NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Mayo Site name: CARROWSTEELAGH, CO. MAYO

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR MA008-010SMR MA008-02 Licence number: E1120


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

ITM: E 520113m, N 837499m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.280037, -9.226744

In June 1990 a mound containing two lintel graves was discovered near Ballycastle, Co. Mayo. The site consisted of a low elongated mound, approximately 15m high on the eastern side. The cists were discovered during a FÁS project, which was engaged in constructing a new road through the mound. The site was reported to the NMI by Mr Paddy Lavin, director of the

Fig. 4.34—Location map, Carrowsteelagh, Co. Mayo.

project. A rescue excavation was undertaken by Mary Cahill. The human remains were not examined as the total remains from the site consist of just one femur. In July of the following year further excavation of the mound was undertaken by Gerry Walsh in advance of the construction of a roadway through the mound.

Location (Fig. 4.34)
The site was in the townland of Carrowsteelagh, north Co. Mayo.76 The mound was on the eastern side of Lackan Bay, approximately 4km east of Ballycastle town. The mound is aligned in an east/west direction perpendicular to the cliff edge at an altitude of 0–10m above sea level. The area around Lackan Bay is rich in archaeological remains; human remains are frequently discovered at Beltra, Castletown77 (this volume, pp 375–83), while a midden and house site are recorded at Carrowsteelagh.

Description of site (Pl. 79)
Grave 1
The cist was trapezoidal in plan with its long axis running east/west. Internally it measured 1.62m long by 0.48m wide by 0.4m high (Fig. 4.35). It was formed of thin slabs set on edge, two at the north site and three at the south. The northern side was composed of one exceptionally long and thin slab, measuring 1.41m long by 0.05m thick, and a shorter one, which was set at an angle to it (0.3m long by 0.08m thick), so that the east end of the cist was tapered. The extant southern side slabs were approximately equal in length, but that at the centre had slipped and lay in a horizontal position. If this had been upright it would have overlapped with the two other side slabs, but as it would have been shorter than these, a small

Fig. 4.35—Plans and sections of graves, Carrowsteelagh, Co. Mayo.

filler stone had been placed between these side slabs, close to the top. The side slabs here were thicker than those on the north, with a maximum thickness of 0.13m. The western end of the cist was closed with a single slab, 0.47m long by 0.03m thick, and the opposite end was closed with one slab measuring 0.38m long by 0.03m thick, supported by two smaller slabs (Fig. 4.35). The cist had been covered by lintels, six of which were found in a disturbed state (Pl. 79). The floor of the grave was not paved but was formed of hard compact sand. It was not possible to trace the outline of the pit dug to receive the cist.
No human remains or associated artefacts were found in the cist. This may be due to the nature of the local environment, as only a single femur was found in grave 2.

Grave 2
This was some 0.85m north-west of grave 1 and its base was 1.02m below the top of the mound (Fig. 4.35). This grave was also rectangular in plan, with its long axis aligned east/west. Internally it measured 1.83m long by 0.48m wide by 0.3m high. It too was constructed of long, thin slabs set on edge, some of which leaned slightly outwards from the base. Four slabs had been placed on the south side and three on the north, a number of which had slipped out of place and lay on the floor of the cist. The longest on the south side measured 0.86m by 0.04m, while the longest on the opposite side measured 1.26m by 0.03m. The side slabs at the north overlapped at the centre. The ends of the cist were not closed by slabs, as was the case in grave 1. Three capstones that had fallen out of place were found at the eastern end of the cist. The floor of the cist was partially paved with three slabs, which were placed towards the western end of the cist, the largest of which measured 0.36m by 0.25m. In this case it was possible to see that the pit had been lined with clay.
The cist contained a single femur (1990:54) and no accompanying artefacts were found. The femur was positioned towards the centre of the cist on a paving slab. As the proximal end of the femur was placed towards the west, if this was an extended skeleton the head would have been to the west. The size of the femur indicated that this was an adult, possibly male.

A sample of the femur was submitted for radiocarbon dating and yielded a result of 1435±45 BP, which calibrates to 545–664.78 Paving is considered to be unusual in early medieval lintel graves, and Elizabeth O’Brien (2003, 66–7) associates it with slab-lined cists dating from the fifth century. The evidence at Carrowsteelagh shows that variation existed in cist types from the early medieval period. Paving is also seen in the unusual cist at Moig, Co. Limerick (this volume, pp 100–2).


Grave 1
No human remains present.

Grave 2 (1990:54)
The grave contents consisted mainly of one femur. From the position of the femur the excavator was able to deduce that the burial would have been an extended west/east burial.
Examination of the bone identified it as a right femur. It was in a very decayed state, especially the proximal end, where the entire articular surface had decayed away, and there was a large amount of erosion on the neck also. The distal end of the bone was present but fragmented. The bone felt robust, however, and had a well-developed linea aspera.
There was also another sliver of long bone present; this may be part of the posterior surface of a tibia, but the decay on the surface of the bone meant that identification was uncertain.

Summary and conclusions
As there was no bone in the first cist and only one long bone and part of another in the second cist, it is likely that the soil acidity was responsible for the poor preservation. Prior disturbance of a grave can also account for poor preservation of the bone but there were no indications that these cists had been disturbed in the past.
The length of the grave and the fused proximal epiphysis of the femur indicate that this was an adult burial. The well-developed linea aspera may mean that it was the burial of an adult male, but no other morphological features of the skeleton remained that could be used to definitely assign sex. It can only be stated that this was the grave of an adult, possibly male, Individual.

76. Parish of Kilcummin, barony of Tirawley. SMR MA008-010——. IGR 120144 337494.
77. SMR MA008-02——.
78. GrA-24499.