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R. A. S. Macalister sitting on Gorman's cairn.
R. A. S. Macalister sitting on Gorman's cairn.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Account of the Objects discovered.

Carn B. — In order to discover an entrance to this carn a trench was cut all round it, and in the course of cutting this a small cist containing burnt bones was found, at compass bearing from the middle of the carn 120° a few feet further to the north a second similar cist was discovered. These two cists evidently represent secondary interments.

The chamber in the carn itself was found to have a small cist on the left-hand side. Both cist and chamber contained burnt human bones. Three fragments of pottery were discovered-one roughly ornamented piece in the cist, and two much detrited and hardly recognizable fragments in the chamber.

The entrance to Cairn B in 1911.
The entrance to Cairn B is uncovered during the 1911 excavations. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Cairn E. — Both the side cists of this curiously shaped monument contained a few fragments of bones. The central chamber had been uncovered and exposed for a long period, and the third and fourth bays were empty. The porch contained a few fragments of bones; it was much dilapidated and was covered with about 18 inches of peat, which had grown since the destruction of the carn.

The first and second bays contained a quantity of bones in a very fragmentary state. Among these were found several small flat slabs of stone, which had apparently been used as trays in a manner similar to those to be noted in Carn G. In the first bay were found a minute fragment of pottery, the upper portions of two pins of bone with well-cut heads, and a boar's tusk.

The discovery of the bone pins and the fragment of pottery in this monument is important, as establishing the fact that some at least of the interments are of the same date as those in the other carns. The shape of the structure would lead one to believe it to be of an earlier date, as monuments of somewhat similar shape in Scotland have been shown to belong to the Neolithic period.

Carn F. — The collapse of this splendid structure cannot be too much The removal of the stones which had fallen into the chamber tiras carried out with the utmost care, but the contents must have been greatly damaged by the weight of the stones falling on them. The only archaeological remains obtained were found in the further left, end, and right recesses, and in the central chamber.

All of these contained burnt bone debris. This material was carefully sifted, and two broken beads and one small perfect bead were recovered. They were found in the right recess. These beads are of exactly the same type as those found in Carns G and K.

The mysterious broken standing stone within the chamber of Cairn F.
The mysterious broken standing stone within the chamber of Cairn F Photograph by R. A. S. Macaluster, 1911.

In the central chamber two vertebrae of Bos longifrons were discovered; one had been placed just outside the sill-stone on the left recess near the entrance, and the other close to the opposite sill-stone of the right recess, but near the end recess, so that their position was almost a diagonal one. Their position is marked by the letter A.

A number of pieces of quartz, split by the action of fire, were found among the remains in this carn.

Eight water-rolled limestone pebbles from Cairn F.
Eight water-rolled limestone pebbles from Cairn F.

Eight water-worn, flattish lumps of limestone were also found. Their position is marked on the plan by the letter C.

One of these (the second on the left of the lower line) has been bored into by amarine bivalve, probably Saxicava. This must therefore have been brought from the sea-shore like the shell Naiica catena found in Carn H.

The exact purpose of these stones is not possible to determine, but their presence in this very remarkable carn and in the vicinity of the standing stone is of considerable interest and suggestiveness.

Doonaveeragh Mountain and Cairn O at Carrowkeel.
Doonaveeragh Mountain and Cairn O at Carrowkeel.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Entering Cairn G (Written in 1937).

In general interest the Bronze Age cemetery of Carrowkeel is equalled only by the more famous ones of Brugh-na-Boinne and Lough Crew. None of its sepulacral chambers approaches the regal proportions of New Grange, and the rock-scribings that form so remarkable a feature of both the great Meath monuments are entirely absent at Carrowkeel.

On the other hand, the Carrowkeel group displays a greater variety of design: but the main interest of its exploration lay in the fact that there was no evidence that its cairns had been opened and ransacked long since, as in the other places: most of them appeared to be intact, even when ruined, and they gave an important insight into the burial customs of the Bronze Age people.

