A wooden pagan idol dating back to 100 years before St. Patrick has been discovered by a team of archaeologists in County Roscommon.
Believed to be more than 1,600 years old, the artifact was discovered in a bog in the townland of Gortnacrannagh, which is just 6km from the prehistoric royal site of Rathcroghan.
A team from the Archaeological Management Solutions (AMS) discovered the idol while working in advance of the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge Road Project and said that only a dozen similar idols exist in Ireland.
At two and a half meters long, the Gortnacrannagh idol is also the largest wooden Iron Age idol found in Ireland to date.
The idol, which was made during the Iron Age from a split oak trunk, features a small human-shaped head at one end and a series of notches carved along its body.
AMS archaeologist Dr. Eve Campbell, who directed the excavation of the site, said that the idol was likely to be a pagan god.
"The Gortnacrannagh Idol was carved just over 100 years before St. Patrick came to Ireland — it is likely to be the image of a pagan deity," Campbell said following the discovery.
"Our ancestors saw wetlands as mystical places where they could connect with their gods and the Otherworld. The discovery of animal bone alongside a ritual dagger suggests that animal sacrifice was carried out at the site and the idol is likely to have been part of these ceremonies."
Irish archaeologists have unearthed a 1,600-year-old wooden pagan idol from Gornacrannagh, Co Roscommon. At 2.5m long the largest to date, made from a split oak trunk with a small human-shaped head at one end and horizontal notches carved along its body. https://t.co/DOUueeSGqK pic.twitter.com/KPJPHzwVtm— European Association of Archaeologists (@archaeologyEAA) August 13, 2021
The idol is now in Univeristy College Dublin, where conservator Susannah Kelly is currently undertaking a three-year project to preserve it. The idol will be given to the National Museum of Ireland once the project is completed.
Meanwhile, the AMS will make a replica of the Gornacrannagh idol and donate it to the Rathcroghan Centre, where it will go on display.
Dr. Ros Ó Maoldúin of AMS described the discovery as unique and significant and said that the replica idol would help archaeologists understand and appreciate how it was made.
The discovery of the idol will have no impact on the construction of the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge Road Project.
Meanwhile, the AMS said that wooden idols are often found in bogs across Northern Europe because waterlogged conditions allow for the preservation of the ancient wood.