Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
A neolithic house in the Doonaveeragh settlement site at Carrowkeel.

Burials at Carrowkeel - 1937.

In general interest the Bronze Age cemetery of Carrowkeel is equalled only by the more famous ones of Brugh-na-Boinne and Lough Crew. None of its sepulacral chambers approaches the regal proportions of New Grange, and the rock-scribings that form so remarkable a feature of both the great Meath monuments are entirely absent at Carrowkeel.

On the other hand, the Carrowkeel group displays a greater variety of design: but the main interest of its exploration lay in the fact that there was no evidence that its cairns had been opened and ransacked long since, as in the other places: most of them appeared to be intact, even when ruined, and they gave an important insight into the burial customs of the Bronze Age people.

Assuming that the apparent absence of any disturbance means that at no time subsequent to the period of interment have these chambers been robbed, their contents seem to explode the popular idea that at least the more elaborate of the Irish cairns contained along with human remains, golden torcs or lunulae, or other contemporary treasure belonging to those who were buried in these imposing mausoleums.

The monuments are grand, and there may have been elaborate funeral rites, but a few trinkets alone seem to have accompanied the sepulture.

R. L. Praeger - The Way That I Went, 1937.

Report on the Human Remains - 1911.

By Professor A. Macalister, Cambridge.

The determination of the characters of the human remains was a matter of very great difficulty. The greater number had been thoroughly burnt and broken, and most of the fragments were, in consequence, quite unrecognizable.

Portal to Cairn G.
Portal to Cairn G, entrance to the world of the dead.

By a careful process of sorting of the fragments and counting the bones that were best preserved, it was possible to arrive at an estimate manner of the minimum number of individuals represented. In this I ascertained that there were bones representing thirty-one skeletons. These, however, constituted only a very small portion, and included only the least perfectly burnt. I think it is a safe conjecture to estimate the number as at least double that limit.

In my first examination I kept the remains from each carn and from each compartment separate, but after carefully reviewing them I found that they were so much alike I consider it unnecessary to describe the several fragments from each place.

In the determinable fragments males preponderated, but there were certainly twelve recognizable females, and probably more. In all carns I found fragments of infantile and foetal bones, but these were few.

There were no men of conspicuously tall stature. The measurements of as were sufficiently complete to give trustworthy results such long bones indicated one man of 5 feet 9 inches, but most of the others ranged from 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 5 inches, and the female bones from 5 feet 5 inches (?) to 5 feet. Ten femora and tibiae were sufficiently complete to give definite measurements, and as many more, whose ends were damaged, gave approximate results. The average stature deduced from these was for the males 5 feet 6.5 inches, and for the females about 5 feet 1 inch.

Portal to Cairn K.
Portal to Cairn K, entrance to the neolithic Underworld.

The femora were not unusually stout, and only one showed a slight amount of platymeria. Some, indeed, were proportionally slender. The tibiae were fairly strong, and about one-fourth showed a tendency to platycnemia the others were distinctly euryenemic.

On three tibiae were anterior marginal facets at the lower end, and on four astragali there were the companion facets, and a forward prolongation of the internal malleolar facet. These conditions have been correlated with habitual use of the squatting posture common among Orientals.

The fibulae were ridged and channelled with unusual sharpness. A few bones, especially some vertebrae, showed signs of rheumatoid disease at the joints. One fibula was very much curved. The humeri were in general much broken, but the fragments seem to indicate bones of considerable stoutness.

From the number of bones which were not completely ossified at the extremities, it is evident that many of the people buried in the carns were under twenty-five years of age. None showed signs of senility.

The crania were megacephalic, but only five could be satisfactorily measured, and even these were incomplete; the capacity of the largest was about 1520 cm. In point of shape they were pentagonoid, ovoid, and with cephalic index hovering on the limit between dolicho and mesaticephaly, ranging from 73 to 76. From the general appearance of the curvatures of the unmeasurable fragments they seemed to have been of the same pattern. One was platybasic, as if rickety.

Portal to Cairn B.
Portal to Cairn B, entrance to the womb of the earth mother, the cailleach Garavogue.

The orbits were all megaseme and the nasal skeleton leptoprosopic. The muscular crests were fairly well marked, the teeth large and showing considerable wear, but only one or two showed signs of disease. The jaws were orthognathous, and the countenance long with moderately prominent cheek-bones.

The chin was in some long and prominent, in others receding, and the angles of the jaws of two were prominently curved. Altogether the characters are practically those which are commonest among the people of the west of Ireland at the present day. Attention has been directed of late by Keith to the shapes and sizes of teeth, as a criterion of date, those of Palaeolithic crania being supposed to be thicker-necked than those of later time.

In these skulls the measurements were singularly uniform, the two lower molars having a proximo-distal crown measurement of 11, a labio-lingual of 11, and a crown height of 6. The neck was proximo-distally 9-5, labio-lingually 9, and the height 20. The other teeth were of a similar proportional size, showing that they correspond to the measurements of the teeth of the later crania and differ from those of the Mousteriau age.

Listoghil, Carrowmore, County Sligo.
Listoghil, the central monument at Carrowmore, County Sligo, where similar kinds of neolithic burial practices took place around 3,500 BC.