Wednesday 22 November 2017

Milling centre fit for a king reveals violent past

Human remains found during the excavation of the site near Ashbourne, Co Meath
Human remains found during the excavation of the site near Ashbourne, Co Meath
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

It was an ancient settlement lost for almost 1,000 years. Now it has been revealed as one of the largest milling centres ever discovered by archaeologists in Ireland.

A new book, 'Meitheal: The archaeology of lives, labours and beliefs at Raystown, Co Meath', tells the story of a fifth-century settlement found 1km from Ashbourne during construction of the M2 motorway.

Mid excavation view of Raystown
Mid excavation view of Raystown

It revealed that at its height 200 years later, the six-hectare site was home to eight mills which processed barley and oats for animal fodder, the luxury crop wheat for supreme kings and bishops, and rye for lower-ranking kings and poets.

Its discovery in 2001 following a survey for the motorway was a "complete surprise", according to senior archaeologist with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, Mary Deevy. One-third of the site was excavated before the motorway was built.

Its inhabitants were taller than average, suggesting they led relatively prosperous lives. But there was violence too, with the remains of one man found with 110 blade injuries to his body.

There was also some evidence of horse and dog being eaten, despite this being taboo.

Irish Independent

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