Tag Archives: Bronze age

Glavica tumulus

Yesterday while I was writing my post about Glavica cemetery, I had this nagging feeling of Déjà vu: calotte shaped isolated hill with many medieval graves dug into its sides. Protected from destruction and looting by a local taboo…
But by the time I have finished my article I still couldn’t put my finger on it. So I published my article, went to have dinner, and then it hit me. Suddenly I knew where I had seen something like that before. 

Gruda Boljevića tumulus is one of the most interesting and most important archaeological sites of the Montenegrin Late Copper – Early Bronze age. It is also probably one of the most important archaeological sites found recently in Europe. 

The reason why I believe that this tumulus is so important, is because it shows that the dolmen building, golden cross disc making culture which developed in Montenegro in the first half of the third millennium BC, has its direct cultural roots in Yamna culture of the Black Sea steppe. Why is this important? Because the gold cross discs found in this tumulus and other Montenegrian tumuluses are later found in Beaker culture sites in Ireland and Britan. And the Irish annals tell us that the Early Irish who brought with them metallurgy and gold migrated to Ireland from Russian steppe, via Balkans and then Iberia. Gruda Boljevića is the last and most important piece of evidence which confirms that the Irish annals contain not pseudo histories, but real histories which talk about events that happened in the 3rd millennium BC…

But Gruda Boljevića is also interesting in another way. 

Tumuluses are well known archaeological features in Montenegro, which is why Gruda Boljevića was also assumed to be a prehistoric grave even before the excavation. The local legend says that two wedding parties met and fought and that the victims of this tragic fight were buried under the Gruda Boljevića tumulus. This type of legends is often linked to ancient burial type archaeological sites in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I already wrote about this type of sites in my post about wedding party graveyards. So it was assumed that Gruda Boljevića was one of such ancient burial sites. This assumption was confirmed during building of a house south of the tumulus, when one of many medieval stone cist graves,  which were dug into the original bronze age tumulus was discovered. This is the plan of the Gruda Boljevića tumulus with the locations of the medieval graves in and around the tumulus.
The Medieval graves fall into two types: 

Stone boxes with gable roof like tops

Stone boxes with flat tops

The skeletons found in these medieval graves date from the period 12-13th century. 

Graves were full of grave goods which show strong cultural links to both coastal regions of Montenegro and the inland regions of Serbia particularly the Morava valley. Here are some examples of the grave goods found:

The above mentioned legend and knowledge of the existence of the graves, saved the mound from destruction, which was not the case with other mounds which allegedly existed nearby. You can find additional information and detailed description of the tumulus in the article entitled “Podgorica praistorijske humke i srednjovjekovne nekropole Gruda Boljevića“.

Gruda Boljevića tumulus had an irregular shape and had a diameter of 24 m.

Now have a look at this satellite picture. It shows the location of the Glavica hill cemetery. 

You can see an isolated perfectly circular hill covered in oak forest. The bottom left is the fenced off area with the new cemetery and the chapel. 
This is the side view of the hill. You can see that it has flat calotte shape typical of tumulus hills. 
So the big question is: is Glavica hill a tumulus, which was, just like Gruda Boljevića, reused as the burial ground during medieval time?
Here is a picture of the graves near the summit of the hill with the holy oak and the altar:
Is it possible that all these graves are dug into the side of the tumulus?
Now if Glavica hill is a tumulus it is truly gigantic. Judging by the Google maps it is about 70 meters in diameter. Compare that with Gruda Boljevića which is only 24 meters in diameter.
And finally, if Glavica hill is a tumulus, what period does it date from? If it is from the Early Bronze Age, like all the other tumuluses I wrote about in my series about Montenegrian tumuluses, then we should expect a central cist grave with additional secondary Bronze and Iron Age burials dotting the hill hidden among the later Medieval ones. If however this tumulus is from the Late Bronze age, or Iron Age, then it could, potentially, hide a spectacular untouched huge burial chamber of someone very very important. 
But as I already said in my post about Glavica cemetery, there is no money or will or interest to do any additional excavation on the site. 
Maybe this post might spark some new interest. Hopefully by archaeologists and not treasure hunters…
I want to thank my friend Aleksandar Tešić for this picture of the Glavic hill and for the additional pictures of the actual graveyard inside the forest. 

Fulacht fiadh – a cooking pit?

fulacht fiadh or fulacht fian is a type of archaeological site found in Ireland. In England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man they are known as burnt mounds. They commonly survive as a low horseshoe-shaped mound of charcoal-enriched soil and heat shattered stone with a slight depression at its center showing the position of the pit.

Radiocarbon dating indicates that the majority of fulachta fiadh were constructed during the mid to late Bronze Age (c.1500- c. 500 BC), though some Neolithic examples are known. 
Originally it was thought that fulachta fiadh were still in use up to medieval times. But in the paper entitled “Medieval fulachtai fia in Ireland? An archaeological assessment” by Alan Hawkes, published in the Journal of Irish Archaeology, Hawkes concludes that it is unlikely that the burnt mound tradition continued into the medieval period. Fulachta fiadh are the most common archaeological sites in Ireland, with over 4,500 recorded examples, of which some 2,000 are found in County Cork. Permanent structures are rarely found near to fulachtaí fiadh, but small hut sites are common and it is unknown whether early sites were built by permanent settlements or nomadic hunters.

Fulachtaí fiadh generally consist of three main elements: a mound of stones, a hearth used to heat the stones, and a trough, often lined with wood or stone. Troughs may be cut into subsoil or, more rarely, into bedrock.

