NMI Burial Excavation Records


Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR LI029-031 Licence number: E1108


Site type: Graves of indeterminate date

ITM: E 536522m, N 641561m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.521717, -8.935371

In December 1992, during pipe-laying for a sewerage scheme, mechanical excavations uncovered human remains in Rathkeale, Co. Limerick, in the main street of the village opposite the abbey. The bones and associated soil were lying on the footpath in a very disturbed condition at the time of inspection. The site was reported to the NMI and an

Fig. 6.29—Locationmap, Abbeylands,Rathkeale, Co.Limerick.

investigation was carried out on its behalf by Celie O’Rahilly, archaeologist with Limerick Corporation. The human remains were examined by Barra Ó Donnabháin.

Location (Fig. 6.29)
The site was in the townland of Abbeylands, in the town of Rathkeale, Co. Limerick.48 It lay in the main street of the town, Boherboy, close to the grounds of the abbey in the town, at an altitude of 40–50m above sea level.

Site stratigraphy
The cut for the pipe measured 0.7m east/west by 1.2m north/south by 0.55m deep. The gravepit was 0.63m long from the south side to the edge of the footpath, and the remaining portion continued underneath the road.

Description of site
The grave-cut was visible in the eastern section of the pit. It was cut into very hard, dark orange natural clay. At the base of this cut, which was backfilled with a darker, more mixed soil, was a layer of soft brown soil. In situ human remains were also visible at the base of the cut, just above the bedrock. The grave had contained an articulated skeleton (2007:21), apparently aligned west/east, with the skull to the west.

The remains represented an adult female, aged 25–35 years at the time of death. No associated artefacts were found in the grave. The in situ bones in the east section of the cut may be the lower half of the body. No further details were available as to the disposition of the burial. In the absence of associated finds or other dating evidence this burial must be regarded as undated.


The remains consist of the upper half of the skeleton of one adult individual. The bones are reasonably well preserved but are in a very fragmentary state. The right clavicle was the only bone recovered intact. None of the bones of the thighs, legs or feet are present.

Age and sex
This individual was an adult female. The absence of age-related degenerative changes in the skeleton suggests that this may have been a younger adult.

Portions of the mandible and some loose teeth were recovered. These indicate that the following teeth were present in occlusion at the time of death:

The remaining tooth positions are not available for inspection. All of the teeth recovered have moderate calculus deposits and all have a moderate degree of attrition. One tooth has a caries cavity: this is on the mesial cervical margin of the upper left first molar.

Some time during her life, this woman had suffered a dislocation (luxation) of her shoulder. The humerus had dislocated anteriorly and the continued use of the arm after dislocation had resulted in the formation of a secondary joint (pseudoarthrosis) on the anterior surface of the scapula. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the lateral side of the scapula had been recovered and the surface of the glenoid had been broken off. This piece was not recovered, nor was the proximal end of the left humerus.
This appears to be the first example of luxation and pseudoarthrosis in a shoulder joint reported from Ireland, although such dislocations have been reported from other countries (Ortner and Putschar 1985; Wells 1982). Shoulder dislocation usually involves anterior luxation (Ortner and Putschar 1985), as occurred in this case. Dislocation of the shoulder and hip tend to have a high visibility in archaeologically retrieved skeletal material. This is because of the high incidence of this injury in these two particular joints and the difficulty in reducing the luxation, which makes chronic dislocation more likely. The latter is necessary to produce new, reactive bone, which indicates that the luxation occurred. This is what happened in this case and new bone growth can clearly be seen where the displaced humerus resulted in the formation of the secondary joint surface. This pseudoarthrosis is made up of porous new bone that is supported by a rampart of denser bone at its margins. The central area of the porous contact surface is eburnated. This is the result of arthritic degenerative changes in the bones of the false joint. Mild arthritic changes are also to be seen in the left elbow joint of this individual. These are also probably the sequelae of the dislocation. A dislocated shoulder is a relatively common mishap and can result from various kinds of accidental fall. It can also result from an act of deliberate interpersonal violence in which the arm is twisted, usually behind the victim’s back. It is not possible to determine the cause of the lesion in this case. Whatever the cause, the result must have been very severe limitation of the mobility of the left shoulder, coupled with a dramatic reduction in power and functional ability. The development of degenerative changes would have exacerbated these problems and produced chronic pain.

48. Parish of Rathkeale, barony of Connello Lower. SMR LI029-031——. IGR 136558 141514.