Top 5 Irish Archaeological Finds

We are not out looking for magic beans here…but we must admit, the archaeological finds that have occurred in Ireland is nothing short of amazing! Here we look at just 5 of the greatest discoveries in Ireland.

1) Broighter Hoard

The most magnificent hoard of Celtic period gold objects to have been found in Ireland was unearthed by a plough at Broighter, Co. Derry in 1896. Of the seven items uncovered, five were neck ornaments, the most sumptuous of which is a large gold collar. Of a type often found in Europe and paralleled in Ireland by one of the collars from Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, this large neck ornament represents not only the finest example of Irish La Tène goldworking, but, by comparison with simlar artefacts, it is unsurpassed anywhere in Europe. Its raised decoration, based on classical foliage designs, was largely achieved by depressing the background areas, but some of the shell-like projections have been attached. The background bears incised curved lines which emphasise the raised design. The collar is missing its hinge which would have been located on the ring opposite the terminals.

The object would have been fastened by means of a T-shaped projection which fitted into a slot on the opposite terminal. Two other neck ornaments, one incomplete, are made from twisted gold bars and may be generally related to the twisted ornaments from Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly and Somerset, Co. Galway. The two gold chains, also neck ornaments, are of classical, possibly Roman, workmanship. The remaining finds were a small bowl of unknown function and a remarkable model of a boat, together with its fittings. Judging from the number of oars, it represents a boat of considerable size which would also have been propelled by sail. The objects may have been buried as an offering to a Celtic god, presumably during the 1st century B.C.

irish arch

2) Ardagh Chalice

Not exactly the Sam Maguire but breathtaking nonetheless!!

Reerasta Rath, Co. Limerick. 8th Century A.D. This two-handled chalice is an elaborate construction of over two hundred and fifty main components. The bowl and foot are made of beaten, lathe-polished silver, the stem is cast gilt-copper alloy. It is decorated with gold filigree, granulation, multi-coloured enamels, a large rock-crystal, amber, malachite, knitted cast, stamped and openwork metal objects.

A girdle of ten filigree panels of animal ornament and interlace encircles the bowl between the elaborate handles. Below it, incised on a dotted background are the names of the apostles in an elegant script familiar from contemporary manuscripts. Animals and a design of human heads, lightly engraved, spring from the lower border of the inscription below the handles and medallions. The medallions, one on each side, in the centre of the bowl, are cast bronze frames in the form of a cross of arcs within a circle, embellished with gold filigree scrolls, simple coiled serpents in beaded wire on gold foil and enamels. The stem is elaborately decorated with La Tène designs, animal ornament, fret patterns and a honeycomb-like interlace in cast gilt-copper alloy. The foot of the chalice is large and is decorated on both the under and the upper surfaces. A great roundel of cast ornament, filigree beasts and a rock crystal with a surround of amber glued with a malachite paste, decorate the interior of the foot and conceal the end of the large pin which holds bown, stem and foot together.

The chalice is a calyx ministerialis, that is one made to dispense Eucharistic wine to the congregation. Its design, even at the time of its manufacture, was somewhat old fashioned and harked back to the common forerunners of both Byzantine and western chalices.

It was found in a hoard consisting additionally of a bronze chalice and four gilt-silver brooches ranging in date from the 8th to the 10th century A.D. The hoard, which was discovered in Reerasta Rath near Ardagh, Co. Limerick, in 1868, is likely to have been concealed during the 10th century A.D. The chalice stands 17.8 cm high and is 19.5 cm in diameter excluding the handles

ardagh chal

3) The Latin Psalter

The Faddan More Psalter is composed of 60 sheets of vellum which are divided into five gatherings, or quires. The text is based on the Gallican Psalter, a version of the Latin Psalter devised by St. Jerome in the late 4th century. The text is written with iron gall ink, and a red and yellow pigments are used for decoration. It contains the standard 150 psalms. The opening letter of each psalm is marked by a capital and the opening words of Psalms 1, 51, and 101 are decorated, a convention used in other Irish psalters. The text of the Psalter is arranged in a single column. The script is in the style termed Insular majuscule. It probably developed in Ireland but was used in the common cultural area of Ireland and parts of Britain.

The Faddan More Psalter survived because it was in a wet environment, not exposed to air. Preservation of the book varies greatly from page to page. In some cases only the edges survive, and loose letters are all that remain of the centre of the pages. In other cases, almost full bifolia have been preserved.

