NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Westmeath Site name: RAHUGH, CO. WESTMEATH

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: E1175


Site type: Early Bronze Age graves


ITM: E 637305m, N 732108m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.337891, -7.439860

In 1903 a short cist was discovered on a farm near Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath. The site was not reported to the NMI, but in 1927 an attendant in the Museum was told by a visitor who spent a holiday at Rahugh that a short cist was discovered ‘some time ago’ containing a vessel and ‘fragments of iron vessels’. The site was excavated in November 1927 by Adolf Mahr and Liam Gógan. According to Mahr’s notes, the cist had been badly disturbed in recent times, as well as when it was first discovered. As the record of this site is very meagre, this report can only be considered partial. The human remains were examined by Laureen Buckley.

The site was in the townland of Rahugh, south Co. Westmeath, less than 1km from the border with County Offaly.335 It was situated on Rahugh Ridge, a glacial moraine that was being quarried at the time of Mahr and Gógan’s visit.

Description of site
The cist was rectangular in plan, with its long axis aligned north-west/south-east. It measured 0.81m long by 0.56m wide by 0.46m high.336 It was constructed of four thin slabs set on edge, with one forming each wall. The north-western and south-eastern ends as well as the southernmost side were supported externally by a number of small packing stones. The cist was sealed by a large capstone and its floor was paved with a single thin slab, which covered the entire floor area.
The cist originally contained a cremation of an adult individual (1927:102) and at least one vessel; the contents had been emptied by the time of Mahr’s visit, however, and only some cremated bone survived.

The human remains from this site have not been dated. Although two vessels were reported from this site, there is no further information available on their fate. It is assumed that the site is early Bronze Age in date based on its form.


Sample 1927:102 consisted of 112 fragments of cremated bone, weighing a total of 252g. The bone was a creamy white colour but was slightly stained by the soil. Several fragments were warped, with numerous horizontal fissures.

Table 3.115—Fragmentation of bone, 1927:102.

The fragmentation of the sample is shown in Table 3.115, with the largest fragment being 82mm in length. It appears that only large fragments were collected; no small fragments remained, or else they were not collected. The proportion of the various fragments does not provide a lot of information on the original nature of the contents of the cist.

Identifiable bone
Although the sample size was small, the high proportion of large fragments meant that most of it could be identified. A total of 206g (82% of the total bone) was identified. The amount and proportion of the identified bone are shown in Table 3.116.

Table 3.116—Proportion of identified bone, 1927:102.

Since the sample size is so small and obviously not a full adult cremation, a summary of the proportion of body parts would be meaningless. It is obvious, however, that the femur was the most collected bone. This is hardly surprising, as the femur is the thickest long bone and is the most likely to survive and the most likely to be recognised.

Description of identifiable features of the bones
Most of the fragments were fragments of calvarium with the parietal and occipital bone present. There was a large fragment of occipital bone present with the internal occipital protuberance visible.

One fragment of lumbar vertebral body and two fragments of sacrum were present.

Fragments of shaft only were identified.

This included one large fragment of left ilium and the acetabulum. There was also one fragment of sciatic notch and a fragment of the auricular surface.

A large section of proximal shaft of a right bone as well as fragments from the distal end of the shaft were present.

Fragments of the shaft were present.

This consisted of fragments of distal shaft.

A neck and part of the proximal shaft from a right femur as well as several other fragments of shaft were present. Fragments of the posterior surface with the linea aspera visible were present, as well as some fragments of the distal articular surface.

All the fragments were shaft fragments, including a part of the anterior tubercle and part of the posterior surface with the nutrient foramen visible.

Fragments of shaft were present.

Minimum number of individuals
The minimum number of individuals present appears to be one adult.

Summary and conclusions
The remaining sample of cremated bone from this site consisted of 252g only. It appeared to be efficiently cremated, although it was not possible to infer anything about the cremation ritual as only the larger fragments were collected. Because of the large fragment size it was possible to identify 82% of the sample. Since it was obviously not the full cremation, however, not all body parts were collected. Most of the bone consisted of the femur, although other long bones and the skull were also represented. The remains represented one adult individual.

335. The exact location of the cist was not marked on the map, but it was located on Rahugh Ridge, OS 6in. sheet 38, 40.
336. These measurements are external dimensions and are the only ones given by Mahr and Gógan. It was not possible to obtain internal measurements as the plan was not executed to scale.