The site may contain the remains of structures such as stone enclosures or even small buildings, and sometimes multiple hearths and additional, smaller pits. A number of the fulachtaí fiadh pits are approximately a meter wide by 2 meters long and maybe half a meter or more in depth. However, size can vary a great deal from site to site, from rather small pits lined with stones to pools conceivably large enough for people to bathe in.

The exact usage of these sites and even the exact meaning of the word fulacht is still debated. So lets see if I can help this debate in any way. 

The name

In “Lapidibus in igne calefactis coquebatur: the historical burnt mound ‘tradition’” which was written by John Ó Néill and printed in the Journal of Irish Archaeology Vol. XII/XIII, 79-85 we read that:

Many commentators suggest that the Irish word “fulacht” denotes a pit used for cooking. “Fiadh” in Old Irish meant something like “wild”, often relating to animals such as deer. However, all commentators acknowledge significant difficulties in deriving a genuine etymology for the word “fulacht”. As some historical references clearly use the term “fulacht” to describe a cooking spit…the word probably carries a deliberate reference to the Irish words for blood (fuil) and meat (feoil)….Further corroborating evidence that in the Irish antiquity pits dug in the ground were used for cooking, is found in Geoffrey Keating’s early seventeenth century history of Ireland, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, which describes a pre-Christian tradition of hunters boiling meat in earthen pits, and a late medieval ecclesiastical biography of the Irish St. Munnu, describing the boiling of porridge on fire heated stones

In the “Early Irish Farming: A Study Based Mainly on the Law-Texts of the 7th and 8th Centuries Ad” by  Fergus Kelly we read that:

The early Irish literature also shows that the word fulacht is not only applied to a water filled pit for boiling meat but also to an outdoor cooking pit where meat was roasted on a spit or over an open fire

The cooking

In legend, fulachta fiadh were the cooking place of the Fianna. As they were lead around the country by Fionn MacCumhal, the band of young warriors would feast on wild boar and deer. It had been suggested that the term ‘fulacht fiadh’ meant ‘cooking place of the Fianna’ and indeed on earlier maps the sites are sometimes called ‘fulachta Fian’. 
Now considering that fulacht fiadh consists of a trough (a pit) and a mound of burned and cracked stones, archaeologists suggested that the cooking was done in the trough, with the water being heated by hot stones which were heated in the hearth and then dropped into the trough….

The Ballyvourney reconstruction of fulacht fiadh included successful attempts at heating the water and cooking meat in this manner. In the experiment it took about half an hour to bring 450 L of water to the boil and four hours to cook a 4.5 kg leg of mutton.

Impressive some would say. And the proof that fulacht fiadh were indeed used as cooking pits.

But one of the people who took part in these cooking experiments had this to say about it:

..having used a fulacht fiadh for a day down in Wexford in the way it’s described in the books in Ireland, I have no doubt that the books are wrong. It took a good few hours of constant work by a team of us to maintain the fire, keep the stones going into the water and maintain that boiling water for long enough to cook a joint of meat…So I don’t think that fulachts were used for cooking. There are a lot of much easier ways to cook a joint of meat…“.

The reason why pit boiling is extremely unlikely usage for fulacht fiadh is that its dimensions are all wrong for a cooking pit. They have much larger surface area compared to their dept. Now meat cooking requires reaching and maintaining a boiling temperature in the trough for the duration of cooking. But “the heat loss due to evaporation of water from a surface of an open tank is totally dominant at higher water temperatures“. What this means is that at boiling temperature, it becomes extremely difficult to keep the water in the shallow trough with the large surface boiling for long enough to actually cook the meat. You have to constantly feed the fire in order to heat the stones. You have to keep adding new heated stones into the trough and take the cooled ones out, while engulfed in a cloud of steam for 4 hours. Because of the wide surface and shallow dept the heat will try to escape straight up through the surface which means that you have to constantly stir the water in order to spread the heat. This is a lot of hard work for cooking some meat, and this is exactly what the above participant in the fulacht fiadh cooking experiment concluded after the “successful” fulacht fiadh cooking experiment. It is possible to use fulacht fiadh to cook, but why would anyone bother doing it when we know that there were other much easier ways of cooking large quantities of meat which were available to the Bronze Age builders of fulachta fiadh?

So what other easier procedures could the Bronze Age Irish use for cooking large quantities of meat? Well depends how they wanted to cook the meat.

Boiling

What is the most efficient way to boil water? When you heat water, the hot water rises. So if you heat the vessel containing water from the bottom, the bottom layer of water will be the hottest and will rise, while the cooler water layers from the top will sink only to be heated and to rise…This natural heat convection means that you don’t have to stir the water to spread the heat. If your vessel is narrow but deep, this heat convection will create a powerful mixing flow which will result in very quick heating of the whole volume of water. Now remember that I said that the heat loss due to evaporation of water from a surface of an open tank is totally dominant at higher water temperatures. Major heat loss can be avoided only by covering the surface. And at the same time the heat loss through insulated walls can be almost neglected.

So if you want to quickly and efficiently bring to boil and keep boiling a large volume of water, you want to put it in a vessel which is the exact opposite of the fulacht fiadh trough. You want something that is narrow, deep, and covered. Something like a cooking pot.

This is why cooking pots used for high temperature high volume cooking have been shaped in the same way since they were invented in late Mesolithic. They are deep and narrow, which minimizes the evaporation surface relative to the volume. This is a 15,000 year old pot from Jomon culture, an early acorn eating culture from Japan,

This is a 6000 year old cooking set from Europe. You can see that the shape of the pot is still the same.

And this is the same type of high temperature, high volume cooking pot still used for high volume cooking in Serbia today. You can see that the only addition to the original design is the heavy lid. These are extremely efficient cooking utensils which require a small amount of wood to cook large amount of food.

