NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Westmeath Site name: KNOCKMANT, CO. WESTMEATH

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR WM027-006 Licence number: E1172


Site type: Graves of indeterminate date

ITM: E 652922m, N 750887m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.505309, -7.202235

In November 1964 an unprotected inhumation burial was discovered during quarrying operations at a sandpit near Killucan, Co. Westmeath. The skeleton lay at a depth of 0.6–0.9m below ground level in a sandpit being dug into a low ridge. The discovery was made on 27 October but was not reported to the NMI for ten days. During this time the site had been visited and the bones had been disturbed. The discovery was reported by Mrs Ruth Vandeleur of Wardenstown, Co. Westmeath. A rescue excavation was carried out by Étienne Rynne. This report is based on Rynne’s account of the site. The human remains were analysed by Laureen Buckley.

Fig. 6.54—Location map, Knockmant, Co. Westmeath.

Location (Fig. 6.54)
The site was in the townland of Knockmant, just 4km west of Killucan, east Co. Westmeath.90 It was on a low ridge at an altitude of 80–90m above sea level. In 1965–6 a cemetery mound was excavated in the same townland about 1km to the west (Ó Ríordáin 1969). The burial was located just 2km east of the border between the baronies of Farbill and Moyashel & Magheradernon, and 3km north-east of the boundary between the latter two baronies and the barony of Fartullagh.

Description of site
The grave consisted of a simple unprotected pit, aligned west/east. The finder, Mr James Colgan, had noticed that the soil around the skeleton was darker and more clay-like than the sand elsewhere. There was no evidence for any stones around the burial or for a mound above it. It was not possible to estimate the shape or size of the grave-pit. The grave contained a single skeleton (1964:224), aligned west/east, and no accompanying artefacts were found. The skeleton, that of a young to middle-aged adult male, lay extended in a prone position, with the hands by the sides. The head was bent somewhat backwards, facing south, a position that the excavator did not associate with post-discovery disturbance. This was corroborated by the relative position of the two shoulders.

This burial is undatable in the absence of associated finds or other evidence. It has not been dated by radiocarbon and was not examined by an osteoarchaeologist or anatomist at the time of discovery as it was decided that the find circumstances did not warrant specialist study.

It may also be noted here that, when investigating the present site, Étienne Rynne was told by Mr Colgan of the discovery of a skeleton and a late Bronze Age bronze disc-headed pin in a nearby quarry in the same townland in 1932. The pin91 was acquired but the skeleton was not. These were apparently not found in association with each other (the pin was found first in the quarry face and the skeleton about a month later), but the skeleton lay approximately above where the pin had been discovered.


Description of burial (1964:224)
This skeleton was well preserved and, apart from the vertebrae, virtually complete. The skull was fragmented but only a small part of the parietal bones, the left wing of sphenoid and a small part of the maxilla were missing from the cranium. The mandible was virtually complete. The first cervical vertebra was present but the remainder of the cervical and all the thoracic vertebrae were missing. The lumbar vertebrae were complete. Seven ribs from the left side and two from the right remained.

Both scapulae were present and virtually complete. The distal end was missing from the left humerus but the right humerus was complete. The proximal end was missing from the left radius and the left ulna was complete. Only the distal two-thirds of the left radius survived from the left arm. The left hand consisted of the scaphoid, trapezoid, capitate and hamate, all the metacarpals and five proximal, one middle and one distal hand phalanges. Only the third, fourth and fifth metacarpals, and five proximal, two middle and two distal hand phalanges remained from the right hand.

Both ilia, ischia and pubes were present from the pelvis, the left ilium being complete. The sacrum was virtually complete. Both femora, patellae, tibiae and left fibula were complete, but only a fragment of shaft remained from the right fibula. The left talus, calcaneum, cuboid and third cuneiform were present from the left foot, as well as the third, fourth and fifth metatarsals and four proximal phalanges, but only the cuboid and fifth metatarsal were present from the right foot.

Age and sex
All the observable features of the skull, the mastoid process, the supraorbital ridges and the mental eminence of the chin, were of the male type. The only feature observable in the pelvis was the sciatic notch, which was in between the shape for male and female. It is not unusual, however, for males to have wide sciatic notches.

The metric analysis was not conclusive either, as the diameter of the head of the femora was between the limits for males and females, the femoral bicondylar width was definitely in the male range but the diameter of the heads of the humeri were in the female range. It is not uncommon for sexual dimorphism to be incomplete and for some individuals to have a mixture of male and female characteristics. On balance this individual is probably male, as there are more male features than female.

The epiphyseal line is still vaguely visible on parts of the iliac crest and the epiphyses on the bodies of the vertebrae appear to be not long fused. The auricular surface of the ilium indicates an age of 25–29 years. The stature was estimated, using the lengths of the femur and fibula, as 164cm.

Non-metric traits
The metopic suture was retained. There was a supracondyloid process on both humeri and an acetabular crease in both acetabula. Squatting facets were visible on both tibiae.

Skeletal pathology
The left tibia had very slight patches of periostitis on the medial surface in the distal third of the bone. This was caused by a minor inflammation of the periosteum, which could have been caused by minor knocks to the shin or a mild infection of the soft tissue. Schmorl’s nodes were present on the superior surface of the body of the first lumbar, the superior and inferior surfaces of the second lumbar and the superior surface of the third lumbar vertebra. There were enlarged impressions for the salivary glands on either side of the mid-line of the mandible.


Ante-mortem loss: three teeth had been lost during life and the sockets healed over. These were the first two molars on the right side of the mandible and the first molar on the left side. There was evidence for caries and periodontal disease in the jaw, so a combination of both could have caused the tooth loss.

Attrition: there was light to moderate attrition on most teeth except for the lower left second molar, which was heavily worn.

Calculus: there were moderate deposits on the buccal surfaces of most teeth except the lower left premolars, upper first molars and upper right first premolar, where deposits were heavy. There were light deposits on the lingual surfaces of the upper molars and moderate deposits on the lingual surfaces of the lower teeth.

Caries: there was a large cavity on the upper left first premolar that had destroyed most of the crown. The upper left third molar had a small cavity on the buccal surface at the cervical margin. The lower left second molar had a small cavity on the occlusal surface and a moderate-sized cavity on the occlusal surface of the adjacent third molar.

Abscess: there was an external abscess at the root of the lower left first molar. The socket for the lower left second molar was enlarged and the internal surface was very porotic. Periodontal disease: there was a slight degree of alveolar recession around the roots of the teeth on the left side of the mandible and the incisors on the right side. There was a moderate degree of recession around the molars on the right side of the mandible.

Hypoplasia: lines and pits of hypoplasia were noted on the lower canines and the upper and lower left third molars. In addition, there were grooves of hypoplasia on the lower right third molar and on the lower left second premolar. The upper incisors and right canine also had linear enamel hypoplasia.

This skeleton appears to represent the remains of an early middle adult male with a living stature of 164cm. There was very little pathology present, apart from a minor inflammation of the left shin and some Schmorl’s nodes on the vertebrae. The teeth were not heavily worn but had evidence for caries, periodontal disease and abscesses. Three teeth had been lost during life. This sort of dental pathology is usually found more in late medieval or postmedieval populations than in early medieval or prehistoric populations. It must be emphasised, however, that one mandible and maxilla may not be representative of the population as a whole.

90. Parish of Killucan, barony of Farbill. SMR WM027-006——. IGR 252983 250864.
91. 1964:223.