Archaeologists from Sligo Institute of Technology recently found some bones belonging to a Stone Age child and an adult, in a small cave on Knocknarea Mountain.
Radiocarbon dating carried out on the remains has shown that they are 5,500 years old, making them among the earliest human bones found in County Sligo.
The find represents important fresh evidence of Knocknarea‘s Neolithic (Stone Age) links and a prehistoric practice known as “excarnation”, which was the practise of laying a corpse in a cave and, after decomposition, the dry bones were then transferred elsewhere. Sometimes a number of bone fragments were accidentally left behind, which is what is believed was found in this instance.
There was a total of 13 small bones and bone fragments discovered by the researchers on Knocknarea last November, three of the bones were from a child and a further 10 bones were from an adult, they included foot bones and fragments of a skull.
“It’s an enormously exciting discovery” said Dr Marion Dowd of IT Sligo, who is Ireland‘s only specialist in the archaeology of Irish caves, “This might see like a small quantity but it has yielded fantastic results” she said.
Counties Sligo and Leitrim are amongst Ireland‘s most important cave regions, but only a few of the caves have been investigated archaeologically.
Dr Dowd said “We can imagine that Stone Age people in Sligo between 5,000 and 5,500 years ago, carried the corpses of their dead up the mountain. After an arduous climb, they then squeezed through the narrow cave entrance and laid the corpse on the cave floor.
“Sometime later, maybe after one or two years, people returned to the cave and collected the bones and took them to another location. Where they took them, we don’t know. But the monuments on the summit of Knocknarea are one likely possibility. All that was left behind in the cave were some small bones that had been overlooked”.
Many people do not realise there are 26 caves dotted around the slopes of Knocknarea, most of which are long narrow passages, with very small entrances, which tend to escape most people’s attention.