Archaeologists excavating the crannog site in County Fermanagh believe a 600-year-old skeleton was the victim of an ancient murder mystery.
Experts working on the Drumclay Crannóg at Enniskillen believe the woman’s remains which date back to the 15th or 16th century were buried in an “irregular” way. Investigators also found that the woman’s skull was damaged, however it is not known if this happened after death.
Archaeologists have unearthed over 4,000 artefacts during the ten-month dig at the medieval settlement. This amazing archaeological site only came to light during the development of a section of road in Northern Ireland. Despite the rich historic finds on the site there are still plans to complete the new link road in time for the G8 Summit in Fermanagh next June.
Speaking about the latests mysterious find, Doctor Nora Bermingham said, “The skeleton of a young woman, probably around 18 or 19 years with very bad teeth, was found in the upper layers of the crannog.”
While they can identify that the way in which she was buried was “irregular” they are unable to identify the cause of death and will hand the mystery off to a bones specialist.
“All we can say at the moment was that the burial itself was in slight disarray, it was slightly disarticulated, which means that it wasn’t a normal internment,” she told the Irish Times.
“This person wasn’t laid out on their back in an east-west direction, which is normal for a Christian burial.
“The body seems to have been bundled into the position it was buried in.”
Bermingham went on to consider whether this 600-year-old teenager could have been put to death.
She said, “It’s not uncommon for people who have either committed crimes or people who have been murdered or what not to have been buried in this fashion.”
The principal inspector of historic monuments with Stormont’s Department of the Environment, Doctor John O’Keeffe, agrees with Bermingham that something other than natural causes could have been a factor in this young woman’s death.
He said, “I very much suspect it was somebody who probably died suddenly and tragically at the site and rather than being brought to a graveyard they were buried there.
“I don’t know if that was clandestine or what.”
This woman’s body is over half a millennium old and carbon dating has confirmed that the Drumclay Crannóg includes some homes from around 670 AD.
When they began their dig they knew there was a possibility that they would find human remains the deeper they dug.
O’Keefe added, “At other crannogs that were excavated in the 1930s there were people’s heads lying about the bottom.”
He told the Irish Times that they also found skeletons wearing manacles and chains.
“It may have been an element of conquest, saying, ‘Right, this is mine now boys, we are going to consecrate it with the blood of your ancestors’.”
So far, a medieval board game, a gold ring, carved bowls, leather shoes, and finely-decorated metal dress pins have been found among the 4,000 objects archaeologists have discovered.
The clay-rich wetlands in the area had protected and preserved the site from oxygen, required for decomposition.
Despite the joy at the great find, O’Keefe says the long term preservation of the site as a tourist attraction is not practicable or economically-viable.
He said, “Whenever the lid has been kept on a site, it's intact, it's not decaying. Once you take the lid off and stir it around a little bit it starts to decay again,” he told the Daily Mail.
“If we were to stop today and try to freeze frame the site it wouldn't work. In order for it to work we would need to intervene with new protections on the ground which are massively expensive.”
Heavy plant diggers are expected to return to concrete over the site in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, to make way for a new link road.