Assuming that the apparent absence of any disturbance means that at no time subsequent to the period of interment have these chambers been robbed, their contents seem to explode the popular idea that at least the more elaborate of the Irish cairns contained along with human remains, golden torcs or lunulae, or other contemporary treasure belonging to those who were buried in these imposing mausoleums.

The monuments are grand, and there may have been elaborate funeral rites, but a few trinkets alone seem to have accompanied the sepulture.

R. L. Praeger - The Way That I Went, 1937.

Carn G. — The flat floor of the left recess of Carn G was covered with burnt bone debris to a depth of about three inches, and on the top of this were lying seven smallish flat stones, which had apparently been used as trays stones on which to carry the burnt bones into the chamber. The bone debris was all removed and carefully sifted through a fine riddle, and four pierced stone pendants and ten beads were found. About twelve fragments of pottery were also found; these were in a most friable state, and showed traces of burning. No attempted reconstruction of any of these fragments has been successful, nor is it possible to say to how many or to what type of urns they belonged.

Early photograph of the Chamber of Cairn G by William A. Green.
The Chamber of Cairn G. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

The floor of the central recess was covered to a height of about five inches with burnt bone debris, mixed with stones. On the top of these in the centre was a pile of flattish stones, two of which were rounded intentionally; the illustrations are one-sixth the actual size of the objects. There was also a piece of white calcite. These stones, like those in the left recess, appear to have been used as trays on which to carry the burnt bones into the recess. Careful riddling of the bone debris disclosed the following:

Three pointed bone implements (one being made from the tibia of a red Deer), and a well-worked and finely pointed implement made of hard slate; a sand stone pebble, and numerous fragments of much detrited pottery. Three complete stone pendants, a broken one decorated with a spiral groove, six complete and one broken bead, and four small rounded pebbles were also found.

The right recess of this carn was built up to the level of the sill with stones, many of which were a foot long; on the top of these were smaller stones, and on them rested fragments of pottery. The layer of burnt bones was level with the sill stone. Four large pieces of calcite, about one foot in diameter, were removed from this recess; three of them were considerably rounded, probably by glacial action. Resting on the stones above the bones were fragments of pottery, the largest being about four inches by three inches. A partial reconstruction of these pieces has shown them to have belonged to an urn of larger size than the ordinary food-vessel type.

Carn H. — As has been stated in the first portion of the report, the roof of Carn H had fallen in, and the passage and cist were blocked with debris. Both passage and cist contained burnt and unburnt bones; the only objects discovered with them were a small round stone ball and a sea-shell, Natiea catena. The latter had been so much worn down on the under side as to make a hole, as shown in the illustration.

Carn K. — The floor of the chamber of this carn was covered with loose stones and small fragments of burnt bones. Three stone pendants and a stone ball were subsequently discovered here. Resting on the floor, just at the junction of the central and right recesses, was an urn. It is of the food-vessel type, and did not contain anything but a little bone dust. The figure shows its ornamentation.

The floor of the left recess was covered with large flat stones; under these was a layer of burnt bones, about one foot in depth. A large number of fragments of pottery were found among the bone debris. These, however, were so small that it has been impossible to reconstruct the urns in any way, or to determine their exact shape or number.

On the shelf in this recess a number of human bones, and the much broken portion of the upper part of a pin made of bone, were found.

There were a large number of stones in the central recess, some of them eighteen inches long. On the removal of these it could be seen that at the further end of this recess there were three compartments, separated by vertical stones about sixteen inches long, and nearly square; these and the larger compartment were filled with burnt bones. On these bones being riddled, two stone pendants, two small red beads, a small stone ball, and three broken bones, with the remains of a fourth, were found. Numerous fragments of pottery were also discovered; among these were pieces of the ornamented rims of two different urns.

