (University College London), with osteological research undertaken by Dr Jonny Geber from the Department of Anatomy at New Zealand's University of Otago. The group also included Sligo based archaeologist Dr Robert Hensey and independent researcher Pádraig Meehan.
     The team analysed bones from 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 suggests that a complex burial rite was undertaken at Carrowkeel, which involved a funerary rite and placed a particular focus on the 'deconstruction' of the body. "Attempting to understand the reasons these ancient communities dismembered the bodies is one of the real fascinations with this research," says Sam Moore. "In the societies of the past, ancestry had more to do with group identity. This appears to have held real importance in Neolithic Ireland."
     This is the first definitive discovery of similar practices during the same period on the island of Ireland. The new study has been able to show that the Carrowkeel complex was a highly significant place in Neolithic society in Ireland, which had an important role in facilitating interaction with the dead and a spiritual connection with the ancestors.

Edited from Leitrim Observer (17 October 2017)

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