The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

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Irish Early Christians, Not So Christian After All?

Excavations at Caherconnell in the Burren region of county Clare on Ireland’s western coast are revealing some interesting practices undertaken by Ireland’s early Christians.

It is traditionally accepted that Christianity arrived in Ireland some time before the middle of the 5th century AD. You might be forgiven, then, for assuming that Christianity and Christian practices could be found throughout Ireland within a century or two of this date.

On a low rise to the side of a shallow valley in a place that later became known as Caherconnell in western Ireland an elderly woman and two babies were buried. Their remains were placed in two carefully constructed stone boxes called cists, both covered by a single low mound of earth and stone. This took place in the second half of the 6th century AD / first half of the 7th century AD.

Recent excavations by the Caherconnell Archaeology Field School are proving otherwise. It was discovered in the summer of 2013 that Caherconnell cashel or ‘caher’ (a circular drystone enclosure containing dwelling houses and other domestic structures) had been deliberately constructed over the top of an earlier burial mound.

This small mound covered two limestone cists. Although disturbed at one end, their contents were still present. The smaller of the two cists contained the remains of a young child, between one and two years of age, and the bones of a baby who was either stillborn or died shortly after birth. The larger cist was only partially present inside the cashel, the rest of it being buried beneath the 3m-wide cashel wall. It contained the skeleton of a woman, at least 45 years of age. She suffered from joint disease, probably as a result of much physical labour over the course of her lifetime.

The results of radiocarbon dating have just arrived, dating the human remains to 541-645 AD and 535-649 AD. This places them well within the chronological bounds of what was once termed ‘Early Christian Ireland’. Clearly, though, these people were not buried in a purely Christian fashion, rather in a mixture of traditional pagan and newer Christian burial practices.

Following the Christian tradition, the bodies were unaccompanied by grave goods and were laid out almost east-west. They were not, however, interred in a Christian cemetery. Instead, they were placed in slab-built cists beneath a low stony mound. Such cists and mounds are commonly found in the pre-Christian prehistoric past. These people appear to have combined their traditional belief system with elements of the ‘new’ religion – hedging their bets maybe?!

The story of these people does not end there. Several centuries after their deaths, in the 10th/11th century AD, the high status cashel settlement called Caherconnell (the caher or cashel of Conaill) was built at this location.

The builders of this new home did not clear this mound and its contents out of their way, nor did they site their enclosure so as to avoid the mound. Instead, they built the drystone wall of their enclosure directly over the top of the mound, leaving approximately half of the mound intact and visible inside the new enclosure. It seems probable that knowledge of the mound and what it contained survived into the 10th/11th century AD, and that the new occupants of the spot deliberately incorporated these ancestors into their settlement. Was this, perhaps, an attempt to legitimize their rule of the area? Like the earlier burials themselves, this practice also has pre-Christian associations.

It seems that being linked with the ancestors, whether by using the same burial method or by physically including them in your home, was a practice that survived the introduction and establishment of the Christian religion in Ireland. Some might say that an obsession with ancestors and where we come from is just as important to us today…

Summer 2014 will see the Caherconnell Archaeology Field School excavate the centre of Caherconnell cashel. The main dwelling house is typically located in this part of the settlement enclosure. With almost 700 artefacts recovered from ‘open’ space inside the enclosure entrance, hopes are high for a very rewarding season this year!

Rath na Drinne

Ring fort may have held Bronze Age sports arena

A MYSTERIOUS ring fort in Co Tipperary holds "massive potential for discoveries" according to archaeologists who have carried out the first survey of the site.

Their initial findings suggest that the site may have been used for Bronze Age sporting contests in an arena that is the ancient equivalent of Semple Stadium.

Archaeologists have long been curious about the origins of the Rathnadrinna Fort located about 3km south of the Rock of Cashel – one of Ireland's most important heritage locations and seat of the High Kings of Munster.

The unusually large and distinctive landmark is still subject to many of the traditional taboos surrounding fairy forts. Archaeologists say that many people in rural areas still believe it is unwise to enter a fairy fort or to cut down perimeter trees or vegetation.

Ian Doyle, head of conservation services and archaeology with the Heritage Council, said it was traditionally believed that the fort was a "defended farmstead" of a type commonly built in Ireland about 1,200 years ago.

But while the "average run-of-the-mill fairy fort" is ringed by one defensive perimeter ditch, "Rathnadrinna Fort is quite rare because it has three rings". Despite the historical significance of the landscape, the fort has never been excavated.

Mr Doyle said "when you think of Tara, the countryside surrounding the Rock of Cashel must hold massive potential for discoveries". This led the council to fund a survey of the site which was carried out by a team of archaeologists led by Cashel-based Richard O'Brien and the Co Mayo company Earthsound Archaeological Geophysics.

Using highly sensitive equipment, the soil was subjected to "high-resolution magnetic imaging" – similar to an MRI scan. It is the first time that any of the fairy forts in the countryside surrounding the Rock of Cashel has been surveyed in this manner.

Speaking to The Irish Times about the results, Mr O'Brien said that "none of the traditional evidence associated with ring forts – such as houses, hearths or rubbish pits – was found". Instead, the team discovered that the site may have been first used 3,000 years ago during the late Bronze Age.

He said one of the most exciting discoveries was evidence of a Stonehenge-style circle of wooden posts suggestive of "a ceremonial or ritual role for the fort".

Mr O'Brien said the use of the site would have changed down through the centuries and the survey results indicate that it had "a royal function". But the most intriguing possibility, he said, was that the "vast interior area which is much larger than most ring forts is like a sports arena".

Rathnadrinna translates as the "Fort of the Contest", he added.

County Tipperary

Archaeology in Tipperary Seminar

Archaeology in Tipperary Seminar

19th January 10.00 am - 5.00 pm

In association with its exhibition Earthern Banks and Broken Walls, South Tipperary County Museum will host a one day seminar on Archaeology in South Tipperary. This seminar will outline and highlight some recent, current and on-going projects in archaeology in the County. Topics will include recent road projects and the Tipp Archaeological Survey amongst others.

The Clonmel Park Hotel, The Poppyfield
Admission Free - all welcome
Contact: Julia Walsh. South Tipp Museum.
Tel: 052 34562 or email: [email protected]

Newgrange (Passage Grave)

Webcam for Winter Solstice Newgrange

County Meath

Rock Art found in Lismullin Souterain

Govt fails to protects our heritage at Tara again

Yet another find over the past few days of Neolitihic underground chambers has been made at Tara and which have been kept from public knowledge by the Government and the road contractors. For more details see the brief report below.
A team of activists over the past few days have uncovered the remains of 6 chambers at the souterrain (underground pit) beside the Lismullen Henge, but due now only 2 to 3 chambers remain.

In one of the chambers, there is still a good bit of the passage which is quite long and zigzags connecting the chambers. The flagstone is Neolithic and may have been recycled from the souterrain which are often lined with such flagstones. There is also rock art and it has two interconnected circles and above a line of zigzags. This is similar to the types of designs one would see in NewGrange. All of this raises the very strong possibility that the whole area is very significant and has other findings yet to be demolished for the sake of the motorway.

Mechanical diggers are working on this site for the next few weeks. This is how the government now looks upon our great heritage.

For pictures follow the link


Moon, Spring and Large Stones: Landscape and ritual calendar perception and symbolization
Megalithic explorer from Co. Tipperary in Ireland. Travelling Munster in search of adventures.

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