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View of Cairn H from the west side.
Cairn H at Loughcrew on the morning of the autumn equinox, September 2011.

Conwell's report on Cairn H

The three chambers were found filled with an indiscriminate mixture of stones, broken bones, and earth; the latter in a soft, stiff, retentive state, although the weather had been previously very fine. This mixture was picked and removed with great care; and in it were obtained, apparently without having been placed there in any definite order, one end of a bone bodkin; one half of a bone ferrule; six pieces of bone pins; one tine of an antler, three inches long; fourteen fragments of very crude brown earthenware or pottery, evidently portions of urns, much blackened by fire, particularly on the inside surface; ten pieces of flint; upwards of 200 sea shells, principally limpet and cockle shells, in a tolerably perfect state of preservation, and 110 other shells in a broken state; eight varieties of small lustrous or shining stones; upwards of 100 white sea pebbles, and about sixty others of different shades of colour, and all of various sizes.

A plan if Cairn H by Jean McMann.
A plan if Cairn H by Jean McMann.

At the back of the western chamber was found a small brown stone ball, and just inside its entrance, about two-thirds of a circular flat bone disc, about six inches in diameter, being the greater portion of one of the intercostal bones inserted between the vertebrae in the skeleton of a whale.

Underneath the stone basin in the northern chamber were found imbedded in damp earth, and mixed with small splinters of burnt bones, six balls, the largest about an inch in diameter, but in so soft a state that they could scarcely be touched without injuring them.

Five of these are white carbonate of lime, and the sixth is a dark-coloured ball of the same material, but made from some rock of a coralline structure. An account of the probable origin and use of these balls will be found in the description of Cairn L, in which eight similar ones were discovered.

In the southern chamber, and about the entrance to it, while carefully picking and removing a miscellaneous collection of stones, broken bones, and stiff retentive earth with which it had become filled up, we obtained articles of glass, amber, bronze, and even iron; together with the remains of a large number of bone implements, the names and uses of which have not yet been satisfactorily determined.

Of glass, we collected three: small beads, of different shapes, one green, and two blue; two fragments, or splinters of glass; a tapering trumpet-shaped piece of hollow glass, one inch in length, and resembling in appearance a shark's tooth or a Rupert's drop.

The huge cashel below Carnbane West.
The huge cashel below Carnbane West.

Of amber, we found seven small beads, the largest scarcely a quarter of an inch in diameter, and another small oblong bead of uncertain material.

Of bronze, we obtained six open rings (that is, not closed into one solid piece), varying from a quarter to three quarters of an inch in diameter; a portion of another which is hollow and formed by the overlapping of a thin plate of bronze; and portions of eight other small rings, in a less perfect state of preservation.

Looking north across the chamber of Cairn H to the engraved sill of the right hand recess.

In some few instances where the bone implements chanced to be protected by an overlying stone, their original polish is still perfect; in all other cases they were found in a state as soft as cheese, and could with difficulty be extracted from the stiff earth without breaking them.

Such, indeed, was their soft state, that we believe they could not have been preserved for many years longer, and probably many have become entirely decomposed. The shapes of several will be found peculiar and different, and well worth the careful study of the antiquary.

We have been enabled to save 4071 fragments of these in a plain state - once polished, but without further ornamentation; 108, nearly perfect in shape; 60, where the bone material is little decomposed, and still retains the original polish; 27 fragments which appear to have been stained; I2 plain fragments perforated by a single hole near the end; 500 fragments ornamented with rows of fine parallel transverse lines, and two others similarly ornamented, and perforated near the end; I3 combs, 7 of which are engraved on both sides, the heads only and the roots of the teeth of the combs now remaining: 91 implements engraved by compass, and in a very high order of art, with circles, curves, ornamental puncturings, etc., and twelve of these decorated on both sides. In some instances the perforations near the end appear to have been countersunk. In all there are 4884 pieces....

Excavations at Cairn H by Joseph Raftery.
Excavations at Cairn H by Joseph Raftery in 1943 turned up hundreds of bone slips carved during the Iron and medieval ages.

Not lying together, but mixed up with the earth and debris which filled the southern chamber, we found in all seven specimens of iron objects, all thickly incrusted with rust.

The Loughcrew landscape.
The Loughcrew landscape.

One is an open ring, about half an inch in diameter; one half of another, somewhat larger; two pieces, each about an inch long, and a quarter of an inch thick, of uncertain use; and one thin piece, three quarters of an inch long, and half an inch broad.

The two remaining pieces are here engraved the actual size, the rust having been removed from their respective points; the smaller one, we submit, presenting all the appearance of having been one leg of a pair of compasses, an instrument with which the bone implements were evidently inscribed and ornamented; and the larger piece is unmistakably an iron punch or pick, with a flat point or working end, the head or larger end bearing incontestable evidence of the use of the hammer.

Many of the figures, particularly the circular ones, found inscribed upon the stones in these cams, have been executed in punched or picked work, in several instances each impact or stroke in the line being still quite visible; and it is possible that such a tool as this may have been used in their execution.

Looking into the entrance
      of Cairn H.
Looking into the entrance of Cairn H.

From the passage and crypts of this cairn we collected, and have preserved for anatomical examination a large trunk full of human bones, many in a charred state, and apparently having belonged to individuals of various ages and sexes.

All the foregoing articles were found during our first examination of this ruined cairn in September, 1865; and on Tuesday evening, 9th June, 1868, we commenced to pick over slowly and carefully the debris which, after a previous careful picking, had been thrown out from the bottom of the cairn in which this highly interesting collection of antiquarian objects had been obtained in 1865.

Bone slips carved during the Iron and medieval ages, found in 1942.
Bone slips carved during the Iron and medieval ages, found in 1942.

Assisted by two men, we continued the picking the following day, and our labour was rewarded by finding some perfect, and several hundred fragments of, polished bone implements, five of them being beautifully ornamented; a dozen of small open bronze rings of different sizes, several limpet and cockle shells, and white sea-pebbles; half of an iron ring, and a piece of iron attached by rust to a broken off end of one of the bone implements; a small stone ball, about the size of a boy's ordinary marble, having a white vein, such as is seen in agate, running across it; a thin rectangular piece of smoothed stone, about an inch long, and consisting of alternate layers of pink and bluish grey shades of colour; two bone beads; a green and also a blue glass bead; an object in glass, such as in the Catalogue of the RIA, p. 163. fig 118, is called a 'double bead', half an inch in length, without any hole passing through it, somewhat in the shape of an hour-glass, without being so attenuated in the middle, and displaying an exquisitely soft shade of green colour when held up to the light; a ring about half an inch in diameter and nearly worn across at one place, apparently of that species of talc known as steatite or soap stone; a flint nodule, about the size of a boy's marble, of sponge shape, the part originally adhering to the rock remaining in its natural condition, while all the rest of the surface was smoothly polished, exhibiting shades of brown and white, and making on the whole a very pretty ornament; and a portion of an intercostal bone from the skeleton of a whale.

All these were left at Loughcrew House.

Cairn H at Loughcrew
View to Patrickstown and Carnbane from the passage of Cairn H.