CIST BURIAL at Ardra, Castlecomer Co. Kilkenny

    The discovery of human bones in a stone-lined grave or cist  was reported by Supt. Vincent Duffy of Kilkenny Garda Station on  12th May. The discovery was made earlier in the day by Telecom Eireann employees in the course of digging a trench to lay cable pipes.

The covering stone was lifted and the landowner had removed some of the long bones. These had been retrieved by Garda Paul Flannery of Castlecomer Garda station.    The grave was examined and excavated by the National Museum of Ireland on 13th and 14th May. The cist was uncovered in the town land of Ardra on the northern side of a low rise on the western side of the river Dinin. It lies at a height of c 425’ about 1.5 miles north of Castlecomer on the Clogh road and immediately opposite the disused Deerpark Colliery.

The discovery had been made by Mr. Richard Nolan, Conahy, Co. Kilkenny, a contractor employed by Telecom to dig the pipe trench. Mr. P.J. Gardner, 15 Barrow mount Drive, Goresbridge and Mr. Jim o’Beirne, 24 Kells Road, Kilkenny, both Telecom employees assisted him. The landowner is Mr. Pat Boran, Moyhora, Castlecomer,  Co. Kilkenny.    The trench had been dug parallel to the long axis of the  cist (north-east/ south-west). The covering stone was replaced  and removed on my arrival revealing a cist slightly trapezoidal  in plan, wider at the east end. It consisted of four principal  side-stones set on edge, leaning inwards. On all sides a series  of flagstones of varying sizes were placed in a horizontal  position over the tops of the side- and end slabs, their long  axes in many cases lying parallel to the latter. These were  present on the east, west and south sides but were missing on the  north, damaged, side of the cist. Several displaced slabs were  visible in the surrounding spoil and may well have come from this  side of the cist.

 The covering stone - a large triangular shaped  slab - lay directly on these. The cist itself measured one metre  in length and half a metre in width at the base. The long bones  removed by the landowner were, according to Mr. Nolan, lying  parallel to one another close to the north long side. The jaw  bone had been removed and replaced but lay originally in the  centre of the cist. Portions of human long bones were visible in  various parts of the cist.

 Excavation soon revealed that the bone  was in a poor state of preservation and that the burial was  placed in a disarticulated position, that is, the bones were  collected from another location and placed in the grave.  Fragments of a crushed skull were found in the centre of the eastern end of the cist. Because of the damp soil conditions,  only the larger bones survived in good condition. Some loose  teeth, part of a rib bone, one patella (knee -cap) and some other  fragmentary bones were also recovered. There was no trace of a  vessel or other accompanying objects.

The floor of the cist consisted of a very fine light grey sandy gravel and the bones lay directly on this.    Having planned and photographed the cist the capstone was replaced and it was agreed that the grave be covered in and that the cable could be run over it. Although the burial did not contain any grave goods it can be dated with some certainty to the Early Bronze Age (2000 to  1400 B.c.). Short slab-lined graves of this type, usually covered  by a single large slab, known as cist graves are typical of the  period. Sometimes they are found on their own but more often they  occur as small cemeteries, sometimes under a small mound. In many  cases the human bones - which may be burnt or unburnt - are  accompanied by one or more pottery vessels which may be placed  beside the bones as an offering or may actually be used as a  container for bones. Cist burials are usually found by accident  either in gravel digging or while ploughing. Usually the large  covering stone is dislodged revealing the burial chamber  underneath. There are records of at least 700 cist graves from  Ireland. There are 37 examples from county Kilkenny. Five similar  graves were found nearby at Ballyouskill in 1971 - one of these  contained three pottery vessels. Over 100 years ago a stone-lined  grave containing two pottery vessels was found at Moyhora.   


Our thanks to Mr. James Dormer for this report and photograph. Thanks to Raghnall Ó Floinn and the National Museum of Ireland for permission to use them.

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