- Ballyman, Co. Dublin, Dublin

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Dublin Site name: Ballyman, Co. Dublin

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR DU026-113 Licence number: E1056


Site type: Early Bronze Age graves

ITM: E 723515m, N 718828m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.205511, -6.151051

In September 1979 a pit containing two inverted urns, each covering a cremation, was discovered at Ballyman, Co. Dublin. The pit was exposed when an avenue to a new house was being cut, but the urns were not discovered in the section until five years later, when they were noticed by two officials from An Foras TalĂșntais. The site was reported to the NMI by Leo Swan, who had collected some of the cremated bone and urn sherds. A rescue excavation was carried out on 19 September 1979 by Mary Cahill. The human remains from the site were analysed by Barra Ó DonnabhĂĄin.

Location(Fig. 3.52)
The site was in the townland of Ballyman, south-east Co. Dublin, close to the County Wicklow border.71 It was located south of Carrickgollogan hill at an altitude of. 60–90m above sea level. No sites of similar date are known from the immediate vicinity.

Description of site
Grave 1
The burial was contained within an inverted cordoned urn (1979:83; Fig. 3.53). The area hadbeen completely disturbed and was exposed for five years prior to excavation, and it appears that the pit had already been scarped out of the section. A number of stones were visible in

Fig. 3.52—Locationmap, Ballyman, Co.Dublin.

section immediately above the urn bases, which may have been placed here in order to protect the burials. The inverted urn contained the cremated remains of a young adult (1979:85).

Grave 2
This was located at the base of the exposed section, to the left of the cordoned urn (Fig. 3.53). No grave structure or pit outline was noted around the inverted undecorated urn (1979:84), apart from a number of small stones that appear to have been placed over the urns.72
The inverted urn contained the cremated remains of two individuals, an adult and a juvenile(1979:86).

Fig. 3.53—Sectionshowing graves,Ballyman, Co. Dublin.

Cordoned urn 1979:83, grave 1(Fig. 3.54)
Twenty-eight sherds survive and were used to reconstruct a portion of the vessel. The reconstruction suggests that it was a bucket-shaped, flat-based vessel, undecorated except for four horizontal rows of impressed lines just under the rim. The body arrows slightly towards the base. Large grits are visible in the fabric. The vessel appears to have been poorly fired.
Dimensions: max. ext. D rim 22cm; avg. T of rim sherds 2cm; avg. T of body sherds 1cm. It was not possible to estimate the height or the diameter of the base.

Undecorated urn 1979:84, grave 2(Fig. 3.54)
This is an undecorated vessel in very fragmentary condition. Eleven sherds survive, all of them from the rim, and were used to reconstruct a portion of the vessel. The fabric is similar to that of 1979:83, with large grits. The profile is slightly rounded and narrows towards the base.
Dimensions: ext. D rim 25.5cm; avg. T of sherds 1cm. It was not possible to estimate other dimensions.

Fig. 3.54—Ceramicvessels,Ballyman, Co.Dublin.

A combined charcoal sample from both burials was dated first, producing a date of 3370±50 BP.73 Cremated bone samples from both burials were subsequently radiocarbon-dated.Cremated bone from the cordoned urn yielded a date of 3350±30 BP, which calibrates to 1736–1531 BC at 95% probability. Bone from the undecorated urn was dated to 3320±30 BP,74 which calibrates to 1684–1523 BC75 at 95% probability. Brindley (2007, 146) places the decorated vessel within the cordoned urn series. No cordons are visible on the surviving portion of the vessel, but the simple decorative scheme confined to a zone immediately below the rim is suggestive of cordoned urns. Undecorated collared and cordoned urns also occur, but the trend towards plain, bucket-shaped vessels was also beginning to emerge during this period, and the vessels from Ballyman may represent a phase in the evolution of ceramic styles which become more evident in the middle and late Bronze Age (Grogan 2004, 64).
Although there was no clear stratigraphy at the site owing to its long exposure, it seems most likely, given that they were located side by side, that both vessels with their contents were buried in a single episode of deposition. Certainly, it was not possible to distinguish the outline of a pit or pits at the site..


Three samples of cremated bone were examined—one each from the two urns found at the site, while the third was collected from the disturbed soil around the vessels at the base of the cutting. The pit/pits containing the urns were truncated during road-widening but the burials lay undiscovered for some time after this event. It seems most likely that the disturbed bone represents material scattered from one or both urns during this time.