This is a great picture showing the size of  these pots relative to the human body. You can see that you can use them to cook over a hundred kilos of food, in this case sour kraut and smoked pork (Serbian bacon and cabbage).

We know that these types of pots existed in Ireland at the time when fulachta fiadh were made. Here are some burial pots found in Ireland dated to 1900-1300BC. They belong to the “food vessel” type funerary vessels found in Irish early bronze age Wedge Tombs and pit and stone cist burials like this one at Bunnamayne, County Donegal. If people were able to make these kind of pots for burials, they were surely able to make them for cooking too (hence the name “food vessels”). The one on the left looks particularly suitable for cooking and very similar to the above cooking pots from Serbia.

So in order to cook hundreds of kilos of meat and veg, in the pots like these, you need to chop the meed and veg and fat, put all in the pot, add water, herbs, salt (sea water), pile hot charcoals near the bottom edge of the pot, and then sit and wait until it is cooked….No hours of hard work necessary.

So why would anyone who was able to make these types of cooking pots torture themselves by cooking in fulachta fiadh? Well they probably didn’t use fulacht fiadh troughs for cooking. 

The cooking hypothesis is rendered even less convincing by the near absolute lack of animal bone or plant material within the troughs. Moreover, the location of many burnt mounds on marshy upland terrain makes the notion of cooking somewhat unlikely: the prospect of carrying large quantities of food to such inconvenient areas seems unappealing. Proponents of this view have argued that the lack of animal material is likely due to preferential decay associated with elevated soil acidity, which is a key feature of burnt mound sites. Now in these marshy areas a hole dug into the ground would quickly fill with water. Acidic marshy water. A very very bad water for cooking food. No normal person would cook food in water like that. Imagine the taste of meat cooked in such water. Now if the fulacht fiadh trough was cut into a bedrock or into a clay rich soil next to a clean stream, we could pour clean fresh water into it and use it for cooking (if we could be bothered going through the torture of the whole procedure), but then we would have had some traces of meat and plant residue, which again were not found. 

So I believe that we can safely discard fulacht fiadh trough as a cooking pit. But there are other cooking pit types which are still used around the world, specifically for large ceremonial feasts where large amounts of meat need to be cooked at once. And they produce a lot of burned cracked stones.

Pit ovens

In wrote a whole article about pit ovens. In short, an earth oven or cooking pit is one of the simplest and longest used cooking structures. It is  also the oldest oven type used by people. The earliest ones were found in Central Europe, and dated to 29,000 BC. They were situated inside mammoth bone yurts and were used to cook mammoth meat.

So how do you make an earth pit oven?

At its simplest, an earth oven is a pit dug in the the ground. A fire is lit at the bottom of pit and let to burn until only hot coals are left behind. The pit walls and the stones placed in the fire absorb and then radiate the heat back towards the center of the pit. This heat is then used to bake, smoke, or steam food inside of the pit. To make the earth ovens more efficient you can line them with stones as they are much better at absorbing and radiating back heat than the ordinary dirt. The food is placed inside the pit, either directly, covered in clay, wrapped in grass or leaves and then the whole contraption is covered with dirt, sealing the heat inside the pit. The stones slowly release the heat and cook the food. after several hours, when the food is cooked, the food is uncovered and taken out of the pit. The cracked stones are discarded on the burned mound and the intact ones are reused. The type of stones used, granite and sandstone can on average be reheated few times before they crack and have to be discarded. If you want to cook a whole large animal like a deer you need to make a fairly large pit and use a big fire and a lot of stones. So if the same cooking pits were used year after year, and we know from ethnographic data the they were, they would relatively quickly produce big piles of burned cracked stones…

An example of cooking pits used for large-scale cooking producing large “burned-rock middens” can be found in Central Texas. 

Is this what the Irish histories meant when they talked about the “cooking pits”? Again this is much much easier way of cooking large amounts of meat than using stone heated large troughs. Possibly, but only on dry well drained grounds. On marshy waterlogged grounds these pit ovens suffer from the same problem that the cooking pits suffer from: seeping marsh water. The seeping water would quickly extinguish any fire lit up in the pit. But there other surface stone ovens, which can be used for cooking of large quantities of meat, which also produce burned mounds and which are not affected by the soil drainage. I will talk about these ovens in my post about stone ovens.

As for boiling using heated stones, don’t get me wrong. Stone water heating was used for cooking all over the world, and particularly for porridge cooking, just as the biography of the Irish St. Munnu describes it. We know that from the ethnographic data collected in United States where hated stones were used for cooking acorn porridge. I wrote about this in my post about eating acorns.

Stone boiling was used when available cooking vessels were baskets or some other type of watertight but not fire resistant container, such as wooden bowls or containers. 

In California,the hot stone cooking was done in this way by the local Native American people. Hot rocks the size of tennis balls were heated by fire. Then, they were put into baskets or wooden bowls or containers filled with water and acorn meal. The stones were stirred in the baskets gently and slowly with a wooden paddle or looped stirrer. When the mixture began to boil it was cooked, exactly like when you make a cereal porridge. The stones were then removed from the basket with wooden tongs. 

Stone Boiling was also used by plain tribes. A bowl-shaped pit would be dug into the hard earth. It would then be made watertight by pushing a fresh buffalo hide, fleshy side up, into the bottom of the pit. The pit would then be filled with water. Large heavy cobbles would be heated in a nearby fire until they glowed red. They would then be carried on a forked stick to the pit. By continually replacing the rocks as they cooled with hot rocks, the water would get very hot. Food would then be added and cooked. The material stacked up on the right is buffalo dung (commonly called buffalo chips). Since trees tend to be scarce on the Great Plains, dried buffalo dung was the standard fuel used by the Plains Indians. This type of cooking was used for cooking things that could not have been cooked in pit ovens which was preferred way of cooking buffalo meat. For instance this type of cooking was used for extracting bone marrow from broken bones.

