NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Wicklow Site name: BURGAGE MORE, CO. WICKLOW

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR WI005-076 Licence number: E1191


Site type: Early Bronze Age graves

ITM: E 698519m, N 712091m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.150208, -6.527144

In May 1934 a short cist containing a cremation and two vessels was discovered during surveying work by the Electricity Supply Board for the Liffey electricity scheme. The site was reported to the NMI and was excavated by Liam Gógan. There is no report on file. The human remains were examined by Laureen Buckley, however, and the report is therefore included in this volume.

Location (Fig. 3.237)
The site was in the townland of Burgage More, near Blessington, north-west Co. Wicklow.370 It was located on an eminence in a large field close to the River Liffey. This area is now beneath the Pollaphuca reservoir

Fig. 3.237—Location map, Burgage More, Co. Wicklow.

Description of site
The cist was rectangular in plan, measuring 0.75m long by 0.42m wide.371 It was constructed of four edge-set slabs, one forming each wall of the cist. The floor of the cist was paved with a single slab and the chamber was sealed with a large capstone.
The cist contained a cremation of an adolescent female (1934:5647.6) accompanied by an encrusted urn and a vase. The urn and vase seem to have been inverted on the floor of the cist, with the bones contained within the urn. Two convex end scrapers and a piece of broken flint, all burnt, (1934:5647.3–5) were found when the cremation was examined.

Encrusted urn, 1934:5647.1 (Fig. 3.238)
[Description from Kavanagh 1973, 569]
The rim has an internal bevel and is slightly tiered. Decoration is in the form of obliquely incised lines with direction alternating to produce a herringbone effect. Externally this area carries four rows of similar incisions, one row placed on a shallow groove. Encrustation commences with a double chevron pattern arranged so that in places they meet to create a lozenge shape. This extends approximately midway down the body of the vessel. The

Fig. 3.238—Ceramic vessels and flint scrapers, Burgage More, Co. Wicklow.

background decoration takes the form of short oblique grooves, as used elsewhere on the vessel, and now used also to slash the ribs of the chevrons. This pattern is delimited by a low cordon followed by four further cordons separated by rows of oblique grooves. A series of vertical ribs extend from the final cordon to the base, which is emphasised by a slight ridge. This whole area carries secondary decoration in the form of stroke ornament vigorously applied to both the background and the raised motifs. The ware is good, pink in colour with dark grey to black flecks.
Dimensions: H 33cm; ext. D 27cm; D of base 9cm.

Bipartite vase, 1934:5647.2 (Fig. 3.238)
The vessel is a bipartite vase with a slightly constricted neck which bears two zones of horizontal herringbone ornament, the lines of which are very thick. The rim is bevelled steeply in two planes internally and decorated with rows of slanting incisions forming a herringbone with a row of notch-like incisions at the centre of the herringbone. From the shoulder to the base are some five more zones of herringbone made in similar fashion. The zones are not marked off from each other except for a very slight gap of undecorated surface.
Dimensions: H 17.2cm; ext. D 18.2cm; D of base 7.3cm.

Two flint convex-ended scrapers (Fig. 3.238) and a broken flint scrap (not illustrated) were found in the cremation deposit. All had been burnt and have a glazed appearance. The larger scraper is domed and extensively retouched. The smaller example is flatter and not as extensively worked.
Dimensions: 1934:5647.3: L 2.35cm; W 2.3cm; T 1.16cm. 1934:5647.4: L 1.8cm; W 1.67cm; T 0.7cm.

The human remains from this site have not been dated. The vase, with its simple overall pattern of chevron decoration, is very similar to vessels that Brindley (2007, 185–6) places in stage 1 of the development of the vase tradition, which is dated to a period of about 100 years from c. 2020/1990 BC to 1920 BC. The encrusted urn from the site, based on its form, is also similar to stage 1 encrusted urns, which are ascribed to the period from 2000/1980 BC to 1920/1900 BC. This shows that both vessel types were current during the same period. The report on the cremated remains (below) has stressed the exceptional level of attention paid to the retrieval of the bones of the young girl represented in this burial.


Description of cremated remains
Cremation 1934:5647.6 consisted of 1,804 fragments of cremated bone, weighing a total of 1,256g. This is a considerable amount of bone, consistent with that found from other Bronze Age cremations, and is only slightly less than the 1,600–3,600g expected from a full adult cremation (McKinley 1989). The bone was mainly white in colour and well calcined, although some fragments were a creamy colour. Some fragments had orangey/brown patches on them as if they had been in contact with something that had stained them. It cannot be said whether this occurred during or after the cremation. Only one or two fragments were blue/black in colour, including a patella and a phalanx. These had probably dropped during cremation to the bottom of the pyre, where there was insufficient oxygen to complete the cremation process. There was a considerable amount of distortion on most of the bone, although some fragments of maxilla and mandible and some vertebral bodies were intact with very little distortion. The larger fragments had numerous cracks and horizontal fissures on their surface.

