NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kerry Site name: COUMEENOOLE NORTH, CO. KERRY

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR KE052-059003KE052-059004 Licence number: E1077


Site type: Late medieval graves, c. AD 1200–1600, and post-medieval graves, AD 1600–1800

ITM: E 431125m, N 598172m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.109626, -10.465591

In June 1954 human bone was discovered in debris following rock-blasting near Coumeenoole Strand, Dingle, Co. Kerry.11 Work was suspended and it was observed that the bones had come from a point approximately 0.46m below grass level at the top of the cliff. The discovery was reported to An Garda Síochána in Dingle and then to the NMI. As he was working in the area, Professor Michael J. O’Kelly of the Department of Archaeology, University College Cork, was asked to investigate the site. This report is based on O’Kelly’s sketches and report. The human remains were examined by Laureen Buckley and were found to represent two adult males.

Fig. 5.6—Location map, Coumeenoole North, Co. Kerry.

Description of site
Excavation revealed that the burials had been placed in the pre-existing trench mentioned above. The remains of two extended inhumations, both adult males (2007:222), were found at the bottom of the trench. Both burials were aligned north/south and appear to have been carelessly deposited, placed in the bottom of the trench and covered with earth and stones probably taken from the fence itself. The bodies lay side by side and the heads would have been to the south but had been disturbed by the blasting operations. On the floor of the trench, in the area between the chests of the two bodies, a lathe-turned, flat bone button was found, and a small portion of what may be the centre part of another button made of shell was found close by (Fig. 5.7). The remains were those of two adult males, one aged 34–35 years at death and the other aged 26–34 at time of death.

Fig. 5.7—Buttons from graves, Coumeenoole North, Co. Kerry.

The buttons found with these burials suggest that they are post-medieval in date. The careless disposition of the burials and the fact that they are not in consecrated ground suggests that these were not considered members of the community. They may have been seafarers whose bodies were washed up ashore. The fact that both bodies were male would also support this theory.


Unfortunately, the burials (2007:222) were not separated and all the bones were put together in one box. Before they could be examined, some attempt to separate the burials had to be made. It was possible to assign long bones relatively easily to the two individuals, based on differences in size and robustness of the bones. One individual was significantly larger and more robust than the other, so that even the hand and foot bones, the pelvis and most of the vertebrae could be differentiated. It was not possible to separate the ribs, however, as they were highly fragmented. The two individuals were labelled skeleton A and skeleton B and are described below.

Skeleton A: late middle adult, male, 175cm
This skeleton was virtually complete and in good condition. The skull was virtually complete although most of the facial bones were fragmented or missing. The frontal bone, left parietal, both temporal and the occipital bones were present and complete. A fragment was missing from the right parietal bone. The cranium must have been found in a fragmented state and had been glued together at some time in the past. Only the left zygomatic and part of the left maxilla survived from the facial bones. Part of the right nasal bone was also present. The upper two cervical vertebrae were complete and there were four lower cervical vertebrae present. Only three incomplete upper thoracic vertebrae remained and there were fragments of four lumbar vertebrae. Part of the manubrium and most of the body of the sternum was present, although it was not entirely certain whether this belonged to this skeleton or to skeleton B.

Both scapulae were present but incomplete. The proximal half and distal end of the left humerus were present and the left radius and ulna were complete. The right humerus was almost complete but its distal end was missing; the right ulna was complete but the proximal end was missing from the right radius. Only the first, second, fourth and fifth metacarpals remained from the left hand, and the right hand consisted of the scaphoid, lunate and trapezium, all the metacarpals and two proximal, four middle and four distal phalanges.

The left ilium was very fragmentary and incomplete but the right ilium and both ischia were complete. Part of the right pubis was also present and fragments of the sacrum survived. The femurs, tibiae and patellae were complete, and the shaft of the left fibula and proximal half of the right fibula were also present. The left foot consisted of the calcaneum, cuboid and third cuneiform, all the metatarsals apart from the fifth, and four proximal, one middle and one distal phalanges. The right talus, calcaneum, navicular and first cuneiform were present from the right foot, along with all the metatarsals and three proximal phalanges and one distal phalanx.

Age and sex
The right sub-pubic concavity, sub-pubic angle and sciatic notch from the pelvis were of the male type. All the observable features of the skull, the external occipital protuberance, supraorbital ridges, orbital rims and mental eminence, were of the male type. The measurements of the heads of the femurs, humeri and radius as well as the bicondylar width of the femurs were well within the male range. Examination of the auricular surfaces of the ilia indicated an age of 35–39 years. The living stature based on the lengths of the femur and tibia was estimated at 175cm. This is quite tall even for modern populations.

