Saturday, May 2, 2015

Silence in Court - Creevykeel Court Tomb

Creevykeel Court Tomb - County Sligo
Hidden behind a tall hedge on the busy Sligo to Bundoran road lies the Creevykeel Court Tomb. There, the casual visitor will find what looks like a low elongated pile of stones of varying sizes some of which have been deliberately positioned. However, there is much more to this ancient site than meets the eye.
More than 6,000 years ago, the Neolithic or New Stone Age peoples of Western Europe began to build stone monuments over their dead as tombs and ceremonial places. This was the beginning of what has become known as the megalithic tradition of the Neolithic period.
Creevykeel Court Tomb is amongst the finest examples of its type in Ireland. It dates from the Neolithic Period, 4000-2500 BC and was excavated in 1935 and then restored. The monument is located on the foothills of Tievebaun Mountain close to the sea near Mullaghmore in County Sligo. The old name for Creevykeel is Caiseal a' Bhaoisgin, the Fort of Bhaoisgin, Bhaoisgin being the well near the cairn.
The cairn measures 55 x 25 meters, with the wide edge to the east and tapers away to a tail at the west end. The actual court itself, which is enclosed by the cairn, is oval in shape measuring 15 x 9 meters. It is lined with large boulders that rest on the surface rather than sunk into the ground. The main body of the cairn was originally surrounded by a stone revetment to hold the mound together.
A narrow entrance passage, lined with large boulders and approximately 4.5 m in length, leads from the east end to the court. There is a two-chambered gallery to the north west of the court. Three smaller chambers can be seen at the western end of the monument, two on the north side and one on the south side. These are quite different to the main chamber, and are considered by some archaeologists to be small passage graves.
Court with Christian Feature top right
Large areas of the court were paved with small flat slabs while in places, cobble stones and sea sand from the nearby shore was also found. Archaeologists found evidence of large fires within this enclosed area as well as fragments of cremated bone and charcoal. The standing stones (orthostats) around the court are quite massive chunks of local sandstone. They get larger approaching the opening at the rear of the court, which gives access to an inner chamber, now roofless but which was originally covered with massive corbels, making an artificial cave.
It is unclear whether the eastern end was originally the higher as well as the broader, as is generally the case with these monuments. However, the excavation showed that the builders had used the natural slope of the ground to obtain the effect of height at this end.
Court-tombs date from the Neolithic Period and are found mainly in the northern half of the country. Most of these sites are to be found north of a line extending from Dundalk to Galway. Their most distinctive feature is the ceremonial court which is set in front of a gallery or galleries divided into two or more burial chambers.
The court usually occupies one end of a long cairn but sometimes there are courts and chambers at both ends of the cairn. In other examples, as in the case of Creevykeel, the court is completely enclosed within the cairn and is of circular or oval shape, access being gained through a short narrow passage leading to the front of the cairn.
These megalithic monuments usually had two functions: the chamber to serve as a tomb, and the courtyard to accommodate some form of ritual. Objects were often buried with the deceased, as the first Neolithic farmers believed in life after death.
Excavations at Creevykeel uncovered four cremation burials, decorated and undecorated Neolithic pottery, flint arrow heads, polished stone axes, a flint knife, stone bead, four blue glass beads, a small bronze broach and stud, part of a red deer antler handle, part of a comb and other artefacts, including a clay ball.
Over 133 stone axes alone have been discovered along the shores of Lough Gara. Stone axes are normally ascribed to both the Mesolithic and the Neolithic periods. Polished stone axes, however, seem to appear first in the Neolithic while ground axes can belong to the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age. These tools were used for cutting, shaping and dressing wood. A small polished stone axe was also found during excavation of the Drumanone Portal Tomb close to Lough Gara.
Kiln from Early Christian Period
Inside the court area archaeologists discovered a kiln dating from the Christian Period together with evidence of iron-smelting. Iron Age and early Christian metalworkers seem to have liked working in ancient sites including crannogs. Such ancient sites may, perhaps, have held magical properties in relation to metalwork.
Archaeologists excavating a crannog at Lough Gara in the townland of Sroove found a small bowl-shaped depression that may represent the shape of a small bowl-furnace for iron-smelting. Nearby, was found remains of slag, some pieces of which had the red clay remains of the furnace attached to them. 
Creevykeel Court Tomb remains one of the best examples of its type in Ireland and is well worth a visit if you happen to be in that part of North Sligo which has a rich megalithic tradition.

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