NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Louth Site name: SMARMORE, CO. LOUTH

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR LH020-001 Licence number: E1116

Author: A.T. LUCAS

Site type: Early Bronze Age graves

ITM: E 694961m, N 784615m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.802407, -6.558407

In June 1949, an urn burial containing a cremation was discovered by Mr Nicholas Halfpenny while ploughing on the farm of Mrs Mary Anderson at Smarmore, Co. Louth. The plough had struck the capstone, which was slid back to reveal a small, rock-cut cavity. Mr Halfpenny and the boy who was with him removed some of the soil with their hands and found the urn, which broke into pieces when they attempted to lift it out. The boy took home a large piece of the urn, which was subsequently handed into the Museum. Fr Dermot MacIvor of Ardee, a regular correspondent with the Museum staff, obtained other fragments, together with a small amount of cremated bone, and reported the find to the NMI. The site was investigated on 13 June 1949 by A.T. Lucas and this report is based on Lucas’s account.

Location (Fig. 3.108)
The site was in the townland of Smarmore, south-east Co. Louth, close to the border with County Meath.180 It lay near the 500ft (152m) contour on the slope of the White Mountain, near a ringfort called Lios Mór. No associated burial sites are known from the vicinity.

Description of site
The pit was an irregular-shaped cavity cut into rock, which occurred at a depth of about 0.4m below ground level. It was roughly conical in section, measuring 0.5m deep by 0.6m in diameter across the top and 0.3m across the base.181 The stone that was said to be lying on top of the pit was roughly rectangular in shape, measuring approximately 0.4m long by 0.3m wide by 0.1m thick. The rock into which the pit was cut was of a brittle nature and easily shattered by a strong blow, so that the excavation of the cavity for the reception of the urn would not have presented any great difficulty. The grave contained a cordoned urn, which was inverted over a cremation deposit, the remains of an adult, probably male (P1949:26.2).

Fig. 3.108—Location map, Smarmore, Co. Louth.

Cordoned urn, P1949:26.1 (not illustrated)
The urn was complete when first found, but was broken and the sherds dispersed by the time of Lucas’s visit. The fragments recovered represent considerably less than half of the vessel. Kavanagh (1976, 370) describes the surviving sherds as including several large sherds of the rim and a small portion of the base. There is evidence of one cordon only. The vessel appears to have been undecorated.
Dimensions: est. H 36.6cm; est. D rim 26cm; est. D base 14cm.

This burial has not been dated by radiocarbon. Brindley (2007, 292) dates the cordoned urn tradition to the period from c. 1730 BC to c. 1500 BC. Undecorated cordoned urns are known, including several from the northern counties of Antrim, Down and Derry.
This site is an unusual instance of the pit being dug out of rock and covered by a slab, which amounts to using a natural feature to form a ‘cist’. This site may be compared to Allithwaite in Cumbria (Wild 2003, 25–28), where several collared urn burials were placed into the grykes of a limestone pavement.


P1949:26.2 consisted of 113 fragments of cremated bone weighing a total of 125g. The bone was mainly white in colour, although stained darker by the soil. Some fragments were indicating less efficient cremation.

Table 3.50—Fragmentation of bone, P1949:26.2.

It can be seen from Table 3.50 that there is a significant proportion of very large fragments, and the larger fragments more than 15mm in length represent 94% of the cremated remains. The proportion of fragments less than 10mm in length is very small. Nevertheless, since this sample is incomplete and obviously does not represent a full cremation, it is not possible to draw conclusions about the degree of crushing of the bones. It is highly probable that only the larger fragments were collected from the excavation site to be deposited in the Museum.

Identifiable bone
The large size of the fragments meant that a lot of the bone could be identified (Table 3.51). A total of 80g (64% of the total bone) was identified.

Table 3.51—Proportion of identified bone, P1949:26.2.

Table 3.52—Summary of identified bone, P1949:26.2.

Table 3.52 summarises the main parts of the skeleton identified. It can be seen that most of the sample consisted of skull and femur fragments. These fragments usually tend to be large and easily identifiable, and so are more likely to be collected on site and to be identified by the osteoarchaeologist.

Description of identifiable features of the bones
Fragments of parietal and occipital bone were present. The right mastoid area of the temporal and a fragment of petrous temporal were also present, along with a right zygomatic bone, one fragment of tooth socket and a fragment of the left gonial area of the mandible.

These included a fragment of ilium with the iliac crest fused and one fragment of acetabulum.

A few fragments of shaft only.

All were fragments of shaft. They were quite thick, and one large fragment had a well-developed linea aspera.

A fragment of shaft only remained.

Minimum number of individuals
Since there was no repetition of skeletal elements, the number of individuals present is one. It appears to be an adult and, from the well-developed linea aspera, might be a male individual.

Summary and conclusions
This cremation was very incomplete owing to the way the cist was found and the cremation collected. Only relatively large fragments of bone were collected, consisting mainly of skull and femur. The remains appear to represent one, possibly male, individual.

180. Parish of Smarmore, barony of Ardee. SMR LH020-001—-. IGR 295030 284600.
181. In his first report on file, Lucas states that there was some suggestion that there were small packing stones around the urn and that the floor of the pit was paved. This is not mentioned in his final report on the site.