Saturday, March 30, 2013

Clogher Boulder Burial

The Clogher Boulder Burial consists of a quite large stone block resting on three smaller stone ‘feet’, thereby, resembling a small, short-legged portal tomb. Normally these sites are found in counties Kerry and Cork where around 80% of all known boulder burials are located. For this reason, its presence in this area is unusual. Excavations of such sites have suggested a Middle Bronze Age date for this burial monument of around 1500 -1300 BC.

In the main, such burials are single and contained within a small chamber made from stones. They may be found on their own or within or around stone circles.  The boulders frequently bear cup marks and were often picked for their attractive shape or rock patterns. The Clogher example contains indentations which, curiously, resemble the imprints of a very large thumb and four fingers. These markings have given rise to a local belief that they were made by a ‘giant’ throwing the large boulder.

Boulder burials consist of a single large coverstone or boulder resting on three or more smaller flat-topped supporting stones. Sometimes, as in the case of the Clogher example, small wedge-stones are placed between the coverstone and the supporting stones in order to make the upper surface a level plane. They differ from other types of megalithic tombs by the low stature of the supporting stones which act as props for the coverstone rather than as the walls of a burial chamber. Boulder burials stand above the ground and there is no evidence that they were covered by cairns or mounds. Archaeologists believe that many of these monuments were built in the middle or later Bronze Age as memorials over burial deposits and date from 1500-800 BC.

Excavation of some boulder burials have revealed a pit containing fragments of cremated bone and/or charcoal or burnt soil. It is thought that boulder burials may have acted as memorials over burial deposits.

The earliest evidence we currently have for human activity in Ireland dates to around 7000 BC. The physical remains left in the landscape are the only sources of information we have about our prehistoric ancestors. Of all the remains left behind by these people, their burial monuments have provided us with our most prolific source of artefacts and human remains and much of what we know about the prehistoric people of Ireland comes from this source. 

In County Sligo, the earliest signs of human settlement date to the Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age - c.7000-4000 BC). The presence of these early hunter-gatherer communities who exploited the rivers, lakes, marine and other natural resources around them is indicated by archaeological finds from nearby Lough Gara and from investigations at Carrowmore.

Carrowmore is the largest megalithic cemetery in Ireland and amongst the oldest and most important in Europe. It covers an area of about 0.5 km2 in the shadow of Knocknarea to the west. Some of the excavated tombs have produced dates between 4840 – 4370 BC. 

Overlooking Carrowmore megalithic cemetery on the summit of Knocknarea Mountain is the huge flat-topped cairn called ’Miosgan Meadhbha’ (Maeve’s Cairn), which is 55m in diameter and 10m high. There are spectacular views from here and the cairn is visible for miles around. It is unexcavated but may cover a passage tomb, possibly dating to c.3000 BC. Although the area of County Sligo is only 2.5% of the total area of Ireland, c.220 megalithic monuments are found here - 15% of Ireland’s total number (c.1450).

In addition to these highly visible types of burial monument, prehistoric people in Ireland also buried their dead in the ground more discreetly, sometimes in a stone-lined box, or cist, or even in a simple urn without any associated mound or structure on the ground surface to mark its presence. A typical cist burial comprises a rectangular or polygonal structure, constructed from stone slabs set on edge and covered by one or more horizontal slabs or capstones. Cists burials may contain an inhumation, a cremation, or both. They may be built on the ground surface or sunk into the ground or set within a cemetery cairn or cemetery mound. They date  mainly to the Early Bronze Age from around 2400 BC to 1500BC. A number of such burials have been found in the Monasteraden area.
The Clogher Boulder Burial is unusual for this part of Ireland and is further evidence of the rich and varied archaeological heritage to be found in and around Lough Gara. It is depicted in this stain glass panel which I made some time ago.