There is an old story called “Stone Soup“. The story involves a stranger coming to a village, building a hearth and placing a pot of water over it. He (or she) puts in stones and invites others to taste the stone soup. The stranger invites others to add an ingredient, and pretty soon, Stone Soup is a collaborative meal full of tasty things. Not to mention a stone or two. 

So stone cooking was used, and could have been one of the oldest cooking methods ever used. But look at the dimensions of the basket on the picture above. It is again narrow with the dept the same as the diameter, and relative size much closer to the size of the hot stones being dropped in. This means that the water in the basket will be heated to boil and kept boiling much easier then if the cooking vessel was a gigantic hundreds of liters fulacht fiadh trough. O one other thing. This method of cooking was abandoned for cooking in earthen pots heated from the bottom whenever they were available because cooking with hot stones is much harder and time consuming.

Now remember that the early Irish literature also shows that the word fulacht is not only applied to a water filled pit for boiling meat but also to an outdoor cooking pit where meat was roasted on a spit or over an open fire. Cooking pits can also be used for spit roasting.

Cooking spits

In Serbia and in the rest of the Balkans, no major celebration can be imagined without a roasted pig or lamb on a spit. Where I come from, the roasting process always started with digging of a ditch, an oval shaped pit. The pit was then filled with slow burning hardwood which was burned and turned into a charcoal. Once the pit was full of the smoldering charcoal, the spit was put over the ditch and the roasting would start. Basically the pig was a spit roasted over a pit oven.

Again this is a very easy way to cook a very large amount of meat. Actually the easiest. In Serbia they roast whole cows on spits, so a deer or a wild boar wouldn’t be very difficult to cook at all. No wonder this remained through the ages the most favorite method from cooking large quantities of meat.

So if fulacht fiadh or fulacht Fian really was a place where members of Fianna cooked their food using pits, spits and open fire, then pit ovens are the best match. Not only that you can use them for steaming (boiling) and roasting of large quantities of meat in the pit, but you can also use them to cook the same large quantities of meat on a spit positioned over the pit. And if the cooking is done in the pit, the pit ovens produce large quantities of burned cracked stones and particularly charcoal-enriched soil. 

So I think that we can safely say that fulachta fiadh were not used in the way the mainstream archaeology suggest they were used:  for cooking large amounts of meat in troughs full of water heated by hot stones. The Bronze Age people who built fulachta fiadh had much more efficient ways of cooking large quantities of meat at their disposal. But what about the troughs? Every fulachta fiadh had a trough, so they must have been used for something. But if not for cooking, what were they used for? Particularly the ones built on the marshy boggy acidic terrain. I will talk about this in my next few posts.

Ring cairns

As I explained in one of my previous posts, the development of Copper Age tumulus in the territory of Montenegro went through several stages during the first half of the 3rd millennium BC eventually producing something like this: free standing dolmen cist covered with curbed multilayered earth – stone tumulus. 

But this was not the only type of stone cist burials in Montenegro at that time. The above type of burial in massive stone cists under earth tumuluses was used in the valleys and fertile lowlands. In the mountainous regions of Montenegro a more typical seems to have been burial in massive stone cists placed in the centers of artificial stone hills (cairns) which were surrounded with stone rings (curbs). 

A typical example of this type of burial is a group of tumuluses, located on the Planinica (little mountain) hill in Tuzi area in south eastern Montenegro. The tumulus group is described in the article “Bronze-Age stone tumuli on Planinica Hill, obš. Tuzi, Montenegro” published by Urszula Bugaj, Predrag Lutovac, Miron Bogacki, Maciej Trzeciecki and Mario Novak.

The stone tumuluses from this groups have diameters ranging from 11–16 m and heights up to 2 m. All three tumuluses have the form of an embankment of medium-sized broken stones (curb, stone circle) filled with stone rubble. In the centers of tumuluses there is a stone cist consisting of four upright stone slabs and a horizontal top slab.  The whole construction resembles an artificial stone hill with the stone cist placed into the pit dug in the middle of stone hill, where in fact the stone cist was placed on the surface and the stones were piled up against it forming the artificial stone hill (cairn).

The Planinica tumulus group has its counterparts in the tumulus group located near the village of Rječani in Nikšić area in north-western Montenegro.

Even though the current state of research of the Montenegrian tumuluses is very poor, it can be stated, however, that this group of stone tumuluses belongs to a definite tradition of burying the dead, which developed in this part of the Balkan Peninsula from the late Copper Age, early Bronze Age. These tumuluses were used for a relatively long time, retaining the tradition of the location while the burial rite or the forms of graves were changing.

These are tumulus 1 and 2 from Planica hill:

And tumulus 3 from Rječani

What is interesting is that we find exactly the same type of burial in Britain, dated to the early to middle Bronze Age. These burials are known as curbed stone cairns, or ring cairns. They consist of a massive stone cist placed in a hole dug the middle of an artificial stone hill (cairn) surrounded with one or many stone circles (curbs). I will here give few examples of curbed stone cairns. There are many more strewn across Britain. 

This is one of two curbed stone cairns, or ring cairns at Temple Wood in the Kilmartin valley.

