- Ballynultagh, Co. Wicklow, Wicklow

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Wicklow Site name: Ballynultagh, Co. Wicklow

Sites and Monuments Record No.: WI010- 017 Licence number:


Site type: Graves ofindeterminate date

ITM: E 704958m, N 710521m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.134877, -6.431440

This site was reported to the National Museum by Paddy Healy in 1979. Some fragments of prehistoric pottery, worked flint and cremated human bone were discovered when a mound was destroyed during the construction of a forest road at Ballynultagh,307 Co. Wicklow. According to Healy’s account, the forest road cut through the site of the cairn, which had been removed to subsoil level. A small segment of the edge of the cairn was still extant at the time of Healy’s visit and measured 6m long by 0.75m high. Some pottery (1979:137), flint and burnt bone were collected by Healy and brought to the National Museum.

Human remains
This sample consisted of 197 fragments of cremated bone, weighing a total of 79g. Obviously, owing to the nature of the find, this is only a sample from a full cremation and does not come close to the 1,600–3,600g expected from a full adult cremation (McKinley 1989). The bones were covered in soil but the underlying colour of the bone fragments was mainly white with a chalky texture indicating efficient cremation, although one or two fragments had a slight grey/blue tinge. Some of the fragments were quite large and had numerous cracks and horizontal fissures on their surface.

Table 7.1—Fragmentation of bone.

Fragmentation: the fragmentation is presented in Table 7.1, with the largest fragment being 55mm in length. Since this was not a full cremation and the sample was merely collected from the surface, it is not possible to assess the fragmentation of the entire cremation. Most of the fragments collected are large and there are only a small proportion of small fragments. This is to be expected, since larger pieces would have been easier to identify and collect from the spoil. In fact, the low proportion of very small pieces probably reflects the degree of fragmentation that occurred after the bones were collected. Some of the fragments were quite large, however, and the largest fragment represents the distal third of an ulna. Therefore it is probably safe to assume that the cremation would originally have contained a significant number of large, uncrushed fragments.

Identifiable bone: a total of 40g (51% of the total bone) was identified. Considering the small sample size, this is a good proportion of identifiable bone and probably is another indicator that the bones were not originally highly crushed.

Table 7.2—Summary of identified bone.

In a small sample the addition of one identified fragment to any of the bones could make a significant difference to the proportion of that bone identified. Therefore it would not be expected that the various parts of the skeleton would be found in their correct proportions or that any significant conclusions could be drawn about the identified bone. All that can be said in this case is that there was a higher proportion of skull than any other area of the body and that there was a low proportion of axial skeleton. This is not surprising, as the axial skeleton is usually underrepresented even in a full cremation.

Skull: the left and right orbits from a frontal bone were present and the orbital rim was of the male type. Other fragments of parietal bone with some of the sutures visible were present. The sutures did not appear to be fused.

Tibia: fragments of shaft were present, some with the anterior border and one fragment with the nutrient foramen on the posterior surface visible.

Fibula: fragments of shaft. Patella: one fragment only.

Humerus: one small fragment of shaft and one fragment of the proximal joint surface were present.

Radius: fragments of the distal and mid-shaft area of one radius.

Ulna: a large fragment, the largest in the sample, was from the distal third of an ulna shaft. There were also other fragments from the mid- and proximal shaft areas.

Pelvis: fragments of ilium only.

Vertebrae: some very decayed fragments of neural arches only.

Ribs: small fragments of rib shafts were present.

Metacarpals and phalanges: one unidentified metacarpal shaft, a fragment of one other and one phalanx were present.

Minimum number of individuals: since there was no repetition of skeletal elements, the number of individuals present is one. From the size of the bone it seems to be an adult individual. The only feature present that would enable sex to be estimated was the left orbital rim, which was of the male type. The sutures of the skull did not appear to be well fused so it may have been a young individual.

Summary and conclusions: this represents the cremation of one, possibly male, young adult individual. The remains are only a sample from the original cremation deposit, which had been thoroughly destroyed. Nevertheless there are a variety of bones and some large fragments, so it is likely that the remains had been carefully collected from the funeral pyre and were not deliberately crushed.

307. Parish of Boystown, barony of Lower Talbotstown. The SMR marks the site as a redundant record WI010- 017——. IGR 305030 210490.