Because of its deteriorated state, the manuscript could not be preserved as found. Conservation involved excavation of the book block in the laboratory, each sheet being separated and cleaned individually. The water content in each separated fragment was replaced with a solvent, dried, and preserved under vacuum to prevent shrinkage

latin psalter

 4) Clonycavan Man

In March 2003, the body of a man who lived during the Iron Age was discovered in a peat bog in Ireland. Known as the Clonycavan Man, the well-preserved remains indicate that the body was not that of a man who died a natural or honorable death, but one who was brutally murdered. The mysteries surrounding his death are plentiful. Who was this man? Why was he so brutally murdered? How was his body so well preserved for so many years? And what is the significance of his highly groomed hair?

The Clonycavan Man’s remains are referred to as a “bog body.” The discovery of ancient and well-preserved bodies in peat bogs has been fairly widespread. When a dead body is deposited into bog water that is highly acidic, low in temperature, and low in oxygen, the body can remain intact for thousands of years, including skin, hair, and organs. This unintended mummification gives us a glimpse into the lives and deaths of ancient humans who weren’t necessarily honored as a royal or dignitary, like the mummified remains found in Egypt.

The Clonycavan Man was found in Clonycavan, County Meath in Ireland, in a machine that had been harvesting peat. The remains, which have been dated to 2,300 years old, consisted of a head, neck, arms, torso, and upper abdomen.  It is likely that the peat harvesting machine was responsible for severing his lower body. It is estimated that he was between the ages of 24-40 when he died. The visible details of the Clonycavan Man are astonishing. His estimated height was five feet, two inches tall. His nose was squashed, and his teeth crooked. The pores of his skin were still visible, and it has been concluded that his diet consisted mostly of fruits and vegetables. Due to the damage from the peat harvesting machine, the Clonycavan Man did not have hands, but other bog bodies have been discovered to have very well-manicured fingernails.

Close up of the well preserved nails of Old Croghan Man

Close up of the well preserved nails of Old Croghan Man. 

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Clonycavan Man was his hair. On his face he wore a goatee and a moustache, while on his head was a very distinguished hairstyle. The front of his hair was shaven, giving him a higher hairline on his forehead. The remainder of his hair was several inches long, and was intricately folded forward and then back in what has been described as an “ancient Mohawk.” It is believed that standing at only five feet, two inches, the Clonycavan Man chose this hairstyle to make himself appear taller.  Scientists even discovered an ancient form of hair gel in his hair, made of plant oil and pine resin. The presence of this hair gel indicates that he was fairly wealthy during his lifetime, because it was made form materials found in France and Spain.

The Clonycavan Man

The Clonycavan Man is known for his distinguished hairstyle.

The most mysterious aspect of the Clonycavan Man is the manner of his death. Some have suggested that he was a King, who was ceremoniously sacrificed. The injuries to his body suggest a particularly grisly death, which may have possibly been the result of torture. There is evidence of three significant blows to his head, to the point where his skull split open. He had also been hit in the nose and the chest and was disemboweled. His nipples had been sliced off, which is specifically believed to be a sign of a failed kingship. In ancient Ireland, sucking on a king’s nipples was a sign of submission. Removing the nipples was intended to make a man incapable of kingship.

Unfortunately, the bog only preserves the body and doesn’t leave behind much other evidence. While it is fairly clear that he died a mysterious death, possibly akin to murder, there isn’t much else to tell us about who he was or why he died. The preservation of his body was not intentional, and it is unlikely that anyone ever intended for future civilizations to try to unravel the mystery of his death.

5) Croghy Bog Man

Old Croghan man was found in a bog beneath Croghan Hill in Co. Offaly and based on radiocarbon dating he died sometime between 362 BC and 175 BC . He was extremely tall measuring 6ft 6 in height and had well manicured hands suggesting that he was not used to manual labour. His last meal (analysed from the contents in his stomach) consisted of cereals and milk . However, he was shown to have had a meat rich diet for at least the 4 months prior to this (based on analysis of his nails). Clonycavan man, in contrast, was much smaller in stature, measuring just 5ft 2 in height. He was recovered from a bog in Co. Meath and only his upper torso and head survived. The remains were radiocarbon dated to between 392 BC and 201 BC and, unusually, his hair was spiked with pine resin (a very early form of hair gel). Furthermore, the trees from which the resin was sourced only grow in Spain and south-west France, indicating the presence of long distance trade routes.

croghan

There you have it…some of the best finds in Ireland! For more on Irish archaeology why not check out the category “Work of the Archaeologist”, Also, why not check out this site: http://irisharchaeology.ie/

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