NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Offaly Site name: LEHINCH, CO. OFFALY

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR OF008-012SMR OF008-021 Licence number: E1151


Site type: Iron Age and early medieval graves, c. 300 BC–c. AD 1200

ITM: E 628024m, N 732897m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.345557, -7.579148

In March 1978, during gravel-digging operations, three human skeletons and a Bronze Age ceramic bowl were discovered at Lehinch, near Clara, Co. Offaly. The site was a low natural hillock composed almost entirely of sand and gravel, and an oval pit measuring 8m by 7m by 3m deep had been dug into the centre of the hillock. According to the landowner, Mr David Connor, the human remains (1979:24)—one apparently an extended inhumation—and bowl sherds were found towards the eastern side of the hillock.264 The site was first reported by Brother Angelo Holmes from the Franciscan monastery at Clara to Étienne Rynne, who in turn informed the NMI. A three-week excavation was undertaken by Raghnall Ó Floinn, assisted by Nessa O’Connor, in July 1978, when six burials were excavated (see Vol. 1, pp 386–93, for early Bronze Age graves). A second season in 1979 allowed for the excavation of the ring-ditch that had been partially exposed the previous summer. A single extended skeleton had been discovered in the same townland, by Mr Connor in 1977. This was investigated by Mr. Michael Ryan of the NMI.265

This report describes the early Bronze Age burial, grave 6, and the bowl found in 1978 (grave 7). This was probably associated with one of the three skeletons also found at that time. Two of these individuals are likely to represent parts of the skeletons uncovered in graves 1 and 2. No evidence survived of the grave associated with the bowl but it almost certainly represents a second early Bronze Age burial which is referred to as grave 7 in this report.

Fig. 3.146—Location map, Lehinch, Co. Offaly

Location (Fig. 3.146)
The site was in the townland of Lehinch, north Co. Offaly, just 2km east of Clara town.266 It consisted of a natural sand and gravel hillock rising about 1.5m above the surrounding field. It was 800m west of the boundary between the baronies of Kilbride and Ballycowan at an altitude of approximately 70m above sea level. The SMR lists another ring-ditch some 30m east of the cemetery.267

Description of site (Fig. 3.147)
Grave 6 (Pl. 54)
This was located at the edge of the gravel pit, just 0.25m west of grave 3. A large, natural boulder, 0.35m by 0.2m by 0.25m, that formed the southern edge of the gravel pit became dislodged, thus exposing this burial (Fig. 3.147). It consisted of a shallow, rectangular pit measuring 0.35m by 0.25m by 0.15m deep, dug into the natural gravel. It was bordered on three sides by stones (approx. 15cm by 10cm) and lay at a depth of 0.1–0.2m below the base of the sod, which had been mechanically removed at this point. The floor of the pit was lined with clay. There was no evidence for a stone covering over the grave

The grave fill consisted of cremated bone mixed with a fill of brown clay and some gravel. The remains represented those of an adult (1979:30). Set at an angle in the pit, with its lower point at the centre of the pit, was a shale-like stone covered with fossil shell impressions—this may have been deliberately included with the cremated remains but it did not penetrate more than 5cm into the cremation.

Fig. 3.147—Overall site plan (above) and plan and section of grave 6 (below), Lehinch, Co. Offaly.

Grave 7
No details of this grave are known but it is assumed that the bowl described below was associated with one of the three individuals discovered in 1978 (see Vol. 2, pp 139–66).

Tripartite bowl, 1979:20 (Fig. 3.148)
This is a restored bowl of tripartite type; the rim is uneven and not quite circular, and sections of the side walls between the ridges vary in width along this length.

It has an upright rim with internal bevel. The upper zone is bordered by contiguous rows of impressed triangular devices, and the body is decorated with two horizontal rows of cord impressions. In two instances, the impressions are vertical rows of cord impressions. A similar

Fig. 3.148— Ceramic vessel, Lehinch, Co. Offaly.

ornamental scheme occurs on the central zone, except that here there are three horizontal rows of cord impressions. The lower zone is bordered above by a row of impressed triangular devices and is divided into four fields by a series of three horizontal lines. All bear cord impressions, which are diagonally disposed (in different directions) in the upper two and the lowermost fields and vertically disposed in the remaining field. The base is flat and undecorated. The ware is coarse with a black core and light brown surface except at the rim, where it is black in places. Dimensions: H 9.2cm; D rim 13cm; est. D base 7.5cm; avg. T body 0.8cm.


A sample of the human remains from grave 6 was submitted for AMS dating and yielded a date of 3360±45 BP, which calibrates to 1740–1520 BC at 95.4% probability.268 Brindley (2007, 174–5) places this vessel in stage 3 of the development of bowl typology. This phase is dated to 1980–1930/20 BC.


The cremated remains (1979:30) from grave 6 comprised 3,411 fragments of bone with a total weight of 1,360g. The weight of a full adult cremation can vary from 1,600g to 3,600g (McKinley 1989). The bone was a creamy brown colour and was warped, with numerous horizontal fissures in the surface. The colour may be due to soil conditions, but the bone appeared to have been efficiently cremated.

Table 3.75—Fragmentation of bone, grave 6.


