Skeleton On Irish Riverbank Points To Long Lost Medieval Cemetery
In Ireland, two people out for a walk made a disturbing discovery. They found the skeletal remains of a human on the bank of a river. It is believed that the skeleton comes from a long-lost medieval burial site. This chance discovery could be of huge archaeological significance.
The find was made by two people enjoying an evening stroll on April 6th. They saw the bones while walking along a path by the River Ward, in the town of Swords, north of Dublin. The Irish Post reports that the pair ‘noticed what appeared to be a skull and a rib cage protruding from the earth at the banks of the popular walking spot.’ The alarmed duo alerted the local police, the Gardaí, about the bones.
The Police Investigation
The Gardaí told Dublin Live that “The area has been sealed off and an anthropologist has been requested to carry out an examination of the remains and burial site.” They made enquires with local people. There were initial fears that the skeleton was of a person who died violently or had drowned in the river at some unknown date.
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After a preliminary investigation, the forensic anthropologist found that the bones were at least several centuries old. The Irish Post quoted the local police as saying, “that due to the age of the remains, the discovery is no longer a Garda matter and the National Museum of Ireland will be notified.” This meant the bones were transferred to the care of archaeologists. Under Irish law, all human remains that are centuries old are regarded as archaeological artifacts.
Upon discovering the skeleton was centuries old, the matter was turned over to the National Museum of Ireland. (Mike Peel/CC BY SA 4.0)
Signs of a Long-lost Medieval Cemetery?
Experts from the National Museum will now examine the bones and survey the site. Based on an examination of the bones and their location, it is believed that they came from a medieval burial ground. The Irish Times reports that ‘An ancient burial site dating from around the 15th century has been discovered’.
Swords is a historic town and it is believed to have been established by a famous Irish saint in the 6th century AD. It was a major monastic center until the Vikings raided the site. All that remains of the monastery is its tower, which is in a local churchyard and is a national monument.
The round tower and a former 14th century abbey church tower in Swords, Co. Dublin, Ireland. (Peter Gerken/CC BY SA 2.0)
After they invaded Ireland in the 12th century, the Anglo-Normans built a large castle in the area and this can still be seen in the center of Swords town, where it is currently undergoing restoration. The area was densely populated in the Middle Ages because of its rich agricultural land. It was part of the English-governed area in Ireland known as ‘The Pale’ in the 14th century. The newly discovered burial ground most likely dates to that period.
It is entirely possible that there may yet be many more human remains and possibly artifacts to be found in the area. Typically, Christian cemeteries are on consecrated ground and the discovery of the skeleton may also suggest the presence of an ecclesiastical site in the locality. The discovery could provide new insights into the history of the English colony in Ireland in the Middle Ages, at a time when it was under constant attacks from native Irish clans.
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Dutch Water Color Painting ‘Irish as they stand accoutred being at the service of the late King Henry’ (circa 1575). (Public Domain)
An osteoarchaeologist will examine the remains where they were found. Details of the skeletal remains will be recorded and they will be photographed before they are moved. The bones will undergo cleaning and some conservation and will be held in the National Museum of Ireland, as required by Irish law. Further excavations of the burial grounds will take place, at some date, but may be delayed because of the current coronavirus pandemic.
Top image: The human remains on the riverbank may be part of a medieval cemetery. Representative image. Source: milkovasa /Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan