About a year ago, I wrote of the discovery of a ‘vampire’ in a medieval plague cemetery in Venice. News came out Monday of a similar find of not one but two men with stones thrust into their mouths at a site at Kilteasheen, near Loch Key, Knockvicar in Co Roscommon, Ireland. As you can see from our friend to the right here, there is a baseball size rock stuffed in his mouth. These rocks are usually interpreted as a prevention method to keep the dead from feeding on other corpses or rising to attack the living. These men were not buried at the same time, but both were buried in the early eighth century. One was old, and the other was younger, laying side by side, making me wonder if we have a cursed family. No indication of DNA analysis to look for kinship between the men.
These two 8th century men were among nearly 137 skeletons excavated by Chris Read of “Applied Archaeology at IT Sligo” and Dr Thomas Finan of Saint Louis University between 2005 and 2009. (It is coming to light now for a British documentary that will air in the US on the National Geographic channel in 2012.) They estimated that the site holds about 3000 skeletons dating from 700 to 1400.
What really caught my attention is that they originally believed they had found a Black Death grave site. They ditched this hypothesis when the radiocarbon date came back as c. 700. Really? Why? Ireland had a terrible plague in 664 and again in about 683. There was also an infamous famine in c. 700. Any of these events could produce a mass grave. The site is near where the Boyle river connects with Lough Key making it a travel corridor, latter associated with the O’Conor kings of Connacht. The press releases doesn’t mention the spread of radiocarbon dates but with a 700 year span of time, 3000 skeletons comes out to only about 4-5 per year. This is easily achievable for any medieval power center. This site sounds like an ideal place to study the bioarchaeology of a medieval Irish population.
Sources: “Documentary focus on unique deviant burial find” IT Sligo News, 2011.
Paddy Clancy, “Skeletons reveal our ancestors’ fear of the undead” Irish Examiner, Sept. 12, 2011