A Student of History

March 28, 2007

Museum appeals for return of ancient pottery

Filed under: Historic Preservation,Ireland — John Maass @ 10:51 am

This is from Kilkenny People, a local paper in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.  Since it is an appeal to get back stolen goods, I will give it here in its entirety:

Museum appeals for return of ancient pottery: LEGAL action is being considered against the operator of an illegal quarry where an important archaeological find has been discovered.

The news comes as the National Museum in Dublin appealed for help from anyone who might have taken pieces of pottery from the site at Garanagully, a few miles outside Ballyragget on the road to Castlecomer.
Local people who saw the grave shortly after its discovery describe two vessels together with a large cremation deposit. They are now missing.
Kilkenny County Council confirmed that the burial chamber was tampered with some weeks before it was reported to the National Museum.
It it is considering taking legal action against the operators of the quarry for not obeying an enforcement order served on them.
A few weeks ago archaeologists with the National Museum were made aware of the discovery of the early Bronze Age cist grave in the quarry.
A cist is a simple stone-lined grave made by digging a pit and lining the sides with slabs to form a rectangular box-like structure usually about one metre or so in length. The cist is covered by a single large capstone.
These structures were used to bury the remains of one or more people.
The burials were usually accompanied by pottery vessels of specific types and are usually found by accident in the course of agricultural, drainage or quarrying work.
In most cases, there are no surface features to draw attention to the existence of the burial chambers but machinery often dislodges the capstone, allowing the interior of the cist and its contents to be seen.
A Bronze Age cremation will usually retain recognisable fragments of bone although they may be distorted because of the heat of the pyre. The bone varies in colour from white to grey to blue.
Unfortunately, in the case of the cist burial discovered at Garrannaguilly, it was not reported to the National Museum until several weeks after it was first exposed.
By the time National Museum archaeologists Mary Cahill and Maeve Sikora visited the site the contents were seriously disturbed and very little of the pottery remained although fragments from two vessels were collected.
Eye witnesses
Eye witness accounts from local people who saw the cist shortly after its discovery describe two vessels in the cist together with a large cremation deposit.
When examined by the archaeologists the remaining contents of the cist included a quantity of cremated bone and some pieces of the broken pots. However, the impressions of the bases of two pots could still be clearly seen – suggesting that they must have been substantially intact when the capstone was dislocated.
The contents of the cist have now been removed to Dublin for further study and analysis.
The cremated bone will be examined by an osteologist who will be able to identify the number of individuals buried in the cist.
Depending on the condition of the bones it may be possible also to identify sex, age and diseases that they suffered during their lifetimes.
Some diseases leave certain identifiable marks on human bone. A small sample of the bone may also be used to date the burial.
Examination of the pottery, although it is very fragmentary, will also help to establish an accurate date for the burial which the experts say is probably between 2000-1700 BC.
Natural beauty
The site is located in an area of great natural beauty on the highest point of a deposit of sand and gravel.
The views in all directions are quite spectacular with Mount Leinster and Slievenamon forming prominent landmarks towards the horizon to the south-east and south-west while the broad plain of the Nore valley spreads out to the west.
This type of location was often chosen by the people of the Early Bronze Age perhaps because of its prominence and may relate to the organisation of local tribal territories.
Several similar burials were discovered at Ballyouskill in the 1970s on another nearby high point.
These were also excavated by staff from the National Museum including the late Ellen Prendergast, a very well known Kilkenny woman.
If enough of the pottery can be collected it may be possible to reconstruct the vessels. At the very least it would help to identify the types of vessel buried in the cist.
During the weeks the cist was exposed there were many visitors to the site, many of whom may not have realised its significance.
The National Museum is appealing to anyone who may have visited the site and who has anything, either bone or pottery, from the cist to contact either Mary or Maeve by phoning 1890 687 386.

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