May 30, 2007

Cauldron Discovered In Ireland Bog

Cauldron discovered in bog

Neill O’Neill

A ROUTINE day cutting turf on the bog ended in a significant discovery for Louisburgh farmer Owen McNally last week, when he unearthed a perfectly intact 2,500-year-old Iron Age cauldron.

Mr McNally was hand cutting turf on his bog at Knockeen, near Cregganbaun on the Killeen to Louisburgh Road on May 21 last, when his traditional sléan struck a solid object at 5.20pm. He decided to peel back some layers of peat to investigate the occurrence further and, to his amazement, found the large bowl-like object two feet under the surface.

The McNally family, Feenone, LouisburghSURPRISING DISCOVERY The McNally
family, Feenone, Louisburgh with the wooden bowl that Owen dug up in
his bog at Knockeen. From left: Lorraine, Irene, Owen, Fintan and
Matthew. Grianghraf: Cormac Ó Cionnaith

It has since been identified by the National Museum of Ireland’s keeper of antiquities, Eamonn Kelly, as an Iron Age cauldron which would have been used for feasting. It was most likely deposited in the bog as an offering to the gods as part of an ancient kinship or sovereignty ritual. The cauldron, which is six inches deep and has a circumference of one foot at the rim, is hand-carved from wood, though the exact type will have to be determined by experts at a later stage.

The area has been examined by Mr Kelly and other archaeologists and a sample of earth from the site has been sent for palaeobotanical analysis to Queen’s University Belfast. The results of this testing will tell archaeologists about the climate and vegetation in the region during this period in history, from which specific details about possible ancient settlements in the area can be inferred.

Mr Kelly also plans to determine the exact age of the find by using radio carbon dating technology on an ancient marker pole that was found in the bog beside the cauldron. This marker, Mr Kelly contends, is proof that the vessel wasn’t just lost and also gives rise to the possibility of finding other intact artefacts on the site. He also failed to rule out the possibility that intact human ‘bogman’ remains could be found in the area, though he was quick to assert his belief that Owen McNally’s bog is not a burial ground.

The cauldron was placed in the possession of the conservation department of the National Museum of Ireland and was taken to the Museum of Country Life in Turlough House, outside Castlebar, to receive specialist preservation care. Its future is uncertain but it is likely to be displayed there in the interim and is certainly worthy of a place on display in the museum’s headquarters on Kildare Street in Dublin, according to Mr Kelly.

“Bog finds are not unheard of in Ireland but to find an artefact so perfectly intact is very rare,” Mr Kelly told The Mayo News from Louisburgh last week.

These types of objects usually show up at the edge of kingships and the townland where this discovery was made is right on the parish boundary. This modern boundary is probably based on older borders that can likely be traced right back through history. This would fit the find in with the normal pattern.

Chairman of the Mayo Historical and Archaeological society, Noel O’Neill, described the find as very meaningful.

“The finding of this wooden cauldron is most significant and will throw some light on a period of Irish prehistory of which not too much is known,” he said. “To unearth a wooden artefact in such good condition is unusual, and Mr McNally is to be congratulated for informing the staff of the National Museum in good time. His find will add another facet to our knowledge of the Iron Age in County Mayo.”

Owen McNally is glad he was able to find the cauldron but believes he was very fortunate to have stumbled upon the delicate item, as his turf is usually cut by machinery.

“I don’t usually cut the traditional way; I usually use the hopper, but it never came this year and I wanted to get working on saving some turf in case it never came at all.

“When the hopper was here last it was cutting in the area right beside where I made the find and had it been back this year it would probably have destroyed the cauldron without anyone noticing. It was only the second day this year I was out and I was just about to go home when I struck it. I guess you could say it was a very lucky find.”

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