NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Sligo Site name: CLEAVRY, CO. SLIGO

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR SL034-240 Licence number: E1155


Site type: Early Bronze Age graves

ITM: E 574188m, N 814456m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.078570, -8.394440

In August 1955 a cremation contained within a vase urn was discovered during quarrying operations at a sandpit near Castlebaldwin, Co. Sligo (Fig. 3.161).294 The site was visited by GardaĂ­, who removed the remains from their find-spot and informed the NMI of the discovery. As the context had been completely destroyed, the site was not visited by Museum personnel.295 There is no information available on the nature of the burial site and it is assumed that it was a pit rather than a cist. The burial consisted of the cremated remains of two individuals (1956:221).

Fig. 3.161—Location map, Cleavry, Co. Sligo.

Vase urn, 1956:220 (not illustrated)
The vase urn recovered from the pit is incomplete and has not been restored. Brindley (2007, 345) describes the vessel as having an unexpanded everted rim separated from the body by a constriction filled by a cordon. The decoration consists of whipped cord impressions on the rim, internally and externally, and of interlocking triangles with oblique hatching in alternate directions on the shoulder.

This burial has not been dated by radiocarbon. The typology of the vase urn places it in Brindley’s stage 2 of the development of vase urns, which is dated to 1930/20–c. 1830 BC. The cremated remains represent two adults. In the report received from An Garda Síochána it is noted that human remains had been found in April 1955 in another sandpit immediately adjoining the one mentioned here. These bones were reburied by order of the local coroner.


Description of cremation
Sample 1956:221 consisted of 69 fragments of cremated bone, weighing a total of 120g. This is a small amount of bone for a Bronze Age cremation and is considerably less than the 1,600–3,600g expected from a full adult cremation (McKinley 1989). It is therefore clearly not a full burial, probably on account of the disturbance and because the landowner may have picked up the larger, more obvious bone fragments.

The colour of the bone fragments was mainly white, although some fragments were stained brown and black by soil and charcoal. A few fragments were a grey colour, indicating less efficient cremation.
Some of the larger fragments were distorted and there were numerous cracks and horizontal fissures on their surface.

The fragmentation is shown in Table 3.96, with the largest fragment being 70mm in length.

Table 3.96—Fragmentation of bone, 1956:221.

It can be seen that there is a significant proportion of very large fragments, and the larger fragments more than 25mm in length represent 84% of the cremated remains. In fact, there are no fragments smaller than 10mm, further indication that only relatively large fragments were collected, with the smaller pieces being ignored or unnoticed.

Identifiable bone
The relatively large size of the fragments is reflected in the amount of bone that could be identified—a total of 420g (80% of the total bone) (Table 3.97).
It is not expected that equal proportions of skeletal elements would be recovered. In fact, the amount of bone recovered depends on the area of skeleton involved. The normal proportions of the different parts of the skeleton are: skull 18.2%; axial skeleton (ribs, vertebrae, pelvis) 23.1%; upper limb 20.6%; and lower limb 38.1%. These proportions should be the same regardless of the number of individuals present.

Table 3.97—Proportion of identified bone, 1956:221.

Table 3.98—Summary of identified bone, 1956:221.

Table 3.98 summarises the main parts of the skeleton identified from this sample. It can be seen that the skull and upper limbs are overrepresented at the expense of the axial skeleton. Vertebrae and ribs were not well collected, but the larger, more obvious bones, skull and long bones, were. Nevertheless, because this is only a sample of what was present in the urn originally, it is not possible to determine the efficiency of collection from the pyre.

Description of identifiable features of the bones
Three fragments of occipital bone from the one skull were present. The internal occipital protuberance was present and the nuchal crest seemed to be well developed. There was, however, another fragment of occipital bone with the internal occipital protuberance present, indicating that at least two individuals were represented. There were also a few fragments of parietal bone.

There was one large fragment of a femur head, as well as another fragment of a distal joint end. The other fragments were from the shaft.

Three fragments of shaft were present.

One large fragment consisted of the distal part of a right humerus shaft. Part of the proximal joint surface was also present, as well as two other fragments of shaft.

The proximal end of a left radius including the proximal joint surface was present, as well as another fragment of shaft.

Two fragments were from the distal half of the shaft, while another consisted of the distal end of the shaft with the distal joint surface.

Two tiny fragments of ilium were present.

Three fragments of vertebral bodies were present.

Four rib fragments from the shaft were present.

Part of the acromial spine and a fragment of the glenoid fossa were present.

There was one fragment of shaft.

Minimum number of individuals
There were two identical fragments of occipital bone, indicating that two individuals were present. Both fragments seemed to be of adults, as the nuchal crests were well developed. The joint ends of the long bones were fused and there was no indication of any juvenile bones being present. The minimum number of individuals is therefore two adults.

Summary and conclusions
This deposit represents the cremated remains of two adult individuals. Although the nuchal crests were well developed, they were not large enough to say that they were from males, and therefore the sex has not been determined. The remains represent only a sample of what was collected from the funeral pyre. This was due partly to the site disturbance and partly to the that only the large, obvious pieces were collected. Unfortunately this means that a lot of information has been lost. It is not possible to say how well the remains were collected from the pyre and whether or not there was evidence of deliberate crushing of the bones. Although two individuals were present, the small amount of bone means that it cannot be determined whether two individuals were cremated or collected together or whether there is only a small amount of a second individual, representing contamination from a reused pyre.

294. Townland of Cleavry, parish of Kilmacallan, barony of Tirerrill. SMR SL034-240——. IGR 174231 314446.
295. The site has been listed by Waddell (1990, 132). It is published here as the human remains have been examined for the first time. The find-place was not recorded.