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Four medieval skeletons discovered in Ireland's Kilkenny

Four medieval skeletons were discovered on 28th July when Kilkenny Archaeology were monitoring excavations on behalf of the main contractors Duggan Brothers for a service trench for the new Medieval Mile Museum at St. Mary's church, Kilkenny.

Four medieval skeletons discovered in Ireland's Kilkenny
Archaeologists excavating the remains [Credit: © Kilkenny County Council]
The new museum has been carefully designed in order to maximise the preservation in situ of human skeletal remains but in this case the skeletons were found at a depth of just 0.35m (14") from the surface and this meant that they had to be archaeologically excavated (with the consent of the National Monuments Service) as the services required a deeper trench.

The skeletons, which are very well-preserved, are being carefully recorded and analysed in the ground by the archaeological team and their osteoarchaeologist Dr. Linda Lynch and once exhumed they will be brought to a lab for further detailed analysis. Once this is completed it may be possible to return the burials to St Mary's, following consultation with the National Museum of Ireland.

Four medieval skeletons discovered in Ireland's Kilkenny
Skeleton of a young girl [Credit: © Kilkenny County Council]
An excited Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, Managing Director of Kilkenny Archaeology in his preliminary commentary noted: "The four skeletons can be dated to c.1250-1350 AD based on pottery found in their graves meaning they are of the first few generations of Anglo-Norman colonists in Kilkenny. Their place of burial, in the south-west corner of the city's main graveyard around St. Mary's parish church, would typically imply they were not wealthy, and instead they were probably the poor of the medieval town. Further proof of this comes from the fact none of the skeletons were buried in coffins and they were instead buried in simple shrouds. These have rotted away without trace but green stains on the bones of the skeletons are the remnants of copper-alloy pins that would have fastened the shrouds around the bodies.

"All of the skeletons are female: there are two children (aged around eight years old), a young adult in her teens/early twenties and an adult aged around 25 plus. No causes of death have yet been identified but this may come out of the lab analysis. The teenage girl appears to have not had an easy life as her spine was damaged from the prolonged lifting of heavy weights and one of her legs appeared to be shorter than the other, meaning she would have walked with a pronounced limp. One of the child skeletons also showed evidence of a severe iron deficiency which was probably caused by malnutrition."

Four medieval skeletons discovered in Ireland's Kilkenny
The skeletons will be taken to a lab where further analysis will take place [Credit: © Kilkenny County Council]
The discovery of the burials has opened a unique window into the cold reality of life - and death - for the poor of medieval Kilkenny. They tell a tale of hard lives cut brutally short, probably by diseases and traumas that are today readily treated. Undoubtedly further analysis of the bones will reveal further fascinating insights into life and death in the medieval town of Kilkenny and add to the treasury of attractions at the new Medieval Mile Museum.

Source: Kilkenny County Council [August 09, 2016]

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