Excavation unearths bronze age artefact

MEET Slievemore Man.

The striking artefact – a Middle Bronze Age carved stone head – has been unearthed during archaeological excavations in Achill.

Work at the Cromlech Tumulus site on Slievemore Mountain has been underway since 2014 as part of the training excavations run each summer by Achill Archaeological Field School.

The site has been the subject of discussion since the late 19th century. While there have been many suggestions about what the site might represent, no consensus had previously been reached.

It is now apparent that the largest element of the site is a very large Middle Bronze Age building. Although the excavations have yet to uncover the full building, it is clear it is a particularly large example.

A radiocarbon date indicates occupation occurred sometime around 1050 BC. The building

is overlain by at least three small post medieval buildings, whose presence has caused the surface appearance of the site to be so confusing.

Artefacts have been very limited, until the penultimate week of this year's excavations when a most remarkable artefact was unexpectedly discovered.

The discovery at first appeared to be a beach pebble, possibly used as a hammerstone. However, when student Cameron Maurin picked up the stone he noticed it had two conical holes pecked into it.

Closer examination revealed the two adjacent holes had been chipped away to reveal the white quartz interior of the pebble, and two much smaller holes had been pecked into the exposed quartz. This is a very striking effect and there can be little doubt what we are looking at is a pair of eyes complete with whites and pupils!

There are also two apparently natural holes on each side of the stone where the quartz is exposed, one of which has been chipped away at to open it up a little, and these seem to mark the position of a pair of ears. Finally, the base of the stone has been broken to create a very obvious jawline.

The artefact is a unique piece of Bronze Age representative art. The Slievemore Man (or Woman!) takes its place between the early Bronze Age ‘face cups’ from Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, and the late Bronze Age carved wooden statue from Co. Cavan, Ralaghan Man, as an extremely rare piece of Bronze Age imagery that actually resembles a subject.

Analysis on the techniques used to create the piece and discussions of its purpose or meaning are only beginning, and no doubt many interesting things will eventually be discovered about this remarkable object.

Work on the site will continue in 2016, with Achill Archaeological Field School  investigating an exciting post medieval settlement in Keem Bay for the remaining part of the 2015 season, which ends on August 30.

For information about Achill Field School courses, see their website, www.achill-fieldschool.com.