Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
A fascinating photograph of Circle 3 at Carrowmore taken by William A. Green in 1909.
A fascinating photograph of Circle 3 at Carrowmore taken by William A. Green in 1909. Green is looking west to the Parke's cottage, the remains of which were demolished by the OPW. Mary Anne Parke is standing on Circle 1 peering over the hedge at the camera.

Burials at Carrowmore

A primary function of the monuments at Carrowmore was to house the cremated remains of certain special or specific individuals from the neolithic farming community, who were buried in comunal chambers or stone wombs. All of the monuments at Carrowmore which have been excavated have shown evidence of cremated human bone, in spite the activities of Roger Walker, who cleared out many of the burial chambers between 1825 and 1850. All of the early reports of digs and land clearance at Carrowmore refer to burials and 'calcified' human remains.

Carrowmore 3 during excavations.
Site 3 at Carrowmore during excavation, with the capstone removed.

The cremated remains were generally found buried in the chambers, but also sometimes in secondary smaller chambers or cists, sometimes mixed with quantities of animal bone, broken quartz and sea-shells. Many of the finds from Carrowmore—pottery, deer antler pins and pendants—are heat damaged, and so would have been personal items included with the deceaced in the cremation pyres.

The type of items found at Carrowmore were originally used to classify the monuments as passage graves, as they do not resemble the classic later cairn-covered complex chambers. Typical finds were Carrowkeel ware, a type of coarse pottery first discovered in Carrowkeel in 1911; pins or wands carved from the antler of red deer or sometimes bone; stone and clay beads and pendants and fragments of white quartz.

Stone balls found in Carrowmore 19 during excavations.
Stone balls found in Circle 19 at Carrowmore during excavations.

Circle 3

The largest amount of cremated human remains was found in the chamber of Carrowmore 3, where more than thirty-two kilograms of cremated bone is recorded as having been found. This may represent as many as fifty individuals.

Carrowmore 3 during excavations.
A large pocket of cremated human remains discovered inCircle 3 at Carrowmore during excavations.

Two small secondary cists (small stone chambers) outside the main chamber show that the chamber was never covered by a cairn. These cists were missed by Walker and remained undisturbed until the Swedish excavations.

The Kissing Stone had scatters of cremated remains found both within and outside the chamber. Much of the remains were spread about in secondary positions after the earlier diggings of Roger Walker in the 1840's and Wood-Martin in the 1880's.

Carrowmore 7 during excavations.
Circle 7 at Carrowmore during excavations.

Circle 26, excavated in 1978, proved to have very few neolithic remains, having been re-used in the Bronze and Iron age. About 1.5 kilograms of cerials—barley, rye and oats—were found, and have been dated to 530 BC. A young woman aged around twenty was buried along with a foetus around 90 AD.

Burenhult, the leader of the excavation team suggested that the individual monuments may have been used by different families, much the same way that a family will take a plot or communal grave in a cemetary today. However, new studies on the burials at Carrowkeel to the south of Carrowmore seem to indicate that this is not the case.

The interior had evidently contained several kistvaens, or cromleacs, of which traces are still visible. An excavation into what was apparently the site of the central chamber showed that the interment had been greatly disturbed. One flag only of the original flooring was left in situ, but the largest collection of uncalcined bones discovered in Carrowmore was here exhumed.

Excavations were made at three other places within the enclosure, but nothing of interest was observable.

- Wood-Martin 1888..

Carrowmore 51.
The large and complex central monument at Carrowmore, Circle 51 or Listoghil, contained seven burials which can be dated to about 3650 BC, and also share genetic links with Carrowkeel and Newgrange in the Boyne Valley.

The reports listed with each site are taken from Borlase's Dolmens of Ireland, which lists the finds from Wood-Martin's excavations, are given on individual monument pages. The human remains from Carrowmore, along with the majority of the finds, are kept in the National museum, Kildare St, Dublin.

Megalithic reseacher Jack Roberts in Circle 27 at Carrowmore around Christmas 2009. The view is looking west to the Queen Maeve's cairn on Knocknarea beyond.

The Bronze age

The circles at Carrowmore continued to be venerated and used for ritual practice long after the neolithic dissolved into the Bronze age. Five of the monuments, Circles 1, 26, 36, 56 and 57 were modified during the Bronze age when an entry was created in each by removing a stone from the circle. The Bronze age begins around 2,500 BC in Ireland, when the people originating in the Pontic Steppes sweep across Europe finally reached these shores.

A bronze age barrow to the north of Carrowmore.
A bronze age ring-barrow to the north of Carrowmore.

To put Carrowmore in its chronological context, the causewayed enclosure at Magheraboy dates from 4,150 BC and the chamber of Listoghil to 5,550 BC. Both the Great Pyramid and the stone phase at Stonehenge date to about 2,500 BC contemporary with the arrival of the Bronze age in Ireland.

The Kissing Stone, dolmen 7 at Carrowmore in County Sligo. Photo by Robert Welch from 1896.
The Kissing Stone, photographed by Robert Welch in 1896.

Just as causewayed enclosures mark the arrival of farming, henges mark the end of the neolithic and the transition into the Bronze age. There are two large late neolithic henges close to Carrowmore, one at Lisnalurg to the north, the other at Tonafortes to the east, which demonstrate that there was a large population here at the beginning of the Bronze age.

Three Bronze age houses were found by the ridge close to the causewayed enclosure at Magheraboy.

The view from Circle 54 at Carrowmore.
The view west from Monument 52 in Carrowmore to Knocknarea and Queen Maeve's cairn.

Carrowmore was still being visited during the Iron age, when two burials are recorded in Circle 26 and lots of finds of human teeth in Circle 27. The carving inside the blocking stone of the central dolmen at Listoghil is probably from the Iron age, as are the carvings at Cloverhill nearby.

It is possible that the huge unexcavated mound at Caltragh, close to Carrowmore will prove to be an Iron age or medieval cemetery.

Circle 19 at Carrowmore.
Carrowmore 19, the largest circle in the complex with a diameter or 26 meters.