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.
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,
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.