Table 3.168—Fragmentation of bone, 1934:5647.6.

The fragmentation of the bone is shown in Table 3.168, with the largest fragment being 80mm in length. It can be seen that there is a significant proportion of very large fragments and that the larger fragments more than 15mm in length represent 84% of the remains. The proportion of fragments less than 10mm in length is very small, and therefore it is highly unlikely that the bone was deliberately crushed after collection from the pyre. Fragmentation during collection and deposition of the bone has probably occurred along fissure lines.

Identifiable bone
The lack of crushing of the bone is reflected in the amount of bone that could be identified. A total of 891g (71% of the total bone) was identified (Table 3.169).

Table 3.169—Proportion of identified bone, 1934:5647.6.

Table 3.170—Summary of identified bone, 1934:5647.6.

Table 3.170 summarises the main parts of the skeleton identified from this sample. It can be seen that the proportions of the various parts of the skeleton are almost exactly what is expected from a normal cremation, although there is a slightly increased amount of skull at the expense of the upper limb. This is probably because the skull is easier to identify and it is harder to differentiate between long bones.

Description of identifiable features of the bones
Fragments of the squamous portion of the frontal bone with the crista frontalis visible were present.
There were two large fragments from a left and a right parietal bone, as well as another fragment with part of the coronal suture present. The thickness of the parietal bone was 3.5–5mm.
There were two large fragments of the squamous part of the occipital bone with the lambdoid suture and the internal occipital protuberance. The basal occipital bone was also present and it was unfused to the sphenoid bone.
The right mastoid and the area just anterior to it were present from the temporal bones. There were also two mandibular fossae and part of the root of the zygomatic arch, as well as two petrous portions of the temporal bone.
The right zygomatic bone was complete and the left zygomatic bone was also present. The left bone was a blue colour, indicating that it had not been as efficiently cremated as the rest of the skull.
Fragments of both greater wings of the sphenoid bone were also present.
It seems that virtually all the skull was collected, and the fragments represent only one individual.

Mandible and maxilla
The left gonial area of the mandible with the angle and part of the ramus was present, and the socket for the crown of the third molar was visible. A fragment of the right ramus was also present. The right side of the body was split through the alveolus but some tooth sockets and the genial tubercles were visible. The left and right mandibular condyles were present. The right side of the maxilla was almost complete and there was a fragment of the left side.

The following tooth sockets were present:

The roots of the upper first molars, 16 and 26, were complete but the crowns were shattered, indicating that the teeth were erupted at the time of death. There was also a second maxillary molar with the roots and part of the buccal crown intact, but the rest of the crown was fragmented so it probably was erupted at the time of death. There was also a mandibular crown present, indicating the presence of at least one unerupted molar. Teeth that have not erupted are usually protected in the alveolus and do not shatter during the cremation process. Six other root fragments were present, including two from single-rooted teeth: incisors, canines or premolars. The socket for the left third mandibular molar was present; it could be seen that this was a socket for the crown only and that the tooth had not developed roots and was not erupted. An individual at this stage of tooth development would be aged around 14–16 years.

The left and right sides of the neural arch and the dens area of the first cervical vertebra were present. The body, dens and superior articular surfaces of the second cervical vertebra were present, as well as the bodies of five lower cervical vertebrae. Four almost complete thoracic bodies as well as several smaller fragments were present, and the neural arches of twelve thoracic vertebrae were virtually complete. There were also four almost complete lumbar bodies and the neural arches of five lumbar vertebrae. The left side of the body, part of the ala and superior articular surface of the first sacral vertebra were present. There was also a fragment of the body of the second sacral vertebra.

Several rib fragments were present; some were large and some were very small. Two sternal ends were present and there were some fragments with the transverse articular surfaces present.

Two fragments of the body of the sternum were present.

A large fragment of left ilium with the auricular area and a wide sciatic notch was present. Most of the area posterior to the auricular area was present and the iliac crest was unfused. The left anterior part of the iliac crest was also unfused. The left acetabulum was fragmented but virtually complete, and part of the left ischium was present with ischial tuberosity unfused. The left pubic ramus and part of the inferior half of the body of the pubic bone were present and the sub-pubic angle was wide.
From the right side of the pelvis there was the right auricular area, the iliac crest and the almost complete right ischium. The right pubic bone included the superior ramus and the superior half of the body.

