Experts believe the antler hammerhead found in a Burren cave is “likely to be prehistoric”.
Archaeologists also found the skeleton of a teenager, believed to be from the 16th or 17th century, along with shards of pottery.
The skull of the skeleton and the hammer head were found by cavers in June 2011, in a small cave in the Moneen Mountain outside Ballyvaughan, County Clare. Ireland’s National Museum Service carried out a ten-days excavations last August.
Marion Dowd, for the Institute of Technology (IT) Sligo, presented their finding in Tubber, County Offaly, this week. She said the cave was used about 3,000 years ago, at the end of the Medieval period.
She said “The discovery of the fabulous antler hammerhead is hugely exciting…I can’t find any other parallels in Irish archaeology.”
Tests to confirm the origin of the red deer stag, aged six-and-a-half, have not been completed.
Dowd said in the an Irish context the discovery “is very interesting and very significant".
The find includes pottery shards and butchered animal bone.
She continued “It is a fabulous collection. While the material is domestic in nature, there is no evidence that the cave was inhabited at this time."
The discovery of the full skeleton was "quite poignant and quite sad", Dr O’Dowd said.
"It gives a real, human element where we had a teenager dying in a cave all alone where he or she came to seek shelter or to hide. Nobody ever knew from this time where this teenager went."
DNA tests confirmed that the teenager was aged between 14 and 16.
She said “This was not a situation where a body was dumped. We also found no evidence of trauma.
“The bones show that the individual had quite stunted growth — possibly because of malnourishment.
“The skeleton is somewhere between 350 and 500 years old.”
The cave, amazingly, had not been disturbed until now. She said “The landowner knew that the cave was there, but it is very small. It measures three meters by two and a half meters and you can’t stand upright in it."