It was constructed over a stone cist in which cremated bones were found. The cairn was surrounded by a stone circle constructed out of 22 massive stone and is about 40 feet (twelve metres) in diameter. Three of these stones have been carved: one with a number of concentric circles; another with two spirals – one on each of two adjoining faces with the ends of the spirals meeting at the edge; and a third with cup-marks. Two cairns were built over cists outside the stone circle. Later a large cairn was built up which covered the inner cairn, the stone circle and the two outer cairns. Post holes from another stone circle were found just a little way from the main Temple Wood circle. You can find more great photographs of this cairn on this page of the Ancient Scotland site. The dating of this complex is uncertain. Originally it was thought that the site was built around 4000 BC, but it is now believed that it is more likely that the site was built in the early Bronze Age.

It is thought that the southern circle was erected after the northern circle The line connecting the centre of the circles forms an axis running NE-SW, and coincides with the alignment of the southern circle’s three burial cists.

From the northern circle, the midwinter sun would have set in line with the southern circle. The concentric circles on stone 12 and the double spirals on stone 10 could be symbolizing this event. You can find more details about this bronze age complex on this page from the Antiquity site.

This is Carn Llechart, one of the largest curbed stone cairns, or ring cairns in Wales.

The stone circle (curb) is 12m in diameter, consisting of 25 outwards-facing stones, and the central cist has its east side stone and capstone missing. It seems that there is no entry to the circle and no trace of a covering mound.The cairn appears vividly against the skyline when it is approached along the track-way from the North.

Aubrey Burl in his “The Stone Circles of British Isles” wrote that such rings were thought to be the first stage of development of stone circles, but that these cairns, however, are almost certainly too late to provide such an ancestry. The reverse seems likely, that the existence of stone circles elsewhere impelled people to place tall stones around the bases of their own round cairns, a fusion of traditions resulting in monuments like spiky coronets. You can see more photos of this site on this page from the Ancient Wisdom site and this page from the Modern Antiquarian site.

This is a Bronze Age cairn at Llanelwedd near Builth Wells in Wales dated to 2600 – 1600 BC. 

You can see that cist cairn has a form of an embankment of medium-sized broken stones (curb, stone circle) filled with stone rubble with the stone cist placed in the middle.

You can find a lot of information about the Llanelwedd circle cist on this great page from the CPAT site.

This is Turf Knowe, a bronze age cist cairn, located near Ingram, Northumberland, Great Britain. Originally thought to be a field clearance cairn, excavation over the years 1994-97 revealed a central stone cist (coffin) which contained a burial with a jet bead necklace and a well-preserved, upturned food vessel. A second cist contained several cremations but no pots. Other cremations, some with pots, had been inserted into the cairn structure, including an infant who had apparently died from meningitis over 4000 years ago.

What is interesting is that the only site that I could find in Ireland that vaguely looks like curbed stone cairn is the Poulawack Cairn which is located in Burren, Western Ireland. 

Poulawack Cairn has been dated variously by several observers to be between 3000 and 1900 B.C.. Before excavation, this round cairn measured 20.75m N/S and 21.25m E/W. Under it were found two concentric kerbs or revetments. 10 graves were found within the revetments containing remains of 16 people. Very few of the remains showed signs of cremation, indicating Bronze Age origin, a period when unburnt burials were quite common. The cairn material which had consisted in the main of limestone slabs had been carefully laid and it was evident in a change in orientation in the stones that a considerable part of the upper levels of the cairn had been disturbed in the course of a secondary insertion of a number of cist graves. 

You can find more info and pictures of the Poulawack Cairn on this page of the Ancient Ireland site and this page of the Saints and stones site. If anyone has any info about any other ring cairn from Ireland please let me know so that I can add the information about it to this post.

So it seems that here we have another example of a cultural development which first appeared in the Balkans Montenegro during the late Copper Age, early Bronze Age and which was then brought to the British Isles during the early Bronze Age. Is this another sign of a migration from Montenegro to Britain during the mid 3rd millennium BC? I think it is. What do you think?

Linkardstown cists

In my post about the development of Late copper age Montenegrian tumuluses I asked the question: Was there an immigration from Ireland to Montenegro at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC? And is it possible that the cultural process of “raising” of burial cists from the ground, which happened in Montenegrian tumuluses in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC was influenced by these Irish immigrants? 
And here is the reason why I asked this question: Linkardstown cists. 

Linkardstown cists are so named after first excavated example at Linkardstown in Co. Carlow. The book “Early Ireland: An Introduction to Irish Prehistory” By Michael J. O’Kelly, Claire O’Kelly describe Linkardstown Cists like this:

They are built from large slabs or boulders which were arranged on the ground surface, generally in polygonal plan. The original Linkardstown Cists from county Carlow measured 2m X 2.3m at the ground level, but much smaller examples are known, some of them less than a meter in length and width. The side slabs were slanted inwards so that the dimensions at the top were less than at the ground level . All spaces between the side slabs were usually infilled with smaller pieces of stone and other slabs were placed against the outside. A capstone or capstones closed the top.

A small cairn surrounded the structure and then the whole cairn was covered with the circular mound of sods or earth bounded by a stone kerb. The mounds vary in diameter from about 35m to 20m. 

The normal burial consisted of one or two male bodies, sometimes flexed or crouched.

The above two pictures are taken from the “Irish Decorated Neolithic Pottery” by M. Herity. The reason why this book talks about the Linkardstown cists is because some, but not all Linkardstown cists contain round bottomed, highly decorated pots. The pots are shouldered and the ornament consists of channeled grooves, executed with a blunt point in geometric panel, a series of oblique strokes being frequently employed.

