Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why was a Newly Discovered Irish Ringfort Surrounded by Bizarre Burials and Unfinished Jewelry?

Ancient Origins

A medieval ringfort that contained a jewelry workshop and substantial farming has been unearthed in an eye-opener archaeological discovery during a road project about a mile north of Roscommon town in Ireland. More importantly, however, 793 bodies were found during the excavation - and the archaeologists expect their analysis will reveal the whole tale of the ringfort.

The Majority of the Bodies are Intact
With no antecedent record of any occupancy on the site, it was only apparent that there were important archaeological features in the area after the testing results conducted by experienced geophysicists came back. Following an excavation that lasted for over a year and ended last October, the archaeologists exploring the site had a clearer picture of the settlement and concluded that it was inhabited between the 6th and 11th centuries. Experts are optimistic that the dating techniques that will be used during the detailed analysis of the 793 found bodies will reveal the exact period of occupation. Interestingly, nearly 75% of the bodies were completely undamaged, while the rest were obviously distorted.

An archaeologist examining a skeleton found at the ringfort at Ranelagh, Co. Roscommon, Ireland. (Irish Archaeological Consultancy)

More Ringforts are “Hiding” Not Far Away
The excavation, led by archaeologist Shane Delaney, has already showed that the site was not likely inhabited during its later period of use, but instead it served as an administrative and industrial center for the civilians who lived in the surrounding areas.

The earliest ringfort enclosure at the site was around 40 meters (131.23 ft.) in diameter, but there was no confirmation on any maps to propose any significance before the site was tested by archaeologists. According to Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) project archaeologist Martin Jones, supervising the excavation, there are at least three more ringforts within a 500-meter (1640.42 ft.) distance, “The working theory is that this was originally inhabited by a family that rose to some relative prominence in the area. They may have then constructed a number of other ringforts around this one, which became a centre for industrial activity,” he said, as Irish Examiner reports.

Aerial photograph of the Multivallate Ringfort at Rathrá, Co Roscommon, Ireland. (West Lothian Archaeological Trust (Jim Knowles, Frank Scott and John Wells)/CC BY SA 4.0)

 A Large Amount of Unfinished Jewelry Was Found as Well as More Burials
A respectable amount of unfinished jewelry was found by the archaeologists, which indicates that they were designed in a workshop at the site, most likely for commercial purposes. The jewelry objects and fragments found, some of them associated with the burials, include amber and jet beads, a lignite bracelet, and a brooch panel with an enamel stud. A fragment of a copper alloy bracelet has been dated by its decoration to around 350 to 550 AD.

 A few crouched burials were also found, with their knees pushed up to their chest, probably suggesting that these were strangers who were buried according to their own traditions. Some of the bodies have clear signs of punishment, including two in which feet and hands may have been bound, one of them buried face down. Additionally, two other buried bodies were decapitated, and several children, or adolescents, were positioned in the ground in embracing positions.

 With the excavation work now finished, the analysis of the artifacts and DNA testing of the human remains will provide a clearer picture of the site’s history. Some tests which are scheduled to launch soon will use the latest techniques in order to provide further evidence, such as the diets of the people buried at Ranelagh, and their geographical origins. “When we have the results of radiocarbon dating and all the other analysis, we will have a huge amount of additional information. That’s when the real detective work begins,” Mr. Jones told Irish Examiner, implying that there’s much more work to do before they can make any solid conclusions about the ringfort’s background.

Aerial view of excavations at the site of a medieval ringfort found at Ranelagh in Ireland. (Irish Archaeological Consultancy Ltd.)

Top Image: Reconstruction of a ringfort at Curraheen, Co Cork, Ireland - the kind of enclosure that would have been built first at the ringfort in Ranelagh, Co Roscommon. Source: Transport Infrastructure Ireland

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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