The surface of the floor of the right recess was covered with a large number of flat stones, under which was a layer of burnt bones. The flat stones appear to have been used as trays on which to carry the bones into the recess after burning. Careful sifting of the bone debris disclosed a number of very small fragments of pottery, two small stone balls, some portions of a bone pin, the heads of two bone needles, and a curious object made from the rib of some animal.

When sorting the human remains collected in this carn, Professor Alexander Macalister found a portion of the ornamented rim of an urn and two small fragments of pottery. The portion of the rim is figured. He also discovered the heads of two bone pins, a pointed implement broken and pierced near the point, two other shaped bones, and another implement shaped from the leg bone of an ox, Bos longifrons.

Carn O. — The entrance to this carn was found on the south-east side, and disclosed a pentagonal cist, covered by one single stone, with a pentagonal anti-chamber of small size, covered by two stones. An urn was resting on the top of a pile of burnt and unburnt bones, intermixed with flat sandstone slabs, about one foot in diameter.

No other pottery or fragments or any objects were discovered in this cist.

Bone and antler pins from the Mound of the Hostages at Tara, similar to those found at Carrowkeel.
Bone and antler pins from the Mound of the Hostages at Tara, similar to those found at Carrowkeel.

Description of the Implements.

No objects of metal were found in any of the carns, and the implements recovered, with the exception of the finely pointed object made from hard slate, and the sandstone pebble, consisted of worked animal bones. The absence of metal may be due to economy, for, though the carns as a whole may be dated well into the Bronze Age, metal, even in the advanced Bronze Age, may have been too valuable to be placed with the dead.

Dr. R. F. Scharff, Keeper of the Natural History Collections in the National has kindly examined the bone implements, and named those that could be identified. They are very interesting, and are therefore all illustrated.

Artifacts from Macalister's excavations at Carrowkeel in 1911.
Artifacts from Macalister's excavations at Carrowkeel in 1911.

The figures are reproduced to the scale of one-half. One of the larger implements is an exceedingly well-made object. It is formed out of the tibia of a Red Deer, which has been much reduced. It measures six and five-eighths inches in length.

Hard bones of this kind make very good implements, and this object may have been used for boring skins. Another tool has its point broken. It is made from the fibula of a Bear, and Dr. Scharff informs us that it is of much interest, as it is only the second specimen of remains of Bear being found with early man in Ireland, the other instance known being the finding of a worked Bear's tooth with human remains in Co. Clare. This bone measures at present five and a quarter inches long.

A third implement is broken at the point, and also higher up, and it is impossible to say what its original length was; it measures at present 3.15 inches in length. It may also be made from the bone of a Bear, but it is not possible to be certain on this point. All these objects were found in Carn G.

Inner recess of Cairn K in 1911.
Inner recess of Cairn K.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Another well-shaped pointed implement was found in Carn K. It measures 7 inches in length, and greatly resembles the large implement found in Carn G. It is considerably flattened at the point, and may have been used for smoothing skins. It is made from the leg bone of an ox (Bos longifrons).

The bones of Bos longifrons are common in the lake dwellings of Switzerland, which date from Neolithic times, and were abundant in Grime's Graves (England), also of Neolithic date. Bos longifrons appears to have been the ox of the Bronze Age in the British Islands, and was probably domesticated in Ireland at the period of the interments in the Carrowkeel carns.

The curiously shaped pointed implement is made of hard slate; the point is very sharp and the object has been carefully scraped or rubbed down to its present shape. It may have been used as a borer or for ornamenting pottery.

The sandstone pebble appears to have been used as a hammer-stone. It is flattened on one side. Six pins or pegs, with well-cut heads were found—four in Carn K, and two in Carn E. The largest has been fractured down the centre (the lowest piece shown in the figure probably belongs to it, but it cannot be fitted on in any way, and certainty on the point is impossible).

These pins should be compared with the very similar bone pins found in excavations in the monuments at Carrowmore, Co. Sligo, figured by Wood-Martin, and also with those found in Carn R2 of the Loughcrew series by Mr. E. Crofton Rotheram. The heads of what were probably three bone needles found in Carn K are interesting. They may be compared with what is described as the head of a bone pin discovered in the Carrowmore cromlechs, and figured by Wood-Martin.

