NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Mayo Site name: BALLYKINE UPPER, CO. MAYO

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR MA120-078001 (cairn), MA120-078002- (cist)SMR MA120-035 Licence number:


Site type: Early Bronze Age graves

ITM: E 511192m, N 755725m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.543942, -9.339958

In February 1996 a short cist containing an inhumation, a cremation and a portion of a vase was discovered in a cairn of stone near Cong, close to the Mayo/Galway border. The cist was discovered by a local man, Mr Mick O’Sullivan, who was visiting another site in the area when he noticed that the cairn had been tampered with and a lintel (the capstone) was protruding from it. He returned to the site with a torch and was able to get his head and shoulders into the cist, and removed some sherds of a vase and burnt and unburnt bone. Mr O’Sullivan delivered these finds on 22 February to Paul Gosling in University College Galway, who reported the discovery to the National Museum. As the cist was not examined by National Museum personnel, this report is based on Gosling’s account of the find. The human remains were examined by Laureen Buckley.

Fig. 3.114—Location map, Ballykine Upper, Co. Mayo.

Location (Fig. 3.114)
The site was in the townland of Ballykine Upper, south Co. Mayo.206 It was situated in forested land at an altitude of 30–40m above sea level, approximately 2km east of Clonbur village and 1.5km south of the shore of Lough Mask. Immediately to the south-south-west was an enclosure marked on the Mayo SMR.207

Description of site
Unfortunately, details of the grave structure are scarce. The cist was located within a cairn of stone which had, according to Mr O’Sullivan, been tampered with some time ago. He suspected that this was done to obtain stone for roadworks, as the county road runs by approximately 50m to the north. The grave contained both burnt and unburnt bones (1996:230–1), accompanied by five sherds of a vase. Animal bones, possibly those of a rabbit, were also found in the cist, along with two hazelnut shells.208 No details are recorded regarding the disposition of the human remains or the vessel within the cist. The sherds of the vessel were identified by John Waddell as of vase type.

Fig. 3.115—Ceramic vessel fragments, Ballykine Upper, Co. Mayo.

Vase, 1996:232 (Fig. 3.115)
Only five sherds of pottery, two rim sherds and three body sherds, survive. The rim sherds are internally bevelled and decorated with three rows of short strokes forming a running zigzag across the width of the bevel. The only substantial body sherd has a single pattern of interlocking zigzags. This is a pattern seen on some bipartite vases, where a continuous repeated pattern formed by a single motif is used (Ó Ríordáin and Waddell 1993, 29), and similar to Brindley’s (2007, 185) stage 1 vessels dated to 2020/1990–1920 cal. BC.

The grave type, burial rite and grave contents are typical of those known from the early Bronze Age in Ireland.


This consisted of bones recovered from a cist burial. The skeletal remains recovered consisted of both cremated and non-cremated bone.

Inhumation 1996:230
The majority of the bones were from an inhumation and were in a relatively good state of preservation. There were a number of vertebrae present, including an atlas, two lower cervical vertebrae and four upper thoracic vertebrae. At least four ribs from the left and nine from the right were present, although there were also a number of other rib fragments. The right scapula was present and was virtually complete. There were no other arm bones remaining. The epiphysis at the proximal and distal ends of a left tibia were present, and there were also the remains of a talus and a metatarsal.

The remains were all from one juvenile individual, as all the observable epiphyses were unfused. The arches appeared to be just fused to the bodies of the vertebrae, so the juvenile was probably at least eight years old at the time of death but probably less than sixteen years.

Cremation 1996:231
The cremated bone consisted of eighteen fragments weighing a total of 34g. The fragments were relatively large, the majority being over 25mm in length. The largest fragment measured 47mm. The bones all appeared to be adult bone, although the sample clearly did not represent a full cremation. Identifiable fragments included four skull fragments, a fragment of humerus, two fragments of scapula and a fragment of acetabulum. The remaining fragments were mostly from unidentified long bones. As there is no duplication of skeletal elements, the minimum number of individuals present is one adult.

206. Parish of Cong, barony of Kilmaine. SMR MA120-078001 (cairn), MA120-078002- (cist). IGR 111623 256056.
207. SMR MA120-035—-.
208. These were not retained.