Wednesday 26 April 2017

Skeleton found in Clare cave is centuries-old stunted teenage boy

Dr Marion Dowd said the boy suffered extreme hunger Picture: James Connolly
Dr Marion Dowd said the boy suffered extreme hunger Picture: James Connolly

Pat Flynn

A skeleton discovered in a cave in the Burren five years ago is believed to be that of a teenage boy who may have died up to 500 years ago.

The human skull was discovered by cavers at Moneen, outside Ballyvaughan, and prompted a rescue archaeological excavation funded by the National Monuments Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

The full scientific investigations of the skeleton have just been published, revealing incredible details about the boy's life.

At the time of excavation, the small size of the skeleton led the team to think it was a child.

The skeleton was found in a cave in the Burren, Co Clare
The skeleton was found in a cave in the Burren, Co Clare

However, subsequent analysis of the teeth in particular revealed the remains belonged to someone who had died aged 14 to 16.

There was evidence of stunted growth, almost certainly a result of malnutrition and hunger.

The adolescent measured 4ft 1in in height - the equivalent of an average eight-year-old child by modern standards, or an 11- to 12-year-old in post-medieval times.

The stunted growth also meant that the sex of the individual could not be determined by normal archaeological methods.

However, tooth samples were sent to two different laboratories in England and Germany for ancient DNA analysis and both confirmed the individual was a teenage boy.

Radiocarbon dating was undertaken at Queen's University Belfast and revealed the teenager had died sometime between 1520 and 1670.

Historian Dr Ciarán Ó Murchadha suggested that the most likely timeframe for the boy's death was during the Commonwealth period (1649-1660), when Clare endured nearly two decades of famine, warfare, disease, and mass human casualty.

"This was a highly unusual situation: to find the remains of a malnourished boy in a small mountain cave in what was clearly not a Christian burial, yet he had died only a few hundred years ago," excavation director and IT Sligo lecturer Dr Marion Dowd said.

"All the evidence from the various specialists told us the same thing: this boy suffered periods of extreme hunger and malnourishment every year, probably for the entire duration of his short life."

Irish Independent

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