Bone and antler pins from Loughcrew and Carrowmore.
Bone and antler pins from Loughcrew and Carrowmore.

Among the other bones found, a curiously rounded rib bone may be noticed. It has been artificially rounded to such an extent that it is impossible to determine to what species it belonged. Its use is conjectural.

The pointed end of a broken implement, what was probably the head of another from carn K and also three curved bones are figured. These latter may have been used for some purpose. The boar's tusk found in Carn E is interesting as the first remains of boar found in this series of cams. It measures 2.5 inches in length. Boar's tusks are not uncommon early interments. Several were found in the carn on Co. Fermanagh, excavated by Mr. Thomas Plunkett. across and pierced in order to attach a string which had worn the hole, was found in the Edenvale Caves, Co. Clare. They have also been found frequently in Crannogs in Ireland. In England, boar's tusks perforated for suspension have been found in interments dating from the Stone Age. They were probably worn as amulets. See Prof. W. Ridgeway on this point.

A photo of Cairn E from the 1911 excavation. Armstrong, left and Praegar, right, are about 25 meters apart. .
A photo of Cairn E from the 1911 excavation. Armstrong, left and Praegar, right, are about 25 meters apart.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Beads and Pendants.

Mr. T. Hallissy, of the Geological Survey of Ireland, has kindly examined the beads, pendants, and stone balls found in the earns, and illustrated to the scale of one-half. He states their composition is as follows: The four pendants and nine of the beads found in the left recess of Cam G are made of steatite and serpentine.

The ornamental broken bead from the central recess of Carn G is made of limestone; the other beads and pendants from this recess are composed of limestone, steatite, and serpentine. The largest pendant from the chamber of Cam K is limestone, the second in size is jasper, and the smallest serpentine. Two beads found in the central recess of Cam K are jasper, and the two pendants steatite.

The perfect bead found in Carn F is jasper; and of the two broken specimens, one is steatite and the other is serpentine. The rounded stone balls found in the different carns are all limestone, with the exception of the two oblong specimens found in the central recess of Carn G, which are water-worn quartz pebbles.

The jasper pendant and beads are well finished, and the method of boring such a hard substance as jasper at that time presents an interesting problem. They may possibly have been imported.

These beads and pendants are of much interest; they all belong to the same type, and all have been drawn so that the shapes can be well seen. Except for the incised line and cutting of the ends of the four pendants found in Carn G, left recess, the only ornamental example is the broken pendant with the small incised groove from Carn G, central recess.

The largest pendant was found in the chamber of Carn K. It is a brownish colour, is highly polished, and has a widely splayed hole. The beads and pendants closely resemble those from the carn on Belmore Mountain, illustrated in Mr. Coffey's paper. Comparison should also be made with the steatite beads found in the monuments at Carrowmore, and figured by Wood-Martin.

A flint knife from Doonaveeragh.
A flint knife, freshly excavated from the neolithic house in the background.
The flint came from County Antrim.

Very similar pendants and beads were found by Mr. Crofton Rotheram in Carn R 2 at Loughcrew. Some of these have been figured. Mr. Rotheram kindly sent us a number of unpublished beads he found in Carn R 2, and also some he obtained from a small carn on Patrickstown Hill, Co. Meath, for comparison with the Carrowkeel beads; the similarity is most striking.

The small round stone balls which were found in several of the carns are curious, and their use cannot be determined. The pieces of calcite that were found are also interesting; the custom of placing white stones in interments seems to have been common in prehistoric times, and has been frequently noted. It is possible that the stones were believed to have some magical significance.