The size and fragmentation of the bone are shown in Table 3.75. It can be seen that although there was a small proportion of fragments less than 5mm in length, there was an even lower proportion of larger fragments more than 40mm in length. Over half the fragments are of moderate size, 10–25mm, suggesting that, although the bone was not deliberately crushed, there was little attempt to keep the bones intact when they were being collected from the pyre and deposited in the cist.Even though the bones were moderately fragmented it was still possible to identify 703g (47%) of the sample. This is similar to what would be expected from a Bronze Age cremation of this nature, although when there is very little breakup of the bones with a high proportion of large fragments the percentage of identified bone can be as high as 84% (Buckley 1997; 1998). The quantities of the various bones identified are shown in Table 3.76.

Table 3.76—Proportion of identified bone, grave 6.

Identified bone

The percentages of bone present from the separate areas of the skeleton are not normally equal, since the type and amount of bone varies in each part. A normal skeleton would consist of approximately 18.2% skull, 23.1% axial, 20.6% upper limb and 38.1% lower limb (McKinley 1989).

In this skeleton the proportion of skull recovered was 23%, which is slightly higher than that expected but not enough to suggest that more than one individual was present. The skull is the most easily identifiable bone and if more than one individual is present then the proportion of recovered skull can be considerably higher than expected. The proportion of axial skeleton at 19.5% was slightly lower than normally expected but the decrease was only 3.6%, which is not highly significant. Since the proportion of skull was higher than expected, this has the effect of decreasing the proportions of the other skeletal elements slightly. In addition, the vertebrae are very fragile, especially when burnt, and are not always fully recovered from the pyre.

The proportion of upper limb was higher than expected and this seems to be at the expense of the lower limbs, as their proportion was much lower than would be normally expected from an adult cremation. The long bones of the legs are relatively easy to identify and therefore the results in this case may indicate that they were not collected efficiently from the funeral pyre. It is possible that the upper half of the skeleton was collected preferentially over the lower half.

Description of skeletal elements


Several large fragments of squamous frontal bone were present; a fragment of the left orbit and most of the right orbit were also present. There were large fragments of parietal bone, some of which had the sagittal suture present; other fragments were from the posterior part near the lambdoid suture. The left temporal bone was present and the lambdoid and squamous sutures were visible. There was also a fragment with the mandibular fossa and anterior suture from the same bone. Fragments of the squamous occipital include the external occipital protuberance.

The supraorbital ridges and the external occipital protuberance indicated that this was a male individual.


Part of the left ramus, part of a mandibular condyle and the right side of the body of the mandible were present. There were also fragments from both sides of the maxilla. The following tooth sockets were observed:

The roots of an upper first molar, 16, and an upper third molar, 18, were present, and there were also four lower molar roots, three premolar roots, two incisor roots and three fragments of tooth crowns.


The fragments of vertebrae consisted mainly of individual articular surfaces, including the articular surface for the dens on the first cervical vertebra. There was also a dens present and articular surfaces from thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. The right side of the second cervical vertebral body was present and there were only a few fragments of thoracic, lumbar and sacral vertebral bodies. There was moderate lipping around the articular surface for the dens on the first cervical vertebra.


These consisted mainly of small fragments of shaft, including one from the first rib.


There were small fragments of ilium and a left and right ischium


There was an almost complete shaft from a left clavicle and a fragment of one other shaft.


There were large fragments of shaft and one fragment of a humerus head. Most of the fragments were of the proximal and mid-shaft areas, but some were from the distal end of the shaft.


Fragments from the mid-shaft area and the proximal end of the shaft were present.


Most of the fragments were from the proximal and distal halves of the shaft but there was also part of a proximal joint surface from a left ulna.

Hand bones

The right and left lunate, a partial scaphoid, partial capitate, partial triquetral and a trapezium remained from the carpal bones. There were fragments of five metacarpal shafts, two of which had the distal joint end present. Approximately eight proximal phalanges, seven middle and four distal hand phalanges remained.


Most of the fragments were from the shaft. One fragment had a prominent lesser trochanter present and another had a well-defined linea aspera. There was one fragment of head and one fragment of a distal joint surface.


Three fragments from at least two patellae were present.


All the fragments were from the shaft, apart from one fragment of distal joint surface and one fragment of proximal joint surface.


All the fragments were from the shaft.

Foot bones

Only one navicular remained from the tarsal bones. The shaft of a first metatarsal and seven other metatarsal shafts, including a fifth, were present. The heads of five metatarsals were also present. The base of a first proximal phalanx, five other proximal phalanges, two middle phalanges and one distal phalanx were identified.

Summary and conclusions

The cremated remains from this grave represent one efficiently cremated individual. There does not seem to have been a deliberate attempt to crush the cremation after removal from the pyre but there was not a great quantity of very large fragments either, suggesting that the remains were not treated as carefully as they could have been. Most skeletal elements were recovered, although there was a slightly higher proportion of skull and a lower proportion of lower limbs than would be expected in a normal cremation. The remains represent one adult male individual. Although the age cannot be determined exactly, the presence of degenerative joint disease in the cervical spine suggests that he was certainly not young and may in fact have been an older individual.

264. Unfortunately, the human remains associated with the bowl were not separated from the others discovered during the bulldozing operations. This collection of bone has been registered as 1979:24. See Vol. 2, pp 139–66. Radiocarbon dating of samples from all individuals might provide clarification but was not undertaken as part of this project.
265. No associated finds were noted, and in this case the skeleton was not retained. The skeleton was an east–west inhumation with the head to the west, probably a young adult male. The remains were reinterred locally. The location was not recorded but it was in a silage pit cutting on the Connor farm.
266. Parish of Kilbride, barony of Kilcoursey. SMR OF008-012——. IGR 22879 232870.
267. SMR OF008-021——.
268. GrA-24193.