NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Mayo Site name: CARRICKANASS, CO. MAYO

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR MA014-103 Licence number: E1119

Author: F.T. RILEY

Site type: Early Bronze Age graves

ITM: E 516853m, N 833944m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.247580, -9.275794

In March 1937 a short cist containing a cremation was discovered during quarrying operations near Killala, Co. Mayo. The cist was exposed in a section of the quarry but was left intact by the workers until July of that year, when two schoolboys on holidays in the area saw it and reported it to the NMI (Pls 46–7). The site was visited by Mr F.T. Riley on behalf of the NMI. By the time of Mr Riley’s visit, one of the end stones was missing and about half of the capstone had been exposed. This report is based on Mr Riley’s account of the excavation. The human remains were examined by Laureen Buckley.

Location (Fig. 3.118)
The site was in the townland of Carrickanass, north-east Co. Mayo,210 at an altitude of 10–20m above sea level, approximately 3km east of Killala Bay. No sites of similar date are currently known from the townland.

Description of site
The cist appears to have been rectangular in plan, with its long axis aligned northeast/south-west. It is probable that it was formed of four side slabs set on edge. Riley states that the chamber measured 0.66m long by 0.36m wide by 0.36m high internally.210 The side stones appear to have been regular in plan, with a maximum thickness of 0.06m. There is no evidence in the report or illustrations for packing stones around the cist. The cist was covered with a large capstone, 0.1m thick.212 The floor of the chamber was paved with a rough layer of coarse sandstone pebbles. The pit dug to receive the cist does not seem to have been found, but owing to the location of the site it would have been difficult to expose the area around the cist. The grave contained the cremated remains of an adult, a juvenile and an infant (1937:2801), and no accompanying artefacts were found. The cremation is reported by Riley to have formed a ‘uniform’ layer at the base of the cist

Fig. 3.118—Location map, Carrickanass, Co. Mayo.

The human remains from this site have not been dated. In the absence of associated finds, it is assumed to be early Bronze Age in date based on its form.


Sample 1937:2801 consisted of 2,166 fragments of cremated bone, weighing a total of 1,288g. The bone was a creamy white colour, with a few grey/blue fragments.

Table 3.56—Fragmentation of bone, 1937:2801.

The fragmentation of the sample is shown in Table 3.56, with the largest fragment being 80mm in length. It can be seen that there is only a relatively small proportion of very large fragments but that the large fragments more than 15mm in length make up 85% of the sample.

Identifiable bone
Owing to the lack of very large fragments only about half the sample could be identified. A total of 580g (45% of the total bone) was identified. The amount and proportion of the identified bone are shown in Table 3.57.
Table 3.58 summarises the main parts of the skeleton identified from this sample. It can be seen that the proportion of skull is more than twice what it should be and that the proportion of axial skeleton is very low indeed. The proportion of upper and lower limb bones are also slightly lower than expected. When the amount of skull is so disproportionate it usually means that more than one person is present in the cremation. Skull bones are very easily recognised and are therefore more readily collected and more easily identified. Thus it is very easy to collect the skull from a few individuals, but as the fragmented long bones are not so easily identified the effect of this becomes exaggerated by the presence of more individuals in the sample.

Table 3.57—Proportion of identified bone, 1937:2801.

Table 3.58—Summary of identified bone, 1937:2801.

Identifiable fragments

There were fragments of occipital, parietal and frontal bone from an adult skull. The posterior parts of two left parietal bones with the lambdoid and squamosal sutures were present. The left orbital area of the frontal bone was present and there was a fragment of the right orbit. The rim was of the male type. The mastoid area of a temporal bone and the left and the right mandibular fossae were present, as well as a left and a right petrous temporal bone. There were fragments of a left zygomatic bone. The juvenile skull fragments included two petrous temporal bones, the middle part of the frontal bone with the crista frontalis visible on the internal surface and the sphenoid bone of an infant. A small fragment of sphenoid from a young juvenile was also present, as well as the left zygomatic bone from a juvenile.

Part of a right ramus from an adult mandible, including the mandibular condyle, was present. There was also a fragment from the left ramus and the left condyle. Four fragments of the body of the mandible were present. Some fragments from the maxilla were also present.

There were several fragments of adult molar roots as well as incisor, canine and premolar roots. There were also three crowns of unerupted molars. The molars were an upper first or second molar and two lower molars. Fragments of maxilla and mandible with the following sockets were present:

(1) Adult:

(2) Juvenile:

If the second molar were partially formed, the juvenile would be aged around five years.

Parts of two second cervical vertebrae were present and there were bodies of two lower cervical vertebrae and a few fragments of articular surfaces. There were only fragments of arches and articular surfaces from the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae but they all appeared to be from an adult.

There were several fragments of shaft and a few tubercles present.

A fragment of right ilium with the auricular surface and part of the body was present but the sciatic notch was not complete. There was also a fragment of iliac crest and a fragment of the superior part of an acetabulum. A fragment of left ischium and inferior part of the acetabulum from an adult pelvis was present.

A coracoid process and a lateral border were all that remained from the scapula.

A partial head of a humerus and a fragment of distal joint surface were present, as well as several fragments from the proximal and distal shaft.

Fragments of shaft and two proximal ends were present.

This consisted of shaft fragments and one incomplete distal end.

Carpals, metacarpals, phalanges
One partial shaft and the heads of three metacarpals only were present. There were also four proximal, seven middle and one distal phalanges.

Several fragments of shaft were present, including two fragments from near the lesser trochanter area, as well as other fragments of proximal and distal shaft, some of which had the linea aspera visible. There were a few fragments of distal joint surface and fragments of one adult head.

Several fragments of shaft were present, including fragments from the anterior surface of the bone and fragments from the medial and lateral surfaces.

The distal part of the shaft and distal articular surface of an adult right fibula was present, as well as the distal articular surface of the left fibula and fragments of shaft. There was another unfused distal articular surface from a right bone.

Tarsal, metatarsals, phalanges
Fragments of calcaneum and talus were present, as well as the head and part of the shaft of a first and one other metatarsal and one proximal and one distal foot phalanges.

Infant bones
The total weight of infant bone present was 12g. It consisted of skull and long bones and some ribs.

Minimum number of individuals
There were at least three individuals present. One was an adult, one was a juvenile aged 4–5 years of age and the third was an infant.

Summary and conclusions
This was a large sample of cremated bone weighing 1,288g. The bone appeared to be efficiently cremated and did not appear to have been deliberately crushed as part of the cremation process, as many fragments were quite large. All parts of the skeleton were collected, but the more fragile bones of the axial skeleton, the vertebrae and ribs were not collected fully. It was possible to identify 45% of the bone and it was found to represent the remains of one adult, one juvenile aged 4–5 years and one infant.

210. Parish of Lackan, barony of Tirawley. SMR MA014-103——. IGR 116884 333938.

211. It is not clear whether the length is external or internal here, but it is probable that it is internal, given that the width of the cist is measured internally.

212. The other measurements of the capstone were not recorded.