Bronze Age Bling! Bronze Age Beads Discovered in County Kildare

Bronze Age Bling! Bronze Age Beads Discovered in County Kildare

A unique and significant discovery was recently made by archaeologists from Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd., working on behalf of the National Roads Authority (NRA) and Kildare County Council on the route of the new Athy Link Road, Co. Kildare on N9/N10. 

The cremated remains of a human body were discovered recently in a shallow pit adjacent to the site of a Bronze Age burial mound or barrow, which was discovered in the summer of 2007.  A total of 87 cremation burials were identified on the sections of the N9/N10 investigated by Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd., and although this particular find was one of many cremations recovered dating to the Bronze Age along the route of the proposed new road, processing of samples taken from the burial revealed that this was by no means a normal burial.

As part of a routine process of sieving soil associated with human burials, technicians from Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd. identified a series of 25 small ceramic beads.  The beads were immediately identified as being of great significance and passed to a leading expert in prehistoric ceramics who confirmed that the beads belonged to a necklace or bracelet for which he could find no comparison.

Further study into the archaeology associated with the beads produced some intriguing information. Although the fragmentary nature of the cremated bone made analysis very difficult, it was possible to determine that the individual was an adult rather than a child, and probably female.  A sample of the burnt bone was sent to the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre where it was subjected to radiocarbon dating. This confirmed that the individual was cremated around 3,500 years ago, and it would appear the body was cremated while wearing the beads.

Personal adornment was important in the Bronze Age. It is thought that beads would have been worn by both sexes and jewellery was not gender specific. There have been significant finds of Bronze Age jewellery from Ireland, notably the gold collection in the National Museum; however these ceramic beads are a unique discovery for Irish archaeology.

The beads could signify that the individual was of a higher status, simply because such objects are generally not found associated with cremations. However, it is possible that less durable materials /or combustible materials were used for personal adornment and simply didn’t survive the thousands of years in the ground or were burnt on the pyre.

The burial was one of a group of three that were placed around a burial mound which is likely to have formed part of a cemetery for the local Bronze Age population.  The fact that the cremation was in a group of three which appeared to focus on a barrow would suggest some social hierarchy, and possibly a family grouping.

Speaking about the discovery; Colm Moloney MD of Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd. said: “This is very exciting for all of us at Headland Archaeology and it demonstrates the value of forensic investigation in archaeology.  It is also a great reward for all those people who invest so much time in the less glamorous side of archaeology such as processing soil samples.”

Noel Dunne NRA Project Archaeologist added: “This is just one of numerous significant discoveries, both in terms of artefacts and sites, from over 150 investigations in this project, beginning at Kilcullen and extending to the south of Carlow town.  A tremendous archive has already been established, which will feed local, national and indeed international studies over the years to come.”

Research is on-going for this site, and over 150 others excavated in advance of the N9/N10 in Co. Kildare and Co. Carlow, at the offices of Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd in Cork, and it is hoped that final reports will be complete for all excavations along the route by September 2010.

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