Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Remains of 1,000 people recovered from one of Ireland's largest medieval cemeteries

The skeletal remains of more than a thousand people have been recovered from what experts believe was one of Ireland's largest medieval cemeteries.

According to a report in the Irish Examiner, the ancient bones have produced evidence of several suspected murders and one case of leprosy - an extremely rare occurrence in medieval times.

Osteoarchaeologist Carmelita Troy, of Headland Archaeology in Cork, said yesterday she has studied the ancient remains of nearly 1,300 individuals - adult males and females along with children - who were buried at the site at Ardreigh, Athy, in County Kildare. It is one of the largest skeleton assemblages in the country.

It is believed the site served as a huge regional cemetery for the south Kildare region from perhaps the 7th or 8th century, with classic Christian-style burials - bodies aligned west to east - taking place right up to the 1400s.

"Through the evidence gathered from the results of these excavations, it was clear Ardreigh was a highly significant medieval site, and one that can be considered to be of regional - and probably national importance," a preliminary report on the site suggested.

While final reports and exact carbon-dating have yet to be completed, the Ardreigh skeleton find is already being compared to important cemeteries at the medieval cathedral at Ardfert in Co Kerry, the Mount Offaly cemetery in south Co Dublin and Ballyhanna in Co Donegal.

"The skeletons from Ardreigh give us an important insight into, and help us understand our national heritage and the people from whom we are descended," Troy said.

The site yielded vast amounts of medieval material and the remains of some 1,300 people. The remains include male and female adults, some aged between 45 and 60, teenagers, children and even some foetuses - one as young as 20 weeks. Dozens of adult skeletons displayed signs of arthritis, which would not be uncommon. However, one person was found buried face down with his hands positioned behind his back. The cause of death could not be established.

Troy said the skulls of five adults had suffered sharp-implement injuries or blunt force trauma, possibly due to a blow from an axe. One skeleton was found to have had a leg amputated, possibly for medical reasons.

She said the vast quantity of skeletons found at this site allows archaeologists to statistically compare the results with other major medieval sites, and draw conclusions in relation to population profiles, as well as the ages, sex and segregation of the people.