in “The Archaeology of Violence: An Integrated Approach to the Study of Violence and Conflict” Conference held at UB by the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology (IEMA)
Eamonn P. Kelly is Keeper of Irish Antiquities, National Museum of Ireland, Dublin
Up to one hundred men, women and children, dating to all periods, have been found in Irish peat bogs. Eight bog bodies have been dated to the Early Iron Age and other undated remains may also date to the same period. What characterises Iron Age finds and sets them apart from other bog bodies is the fact that they represent ritual killings.
Two finds made in 2003 have produced important new information. Clonycavan Man had lain in a bog on the Meath county border with Westmeath and although machinery has damaged the body from the waist down and removed the hands, the internal organs are preserved partially and the head is intact with a clearly distinguishable face and a very distinctive hairstyle. On the back of the head the hair was cut to about an inch long with the rest of the hair, which was about a foot long, gathered into a bundle on the top of his head. The hair was held in place by the application of a sort of hair jell made from resin imported from France or Spain. Clonycavan man was of slight build and his stature is estimated to lie in the range from 5 foot 2 inches to five feet nine inches tall. He was killed by a series of blows to his head and chest, probably from an axe and suffered a 40cm long cut to his abdomen, suggesting disembowelment.
By contrast, a powerfully built body found at Oldcroghan, Co. Offaly was estimated at about 6 foot 3 inches tall. The remains consist of a severed torso that had been decapitated, however the surviving part of the body was in remarkable condition with superbly preserved hands and intact internal organs. On the right arm was a plaited leather armband with metal mounts. By contract with his normal meat-rich diet, Oldcroghan Man ate a final meal of cereals and buttermilk. His upper arms had been pierced and withies had been inserted into the holes. Examination of his hands showed that Oldcroghan Man did not undertake manual work and his fingernails were carefully manicured. A stab wound to his chest killed Oldcroghan man and a defence wound on one arm indicates that he tried to fend off the fatal blow. He was then decapitated and his thorax severed from his abdomen. The nipples of both Oldcroghan Man and Clonycavan Man had been cut partially and both have been radiocarbon dated to between 400-200 BC.
The body of an adult male found in Derryvarroge bog, Co, Kildare in 2007 has been dated to between 228-343 AD. The remains were damaged by peat harvesting machinery and investigation of the body is ongoing. Research suggests that all of the Iron Age bog bodies were placed on ancient tribal boundaries and that the victims were sacrificed as part of a Kingship and Sovereignty ritual. Other categories of votive may also to be connected with the ritual.