This is an example of one of these decorated pots. This one is from the tumulus located at Ballintruer More, Co Wicklow

In “An archaeological reconsideration of solar mythology” by Karlene Jones-Bley we read that “the common elements of these vessels are rayed or starred motifs in combination with a cruciform pattern all found on the base of the vessels…”.  In same Linkardstown cists, a plain round bottomed shouldered bowl is found with the decorated pots.

This is the list of all the Linkardstown cist burials i could find:

Ballintruer More, Co Wicklow
Clogher Lower (Co. Roscommon)
Ballinagore (Co. Wicklow)
Knockast, Co. Westmeath

Ardcroney, Co Tipperary
Ashley Park, Co Tipperary
Baunogenasraid, Co. Kilkenny
Knockmaree, Co. Dublin
Jerpoint west,  Co. Kilkenny
Drimnagh, Co. Dublin

They are mostly found in Eastern and Central part of Ireland. 

So what is the big deal about Linkardstown Cist burials? Well they are almost exact copies of the Montenegrian late copper age, early bronze age tumuluses.
Both Linkardstown Cist burials and Montenegrian tumuluses have:

1. Central stone dolmen cist poligonal (Linkardstown Cist) or rectangular (Montenegrian tumuluses) which was built on the surface of the ground.
2. Cists narrow towards the top and are covered by a massive capstone or stones.
3. Cists were cobbled, had a floor made of stone and sand.
4. Cists were sealed. Space between the stones in filled with smaller stones (Linkardstown Cists) and clay (Montenegrian tumuluses)
5. Each cist contained single burial
6. Central stone dolmen cist was covered by multilayered tumulus with multiple stone curbs
7. Funerary offerings contained decorated and undecorated food ware.

Why no one made any link between the Linkardstown Cist burials and Montenegrian tumuluses before now? 

Well firstly, as I said in my posts about Montenegrian tumuluses, they were discovered very recently and there is very little published data about them outside Montenegro. Secondly the Montenegrian tumuluses were originally dated to 2nd millennium BC and the Linkardstown Cist burials were originally dated to 4th millennium BC. So this is very big time difference and any similarity across such time frame is ususally attributed to chance.

But recently both Linkardstown Cist burials and Montenegrian tumuluses did some serious time travel which brought them much much closer together on a timeline. Montenegrian tumuluses were dated to the period between 3000 BC and 2400 BC. The Linkardstown Cist burials were recently dated and the results were published in the article entitled “Radiocarbon Dates for Neolithic Single Burials” published by A. L. Brindley and J. N. Lanting. The C14 dates fall to the period between 4800 – 4200 BP.  BP means “before present” but really it means “before 1950”. Why 1950? Because the “present” time changes, standard practice is to use 1 January 1950 as commencement date of the age scale, reflecting the fact that radiocarbon dating became practicable in the 1950s. The abbreviation “BP”, with the same meaning, has also been interpreted as “Before Physics”; that is, before nuclear weapons testing artificially altered the proportion of the carbon isotopes in the atmosphere, making dating after that time likely to be unreliable. And the reason why additional radioactivity produced by humans affects radiocarbon dating so much is because radiocarbon dating is based on measuring of the amount of radioactive carbon (C14, radiocarbon) in organic matter. 

The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon (C14) is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire C14 by eating the plants. When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and from that point onwards the amount of C14 it contains begins to decrease as the C14 undergoes radioactive decay and gets converted into a stable C12 carbon isotope. Measuring the amount of C14 relative to C12 in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died. The older a sample is, the less C14 there is to be detected.

Originally it was thought that the amount of C14 absorbed by plants every year was the same resulting in the constant C14/C12 ratio. But people soon started to wonder if this was really the case or was it possible that the amount of C14 in the atmosphere varied through time. 

Over time, discrepancies began to appear between the known chronology for the oldest Egyptian dynasties and the radiocarbon dates of Egyptian artefacts. Neither the pre-existing Egyptian chronology nor the new radiocarbon dating method could be assumed to be accurate, but a third possibility was that the C14/C12 ratio had changed over time. The question was resolved by the study of tree rings: comparison of overlapping series of tree rings allowed the construction of a continuous sequence of tree-ring data that spanned 13,900 years. In the 1960s, Hans Suess was able to use the tree-ring sequence to show that the dates derived from radiocarbon were consistent with the dates assigned by Egyptologists. This was possible because although annual plants, such as corn, have a C14/C12 ratio that reflects the atmospheric ratio at the time they were growing, trees only add material to their outermost tree ring in any given year, while the inner tree rings don’t get their C14 replenished and instead start losing C14 through decay. Hence each ring preserves a record of the atmospheric C14/C12 ratio of the year it grew in. Carbon-dating the wood from the tree rings themselves provides the check needed on the atmospheric C14/C12 ratio. Carbon-dating of the tree rings made it possible to construct curves designed to correct the errors caused by the variation over time in the C14/C12 ratio. This correction process is called radiocarbon date calibration

So… Now that we know how the radiocarbon dating works, let’s get back to the Linkardstown Cist burials. The radiocarbon dates obtained from the bones deposed in these burials fall into the period 4800 – 4200 BP. If we assume that the C14/C12 ratio was constant during last 5000 years, then these two dates translate into 2800 – 2200 BC. But if we take into account the variability of the C14/C12 ratio and use the calibration curve to correct the variation error, we end up with calibrated dates 3400 – 2800 BC. 

