The Way of Death at Carrowkeel
(please note, parts of the discussion about the mortuary practice is quite graphic in nature and may not be suitable for all audiences).
The first detailed investigation of the human remains from the Carrowkeel passage tomb complex since their excavation in 1911 has revealed several new and important insights about life, death, and mortuary practice in Neolithic Ireland. This project was carried out by Doctors Thomas Kador, Lara Cassidy, Jonny Geber, Robert Hensey, Pádraig Meehan and Sam Moore in a multidisciplinary project that combined archaeology, osteoarchaeological examination of human remains and DNA analysis to gain new insights into Neolithic Ireland. In this edition of the Amplify Archaeology Podcast Neil was joined by Lara Cassidy, Pádraig Meehan, Robert Hensey, and Thomas Kador for a group discussion on the exciting results of the project, and how it sheds light onto life and death in Neolithic Ireland.
Some of the discussion includes the results of the osteological analysis of the human remains. This analysis provides the first conclusive proof for the occurrence of dismemberment of the dead at Irish passage tombs, practised contemporarily with cremation as one of a suite of funerary treatments. The research also highlights changes in burial tradition at the complex over the course of the Neolithic, and provides a chronology for these changes that allows them to be linked to wider trends in monument construction. Multi-isotope analysis hints at the presence of non-local individuals among the interred and the possible existence of different food sourcing areas at the onset of the later Neolithic period. Intriguingly, the preliminary results from ancient DNA sequencing of six individuals from Carrowkeel provides evidence for the genetic ancestry of Irish Neolithic populations, demonstrating their Anatolian origins and links along the Atlantic façade.
‘I lit three candles and stood awhile, to let my eyes accustom themselves to the dim light. There was everything just as the last Bronze Age man [sic] had left it, three to four thousand years before. A light brownish dust covered all…’
Episode 7 The Way of Death at Carrowkeel – Show Notes
- This podcast is based on the paper ‘Rites of Passage: Mortuary Practice, Population Dynamics, and Chronology at the Carrowkeel Passage Tomb Complex, Co. Sligo, Ireland’ first published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society and also available from UCL Discovery.
- A detailed discussion of the postmortem treatment of the dead at Carrowkeel can be found in Bioarchaeology International. Also available through UCL Discovery.
- Further information can be found in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. Also available through UCL Discovery.
- It is also well worth digging into A century of archaeology—historical excavation and modern research at the Carrowkeel passage tombs, County Sligo, an article in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy by Robert Hensey, Pádraig Meehan, Marion Dowd and Sam Moore
- For an excellent and insightful overview into Ireland’s passage tombs we highly recommend First Light; the Origins of Newgrange by Robert Hensey. Published by Oxbow Books.
- The story of the discovery and ‘decoding’ of the bones in the Duckworth Institute is detailed in an article for the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (€).
- If you’re around Sligo on the 30th July 2019 you can hear Robert and Pádraig at the Blue Raincoat Theatre. Tickets are available here.
- You can also hear more about Ireland’s passage tombs in Episode 4 of Amplify Archaeology, when Neil met Dr. Jessica Smyth to learn about Passage Tomb People.
Amplify Archaeology Podcast
During this podcast series we will meet some of Ireland’s archaeologists to discuss the key periods, places and people that tell the story of Ireland, and we’ll gain new insights into the practice and techniques of modern Irish archaeology. This is the seventh instalment of Amplify Archaeology, previous episodes have featured discussions on the Beaker People, History of Food, Passage Tombs, Castles, Mesolithic Ireland and Glendalough.
I’d love some feedback, so please do leave a comment below – and if you have any questions about Irish archaeology please do let me know, we can try to answer them in forthcoming episodes. Finally if you enjoyed this podcast I’d be really grateful if you could leave us a review on iTunes, or please share it and tell your friends.
The podcast is an Abarta Heritage production. It was recorded with sound engineer Declan Lonergan in Bluebird Studios, County Kildare, with Neil Jackman (the interviewer), with Lara Cassidy, Pádraig Meehan, Robert Hensey, and Thomas Kador. We are really grateful to them all for their generosity and insights.