Non-metrical traits
There was a vastus notch in both patellae.

Skeletal pathology Both the parietal and frontal bones of the skull appeared to be very porotic but there was no indication of hyperostosis. Some arachnoid pits were present on the internal surface of the frontal bone. There was some slight degenerative joint disease of the shoulders, with mild lipping and porosity of the heads of both humeri. The right elbow had some evidence of degeneration, with mild lipping around the inferior part of the olecranon of the right ulna. This may be associated with a healed fracture of the olecranon. The most medial part, which articulates with the trochlea of the humerus, has a very well-healed split in the bone. There is a slight area of porosity on the bone surface near the fracture line. There is also mild degenerative joint disease of the right wrist, with mild lipping around the distal joint surface of the radius and on the right lunate. In the vertebral column there was a slight crush fracture of the third thoracic vertebra, with the body being slightly compressed in the middle. This was associated with severe osteoarthritis of the posterior articular surfaces, with severe lipping, porosity and polishing of superior articular surfaces of T2, the left superior and both inferior articular surfaces of T3 and all the posterior articular surfaces of T4. The lumbar vertebrae were only mildly affected, with lipping and porosity of a few articular surfaces.


Attrition: molar attrition was moderate and there was light to moderate wear on the other remaining teeth.

Calculus: there were light deposits on the lingual surfaces of the lower first and second molars and left second premolar. Deposits were moderate on the lingual surfaces of the lower left first premolar and lateral incisor and lower right third molar. There were considerable deposits on the lingual surfaces of the lower left canine.

Caries: there appeared to be caries cavities beginning to form on the buccal surfaces of the exposed roots of the lower right premolars.

Periodontal disease: there was a slight degree of alveolar recession in the mandible around the roots of the left premolars and first molar and the right canine and premolars.

Hypoplasia: linear enamel hypoplasia was noted around the roots of the lower premolars and right canine and second and third molars.

Skeleton B: early middle adult, male, 158cm

The skull and cervical vertebrae were missing but the rest of the vertebral column was complete. The left scapula was incomplete and only a fragment remained from the right scapula. The left clavicle was complete but part of the mid-shaft area was missing from the right clavicle. The left humerus, radius and ulna were complete but the joint ends were slightly damaged. Part of the proximal shaft was missing from the right humerus but the right radius and ulna were complete. All the carpals except for both pisiforms were present, and all the metacarpals except the fourth left metacarpal were present. There was one proximal and two middle phalanges from the left hand and three proximal and one middle phalanges from the right hand.

The left ilium from the pelvis was complete but the right ilium was incomplete. Part of the left ischium was present and the right ischium was complete. Part of the right pubic bone was also present. The sacrum was complete. Both femurs, tibiae, patellae and fibulae were complete from the leg bones, and all the tarsals except the left calcaneum, the left first and fifth metatarsals and three proximal and one distal foot phalanges remained from the foot bones.

Age and sex
All the observable features of the pelvis, the right ventral arc, sub-pubic concavity, sub-pubic angle and both sciatic notches were of the male type.

The pubic symphysis indicated an age range of 21–46 years, and the auricular surface of the ilium indicated an age of 27–34 years. This individual was clearly a middle adult aged 26–45 years but was probably in the early part of this age group, 26–34 years. Based on the lengths of the femur and fibula the living stature was estimated at 158cm, which is very small for a male.

Non-metric traits
A third trochanter was present on each femur and squatting facets were present on the tibiae.

Skeletal pathology
Schmorl’s nodes were present in the superior and inferior surfaces of the body of the twelfth thoracic vertebra.

These were the skeletons of two male individuals. One was a late middle adult aged 34–45 years at the time of death and the other was an early middle adult aged 26–34 years at the time of death. The older individual was slightly taller than average and the younger individual was much smaller than average. There were no indications of disease on the younger individual apart from Schmorl’s nodes on one vertebra, which indicates manual labour during adolescence. The older individual, however, had evidence of degenerative joint disease in several joints and osteoarthritis in the vertebral column that was exacerbated by a compressed vertebra. The crush fracture of the vertebrae probably also occurred as a result of lifting heavy loads.

11. Parish of Dunquin, barony of Corkaguiny. SMR KE052-059003- and KE052-059004-. IGR 031138 098115.