And this is where things get fuzzy. And the reason is that the radiocarbon date calibration is based on one very big assumption: that the C14/C12 ratio obtained from a tree ring in Germany dated to 3000 BP is the same for instance in Ireland at the same time and across the whole northern hemisphere…And this does not have to be the case. We have basically replaced the assumption that the C14/C12 ratio is constant in time with the assumption that the C14/C12 ratio is constant in space. And what is more, the initial calibration of the radiocarbon date calibration curve was done by comparing the radiocarbon dates with archaeological dates, which were obtained using again assumptive methods which could also be imprecise. Basically the measurement of of the imprecision of the radiocarbon dating was done by a measure which was itself more or less guessed and therefore imprecise…

This is actually recognized problem. We have to correct the measured date using calibration, but we know that both the measuring process and the calibration process have huge margin of error. And this is why we often see things like: “this object was dated to the period 3500 – 3200 BC…”

So….Where were we? Ah, the Linkardstown Cist burials and their relationship with the Montenegrian tumuluses. If we use calibrated dates then the Linkardstown Cist burials directly predate the Montenegrian tumuluses. But if we use plain dates then the Linkardstown Cist burials completely overlap with the Montenegrian tumuluses. I believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I believe that the Linkardstown Cist burials are probably slightly later than the calibrated dates and that they partially overlap with the Montenegrian tumuluses. But even if we stick with the calibrated dates of the Linkardstown Cist burials, we still have a very interesting situation indeed. We have two almost identical burial structures being built first in Ireland and then in Montenegro either during immediate succeeding periods or during partially overlapping periods. 

Now we could say that that was a coincidence and that Ireland and Montenegro are too far apart geographically to have been able to influence each other culturally in the 3rd millennium BC. Well we could say that, if it wasn’t for the fact that we know that there was a migration from Montenegro via Sicily and Iberia to Ireland during the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. A migration which brought metallurgy, oxen, cist burials, golden cross discs and today’s Irish male population main Y haplogroup R1b genes. Irish Annals preserved the record of this migration under Partholon, and now we have archaeological and genetic data to prove that these records are true histories. 

But was this cultural influence bidirectional? 

The Linkardstown Cist burials were built in Ireland just before and during the initial phase of the “raising” of the cists from the ground in Montenegrian tumuluses. Is it possible that who ever built Linkardstown Cist burials in Ireland at the end of the 4th millennium and the beginning of the 3rd millennium somehow ended up in Montenegro at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, bringing with them the tradition of burying their dead in Linkardstown Cist burials? And is it possible that they, after mixing with Yamna people, influenced the process of “raising” of the stone cists in Montenegrian tumuluses above ground, eventually producing rectangular copies of the Linkardstown Cist burials? 

Well it is possible actually. The builders of the Linkardstown Cist burials could have arrived from Ireland to Montenegro following the maritime trading route along the Eastern Atlantic and Northern Mediterranean coast. The same route that Partholon followed during his migration from Montenegro to Ireland 500 years later. 

Interesting, very interesting. What do you think of all this?

Anyway, why you are pondering this, here is some data on so far excavated Linkardstown Cist burials. I hope you will find it interesting. Also if you have any additional data about Linkardstown Cist burials or any similar burials from that period pleas let me know.   

Ardcroney Linkardstown Cist burial (from Modern Antiquarian)

A massive central cist of sub-megalithic proportions was uncovered at the centre of a denuded cairn which originally measured about 33mn. in diameter of which about 20m. remains. About 2.5in. of the cairn height survives, The cist was polygonal in plan and consisted of a single large stone inclining at about 60 degrees at each side and of two vertical boulders at each end. The floor was paved with small irregularly-shaped flat stones and measured 1.75in. by 1.4in. The cist was 69cm. high (internally) and 1.48m. by 93cm. at the mouth. It was covered by a large single capstone, 1.9m. long by 1.73m. wide by 51cm. in max. thickness.


Two disarticulated and unburnt skeletons identified by Prof. CA. Erskine as being of men of 17 and 45 years – lay on tile paved floor, one on either side of a shouldered, round-bottomed, highly decorated shallow bowl of late Neolithic date, the bones had been disturbed before investigation. The bowl was covered with channelled decoration comprised of pendant triangles of horizontal lines and dots as well as circumferential lines around the rim and shoulder, the ornament on the base being arranged on a quadripartite system.


The cist and cairn fit into the Linkardstown group while the bowl and mode of burial make this the most western example, so far, of the ‘South Leinster” Single Burial tradition of the late Neolithic. A full excavation of the structure will explore the nature of the cairn, the existence of kerbs, and the relationship of cairn, and a now removed earthen ring, to the cist.

You can find more pictures of the Adcroney site on this page on the Modern Antiquarian website.

Ashleypark Linkardstown Cist burial (from Modern Antiquarian)

Situated on the NW shoulder of an E-W ridge in farmland. A megalithic structure is exposed in a round mound which in turn is encircled by two low wide banks with internal ditches giving an overall diameter of 90m. The structure was uncovered during bulldozing operations in 1980 after which the site was excavated (Manning, 1985a). The mound, 26m in diameter, consists of a cairn core, 18 to 20m in diameter, overlain by a covering of clay, The megalithic structure stands eccentrically within the cairn. It is trapezoidal in plan, some 5m long and narrows from 2.3m wide at the SE or inner end to 1.3m at the open NW end. It was built around a limestone erratic which has a sloping upper surface and serves as a floorstone. Two stones form the inner end of the structure. There is a stone at right angles to the SW side of the structure 1.2m from the inner end. This, in combination with a rough wall divides it in two. That part of it forward of the dividing wall was filled with cairn stones among which animal bones and the bones of a child less than a year old were found. The inner end of the structure, roofed by a skeletal remains of an adult male and a child were found here along with a variety of animal bones, a bone point, some chert flakes and Neolithic pottery, including sherds bearing channelled decoration. 

You can find more pictures of the site on this page on the Modern Antiquarian website and on this page from Secret Ireland.

