215-year-old beech tree unearths 900-year-old medieval human remains
Severed skeleton was unceremoniously exhumed by stormy Irish weather
Burial site yields insights into the life and tragic death of a young man in medieval Ireland
An Excavation like No Other
The small town of Collooney in County Sligo is currently in the spotlight thanks to an unlikely chain of events leading to the discovery of a 900-year-old medieval skeleton. The mystery began with the uprooting of a 215-year-old beech tree during a tempestuous winter’s night.
Stormy conditions and toppled trees aren’t uncommon in Connemara, but the grisly skeletal bounty woven deep in the beech’s root system sparked the curiosity of locals and Ireland’s National Monuments Service. With potential archaeological gold at stake, the tricky excavation was commissioned to Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services in a bid to unravel the mystery behind this extraordinary medieval burial site.
A Stormy Surprise
This 215-year-old beech tree snapped the skeleton in two trapping the skull and spine in its roots.
The upper part of the skeleton was raised into the air trapped within the root system. The lower leg bones, however, remained intact in the ground. Effectively as the tree collapsed, it snapped the skeleton in two.
— Dr Marion Dowd (Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services)
Fragments and bones from the upper portion of the skeleton including its skull and spine were carefully excavated by archaeologists in order to piece together the life and death of this young man from medieval Ireland.
Initial examinations revealed trauma to the skeleton’s ribs and hands suggesting he was either involved in a brawl or the victim of a violent attack. Experts have concluded that the teenager suffered two stab wounds to the chest and one to his left hand.
Archaeologists set about the challenging task of excavating the young man to piece together his life’s story bone by bone.
Further examination of the victim’s backbone revealed mild spinal joint disease thought to be the tell-tale signature of grinding physical labor from an early age. Standing at over 5 feet 10 inches, the young man likely towered above his peers with the average for the period being just 5 feet 5 inches. Radiocarbon dating has also revealed that he died in either the 11th or 12th century, between 1030 and 1200 AD.
A Final Resting Place
The lower portion of the skeleton including the legs remained relatively well preserved in the grave.
Extensive analysis of the burial site itself has revealed that the man was likely laid to rest in a formal Christian ceremony. Folded hands and the east-west positioning of the body support this theory, but no other human remains have been discovered at the site to date.
Historical records point to the area as the probable site of an ancient church and graveyard. Additional analysis of the remains is ongoing with scientists and archaeologists hopeful of gleaning further insights into the fascinating life and death of Sligo’s medieval marvel.