Cremation from the cordoned urn 1979:85
The sample from this vessel contained just 393.3g (606 fragments) of burnt bone. The largest fragment has a maximum length of 73.5mm but the majority were less than 20mm long. This suggests the deliberate crushing of the remains as part of the cremation process.
The remains have been efficiently incinerated and appear to belong to one individual. Table 3.23 lists the different bones and body parts that were identified, along with the weights and percentages of the identified fragments. This shows that over 95% of the identified fragments come from the cranium or the long bones, suggesting, perhaps, a retrieval bias that favoured those parts of the body.
The shape of the nuchal crest suggests that this was probably a male, while the convolutions of the cranial sutures indicate that this person may have been a younger adult at the time of death, although it must be remembered that there is considerable variability in the rate at which the sutures close and fuse. No pathological conditions or skeletal anomalies were observed.

Undecorated urn 1979:86
The remains collected from this vessel consist of just 85.5g (about 300 fragments) of mostly very small fragments of well-burnt bone. Despite the small size and highly comminuted nature of the sample, it is possible to determine that it contains the remains of at least two individuals—an adult of unknown age and sex and a juvenile. The remains in the vessel are unusual in that the fragments are very small. The maximum length of the largest piece of bone is just 35.3mm.

Table 3.23—Weights and percentages of identified bone fragments from the cordoned urn 1979:85.

Of the 300 or so fragments in the deposit, only 75 were identifiable. Sixty-four of these came from an adult skeleton. Table 3.24 gives the points of origin of these fragments, their weights and their percentage of the identified total.

Dentition: as with the deposit in the cordoned urn, only one tooth fragment was discovered in the remains. This was the root of a lower molar, probably a third. There was also a fragment of the posterior portion of the mandible, which contained the socket of a molar.
Age and sex: the occurrence of the root of what is probably a third molar indicates that this is the skeleton of an adult. This is confirmed by the general size and thickness of the bone fragments. Unfortunately, a more precise age estimate is not possible owing to the small size and comminuted nature of the sample.
No pathological changes or anomalies were noted in the adult remains from the undecorated urn.

Table 3.24—Weights and percentages of identified adult bone from the undecorated urn 1979:86.

Eleven fragments of a juvenile skeleton were identified. These were the petrous portion of the left temporal, an unidentified long bone fragment and nine pieces of cranium. The general size of the fragments is the only criterion available on which to base an age estimate. Recognising the limitations of this, an age at death of less than one year seems most likely.

Cremated bone from spoil
This consists of 245.1g—413 fragments—of bone. The fragments are well burnt, as are the samples from both urns. In terms of fragment size, this sample of the disturbed remains is similar to the deposit in urn 1. Table 3.25 lists the bone fragments that were identified, along
with their weights and percentages of the total
This collection of disturbed bone fragments contains the remains of only one individual, an adult. The observable sutures suggest that this was a younger adult. The rugosity of some of the muscle attachments is suggestive of a male.

The cordoned urn contained a younger adult who was probably a male. The undecorated urn contained an infant and an adult of unknown age and sex. The fragments collected from the spoil are very similar to those from the cordoned urn. The deposits from both urns were efficiently cremated. It is unlikely that the entire original deposit was recovered from either urn. It is therefore difficult to comment on the efficiency of the bone retrieval process. There is a paucity of smaller skeletal elements—phalanges, teeth, carpals, tarsals—in each of the three samples. The deposits from the cordoned urn and from the disturbed area of the site both contain portions of all of the major bones of the body. The absence of the smaller bones may be the result of modern interference rather than a reflection of an inefficient retrieval procedure in antiquity. Each of the samples appears to have been crushed after the retrieval of the bone fragments. This is much more marked in the deposit from the undecorated urn.

Table 3.25—Weights and percentages of identified bone recovered from disturbed soil.
The deliberate crushing of bones is not unusual in early Bronze Age cremations, although in this case it must be remembered that the urns and their contents were disturbed and cut by heavy machinery, then exposed to the elements for some time. This recent activity may have
some bearing on fragment size.

71. Parish of Old Connaught, barony of Rathdown. SMR DU026-113——. IGR 323591 218798.
72. As in the case of urn 1, the grave had been exposed for approximately five years.
73. GrA-10635.
74. GrA-14291.
75. GrA-14292.