Scapulae and clavicles
Parts of the acromial spine from two scapulae were present. There was also one coracoid process, which appeared to be fused, and fragments from the lateral borders of two scapulae. The lateral half of a right clavicle was present.

The proximal third of the left humerus with the metaphyseal surface was present, as well as the proximal epiphysis. Part of the proximal shaft and part of the proximal epiphysis from another humerus were present. The distal third of the left humerus shaft was present and the medial epiphysis was unfused. Several other fragments of shaft were present.

The distal third of the shaft of a left radius with the metaphyseal surface visible was present, and there was also the distal third of the shaft of right radius. A proximal epiphysis was present and there were some shaft fragments.

There were several fragments from both the proximal and distal halves of shaft, including one fragment from near the proximal joint surface. The metaphyseal area of the olecranon was not visible.

Carpals, metacarpals and phalanges
Carpal bones present included a left lunate, scaphoid and hamate. There were eight metacarpal shafts with the distal ends unfused. Eight proximal, six middle and eight distalhand phalanges, including a distal phalanx from a thumb, were present. The unfused base of the first metacarpal and some of the phalanges were present. In some of the distal phalanges the proximal epiphyses had just fused. Some of the distal phalanges were so small that they were difficult to pick up.

There was a large fragment of the left femur with the metaphyseal surface for the head, the neck and part of the proximal shaft present. A fragment of the right femur with the neck area and part of the proximal shaft was also present. The two proximal epiphyses were present and almost complete, and the left and right unfused epiphyses of the greater trochanters were also present. There were large fragments from the distal ends of the shafts of a left and a right femur. The two distal epiphyses were present in five fragments. There were also other shaft fragments present.

The proximal halves of the shafts of a left and a right tibia were present and the two proximal epiphyses were almost complete. The distal end of a shaft of one tibia and a distal epiphysis were also present, and there were several other fragments of shaft.

Fragments of shaft only were present.

A complete left and a complete right patella were present.

A right calcaneum was almost complete and there was also a talus present. Ten metatarsals, including two first metatarsals, were present and there were eight proximal and two middle foot phalanges.

Minimum number of individuals
Since there was no repetition of skeletal elements, the number of individuals present is one.

Age and sex
Although it can be difficult to sex juvenile skeletons, the sex differences are apparent after puberty, which occurs at an earlier age in females than in males. In this cremation the pelvis was virtually complete, and the wide sciatic notch and the wide sub-pubic angle indicate that this was most likely a female individual. The epiphyses at the head of the femur, distal femur and greater trochanter were all unfused, indicating that the individual was aged less than sixteen years at the time of death. The fact that the epiphyses of the distal hand phalanges were fused and that the heads of the metacarpals were unfused indicates that the individual was probably over thirteen but less than fifteen years at the time of death. The unfused medial epiphysis of the distal humerus also indicates an age of less than fifteen years. The socket for the crown of the third molar in the mandible indicates an age of around thirteen years. It could not be certain from this how far the root development had progressed, but there did not appear to be substantial root development. All the evidence indicates that this girl was between thirteen and fifteen years of age at the time of death.

Summary and conclusions
This represents the cremation of one female adolescent, aged 13–15 years at the time of death. The careful treatment of this girl’s remains is remarkable. All the bone must have been collected from the funeral pyre, as the weight of the remains, 1,256g, is very close to the 1,600g which is the lower limit expected from a full adult cremation. Since this is an adolescent, the full skeletal remains of this individual are probably represented here. The remains were handled very carefully and were not deliberately crushed, with the result that the majority of the remains were large or very large fragments. This meant that a significant proportion of the remains were identified. Virtually all the skull was present, including most of the mandible and maxilla, and all the vertebral column was represented, with seven cervical, twelve thoracic, five lumbar and two sacral vertebrae present. There were numerous fragments of ribs and some of the sternum was also present. The pelvis was so complete that it was possible to identify the sex of the individual.
The long bones of the arms and legs could be reconstructed almost completely, and a large proportion of the hand and feet bones were collected. Even very small distal hand phalanges and the epiphyses of the metacarpals were present. It seems that great care was taken with the cremation and deposition of this individual, and it is highly likely that she was a person of great status and well loved by the community who buried her.

370. Parish of Burgage More, barony of Talbotstown Lower. SMR WI005-076——. IGR 298590 212060.
371. The measurements of the cist in the field are not recorded, but it was reconstructed in the Museum for exhibition and was measured by John Waddell.