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Cave boy's life revealed by Sligo cave expert

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Burren archaeologist Clodagh Lynch and Dr Marion Dowd from IT Sligo during the excavation of Moneen Cave in County Clare

Burren archaeologist Clodagh Lynch and Dr Marion Dowd from IT Sligo during the excavation of Moneen Cave in County Clare

Burren archaeologist Clodagh Lynch and Dr Marion Dowd from IT Sligo during the excavation of Moneen Cave in County Clare

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Curled up in a cave, sheltering from either a battle or the elements, a 16th century teenage boy died alone.

Centuries later, a Cave Archaeologist from IT Sligo has published his story.

Dr Marion Dowd's forensic investigations of a skeleton discovered in a cave in the Burren reveals incredible details on the hardships he endured.

The small size of his skeleton, initially found by cavers in a cave outside Ballyvaughan village, led archaeologists to believe it was that of a small child.

However analysis of the teeth revealed the remains belonged to a teenager aged between 14-16 years old. There was evidence of stunted growth, almost certainly as a result of malnutrition and hunger.

The boy measured just 4ft 1 inch in height, the equivalent of an average 8 year old boy today or an 11-12 year old by post-medieval standards.

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Radiocarbon dating revealed he had died between 1520 and 1670. Historian Dr Ciarán Ó Murchadha suggests he most likely died between 1649-1660, when Clare endured nearly two decades of famine and war.

His bones also revealed evidence of a poor diet, probably indicating the boy ate mostly bread and gruels.

Dr Dowd, the Director of the Excavation said: "We found the remains within a small rectangular niche in the wall of the cave. It was a small space, just about big enough for a teenager to crawl into.

"The position of the bones suggests the boy curled up in this small space and died there, alone in the cold. All in all, a very poignant insight into a life that was harsh and ended tragically for this boy in the not too distant past," said Dowd.

Her new book detailing the excavations and analyses has just been published by Achaeopress, Oxford.

Dr Marion Dowd is Lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology at IT Sligo. Her current book, 'The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland' won Archaeology Book of the Year 2016, the first Irish book to win this award.


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