The complete urns and the portions of vessels illustrated are all reproduced to the scale of one-third. It is most unfortunate that the pottery was in so many cases discovered in such small fragments, and so much detrited. Many attempts at restoration have been made; but the fragments were so small and so much was missing that, except in one case, nothing of importance has been effected. However, two pieces of rim belonging to different urns were found among the debris from the central recess, Carn K; careful measurement, and following the recovered portion with a pair of compasses, have enabled the outline of the rims to be approximately drawn to scale and shown in the illustrations. A third piece of rim was found by Professor Alexander Macalister when sorting out the bones from Carn K

Pottery fragments from Carrowkeel.
Pottery fragments from Carrowkeel.

In Carn G, right recess, the fragments found were slightly larger, and could be fitted together. The fitting together of these pieces has shown them to belong to a vessel of larger type than the ordinary food-vessel. Careful measurement has enabled the outline of the vessel to be drawn approximately. It is most unfortunate that no portion of the rim was discovered, so that it is impossible to determine the height of the vessel or the exact type to which it belongs. All that can be stated with certainty is that it is larger than the ordinary food-vessels, and that it resembles the type known as cinerary urns more than these. The clay in the thickest portion recovered measures about three-quarters of an inch, and the pieces show considerable traces of blackening by fire.

The decoration is of a simple character, and consists of punch marks, made with a pointed stick or bone. The portion of the rim found by Professor Alexander Macalister also appears to have belonged to a large urn. Measurements, and following the line of rim with a pair of compasses, have enabled the outline to be approximately drawn to scale; and reference to the figure will show the probable size of the rim when complete. The fragment measures half an inch in thickness.

In Ireland the pottery of Neolithic times appears to have consisted of smallish vessels with a round base. There is a specimen of this type preserved in the Boyal Irish Academy's collection in the National Museum.

It was discovered in "a subterraneous cavern" near the town of Antrim, and a number of flint arrow-heads and a stone celt are stated to have been found with it. The highly ornamented food-vessel of the Bronze Age was developed from this type. The larger so-called cinerary urns belong to the later stages of the Bronze Age.

The pottery remains from the carns are, as awhole, in such a fragmentary state that definite conclusions as to the number or type of urns cannot be safely drawn. The pieces found in Carn G, and the portion of rim recovered from Carn K, belong to vessels larger than the ordinary food-vessel type.

The perfect specimen from Carn K is finely decorated; it is comparatively large, and its mouldings are numerous and well-pronounced; it tapers to a small base, and belongs to the food-vessel type.

Pot from Cairn O.
The perfect Bronze-age pot from Cairn O.

The perfect urn from Carn O belongs to a type of food-vessel which appears to have lasted over a long period of the Bronze Age. The sort of cruciform ornament on the base may be compared with that upon the base of the urn found in the cam on Belmore Mountain, Co. Fermanagh. This carn, it may be noted, contained both burnt and unburnt burials, and the beads and pendants found resembled closely those discovered in the Carrowkeel series.

No Neolithic types of pottery appear to be present, and the carns so far examined may all be placed in the Bronze Age. The perfect urns are finely ornamented and well-shaped specimens, and hardly seem to belong to the earliest portion of the Bronze Age, while the presence of the remains of larger vessels points to a somewhat later period. The carns were, no doubt, used over a long period, and, considering the large number of persons buried, it cannot be doubted that many of the burials and objects placed with them must differ in date.

As, however, the objects, with the exception of the two unbroken urns, were nearly all found among the burnt bones, it is impossible to do more than indicate this difficulty, which is another reason for exercising caution in attempting to date the carns. The carns themselves, and many of the objects they contained, present close analogies to the Loughcrew series; and it may be noted that this group of carns further resembles those at Loughcrew, in two of their number being cenotaphs.

As far, therefore, as can be judged from the pottery, and making all reservations on account of the difficulty of forming conclusions as to the exact type of urns to which many of the fragments belonged, the contents of the carns must be placed in the Bronze Age.

The Cromleach of the Phantom Stones at Carrowmore.
The Cromleach of the Phantom Stones at Carrowmore.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.