Rare Bronze Age 'cist' burial discovered in Westmeath

'Once in a lifetime' rare Bronze Age cist burial discovered on new N52 road at Turin

The discovery of a 4,000-year-old Early Bronze Age “cist burial” containing the crouched skeleton of an adult and a bowl shaped vessel, near Turin has been described as being of “national importance”.

Archaeologist Colm Flynn was speaking to the Westmeath Examiner on Monday from the site in the townland of Tevrin, which was uncovered as part of the construction of the new N52 Mullingar to Delvin Road last week.

“This is very, very rare and a once-in-a-lifetime find,”Colm said. “We don’t know who the individual was, but it was obviously someone of high importance given the amount of respect the burial was given.

“It’s around 4,000 years old. This site here in Tevrin was still very much intact, and we don’t know why but other parts of the country don’t have as many of these types of cist burials.

“It tells us is that there was a very high functioning and organised society here.

“So this is a very significant site of regional and national importance,” he said.

The Bronze Age grave was discovered by contractors erecting permanent fencing along the new N52.

One of the fence posts encountered something solid underground and when the contractors removed the earth, they discovered a large stone with a cavity underneath, containing bones which they suspected might be a human grave.

“Inside the cist was a crouched inhumation – the skeleton of an adult who would have been placed inside the cist in a fetal position. Beside the skeleton was a small, bowl-shaped pottery vessel. The bowl was empty and may have originally contained a food offering,” said Mary Deevy, a senior archaeologist with the TII (Transport Infrastructure Ireland).

The discovery set in motion a number of procedures that needed to be followed, including the notification of project archaeologist Michael Stanley by the contractors.

The site had to be inspected by Mr Stanley of the TII on behalf of Westmeath County Council, who confirmed it was most likely a bronze age cist burial.

Following the inspection, the National Monuments Service (NMS), National Museum of Ireland (NMI) and the coroner were then notified.

Archaeologist Colm Flynn, acting for the contractors, applied for a licence to excavate the burial as an on-site emergency and the dig commenced on Tuesday August 6 last.

Working with a team of archaeologists including Marc Guernon, and osteo-archaeologist Caoimhe ní Thóibín, they unearthed a rectangular cist burial constructed of substantial stone slabs.

Beside the skeleton was a small bowl shaped pottery vessel. The bowl was empty but may originally have contained a food offering.

The bowl and human remains were carefully excavated and have now been removed from the site for specialists examination.

Following testing, the body and the bowl will be stored in the National Museum of Ireland.

"Early Bronze Age burials date back to 2,000 BC, so these remains are 4,000 years old, continued Mr Flynn.

"This is a once in a career opportunity to work on this type of burial - an honour. It is a very rare find. And the fact that it was intact and in such good condition."

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