Baunogenasraid Linkardstown cist burial (From Irish Stones)

The burial was discovered in the Autumn 1972 during the excavations of a tumulus. The first stage of the excavation led to the discovery of ten human burials, five cremations and five inhumations, along with a single flint flake and a food vessel that helped archaeologists dating the remains to the Early Bronze Age.
The second stage of the excavation discovered a cist placed at the centre of a large cairn. Inside the cist the disarticulated, unburnt remains of a male adult described “of exceptional size” were found along with a finely decorated bowl of Linkardstown type, that is a bowl with a T-rim around, and a small perforated object of lignite.

You can find more pictures of this site on this page of the Irish Stones site.

Knockmaree Linkardstown cist burial (From fountain resource group)

The stones we see today at Knockmaree are what are left of the original tomb, the earthen mound long since gone.

The site at Knockmaree was first discovered in 1838, during landscaping works. It was brought to the attention of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA; the academy for the sciences and humanities, including antiquaries), by a Mr. T. Drummond . When members of the RIA first visited the site, it looked distinctly different from today. They saw a large mound, surrounded by a few smaller ones. Upon excavating the mound and examining its contents, they found the tomb itself and a number of pottery vessels. The description below is the original description of the tomb, by George Petrie: “The tomb consisted of a table, or covering stone, 6feet 6inches in length, from 3 feet 6 inches to 3 feet in breadth and 14 inches in thickness. This stone rested on five supporting stones, varying from 2 feet 6 inches to 1 foot 3 inches in breadth and about 2 feet in height…and there were 5 other stones, not used for supports, but as forming the enclosure of the tomb…” 

What is interesting is that the pottery vessels mentioned above were identified as funerary urns from the Bronze Age period and date to approximately 2500 BC. You can see why I am not sure that the calibrated dating of the Linkardstown Cist burials is correct.


Two adult male skeletons, the skeleton of a dog and a large number of seashells, were all recovered from within the tomb. The shells were all local, from the Dublin coastline, and formed two necklaces, one of which can be seen on the next picture. It was found within the tomb, under the skulls of the male skeletons. From Treasures of the National Museum of Ireland Irish Antiquities, 2002, page 73.

This is the original drawing of the tomb from the Royal Irish Academy’s Report. From Petrie, 1838. Page 188.

You can find more pictures of this site on this page of the Irish Stones site and this page of the Fountain resource group.

Ballintruer More Linkardstown cist burial (from A Neolithic Burial Mound at Ballintruer More, Co. Wicklow)

The destruction by bulldozer of a circular mound with kerb revealed a polygonal cist with a floor of fine sand and which contained some disarticulated and apparently broken bones representing part of the skeleton of an adult male. An empty pottery vessel had been placed in the centre of the grave immediately to the west of the bones.

This pot, like a number of vessels from other burials of this type, is a fine Bipartite Bowl. The cist was in the middle of a circular mound 24m in diameter and slightly less than 2m high in the middle above the level of the surrounding land. The cist had seven sides. Each of the side stones had at least one further stone outside it and in three cases there were two additonal supporting stones. All sloped inwards at a steep angle from the bottom to the top, making the bottom at 80cm being much wider than the top at 30cm. The slabs forming the sides were regular, as if specifically selected and shaped for this purpose and varied in thickness from 2 to 8 cm. They averaged 95 cm in length and of this 30 cm was inserted into sub soil, which was a buff coloured clay. The stone cist was packed on all sides with with stones averaging 20cm in width. Finally, it was closed by two thing lower capstones over which lay two much heavier ones. The cist with its external stone packing was covered by a circular mound now of gray clay, held in position by a kerb of large stones. You can find more details on this cist tumulus in these two articles:

You can find more information about this burial in “A Neolithic Burial Mound at Ballintruer More, Co. Wicklow” by Joseph Raftery

Jerpoint west Linkardstown cist burial (from The Excavation of a Neolithic Burial Mound at Jerpoint West, Co. Kilkenny)

This site, which was not marked on the 0.S. maps of the area, was discovered in 1972 when the landowner decided to tip the mound into a adjacent quarry in order to minimise the danger to his livestock. A mechanical excavator was employed for this purpose and roughly two thirds of the area of the site was severely damaged when a large polygonal cist was uncovered. The cist was polygonal in form the sidestones being doubled in some cases. Three, (perhaps four), capstones covered the burial. he floor of the cist was roughly cobbled. It contained a burned and an unburned burial, fragments of plain and decorated Neolithic vessels and a bone pin.

The cist was bedded into the old ground surface. It was placed approximately centrally in a mound of complex construction. A core of boulders piled against the cist. A deposit of flat fairly regular stones each pitched upwards in the direction of the cist. A mantle of soil mixed with a high proportion of sod, in which, at intervals, occurred thin layers of flat stones carefully laid. The soil mound was delimited by three concentric arcs of fairly regular stone laminae resting on the old ground level, between these occurred a series of radially set stones. The site was disturbed on the north and south by modern field boundaries. 

You can find more information about this burial in “The Excavation of a Neolithic Burial Mound at Jerpoint West, Co. Kilkenny” by M. FitzG. Ryan .

I hope you enjoyed this article. Until the next time, keep smiling, stay happy and healthy..

Development of Montenegrian tumuluses

The development of Copper Age tumulus in the territory of Montenegro went through several stages.

The initial phase is represented by the central pit grave within the first mound of the Gruda Boljevića tumulus. This initial burial was dated to the beginning of the third millennium BC. Culturally it belongs to the southwestern branch of the Yamnaya culture, characterized by pit grave burials.

The next phase in the Copper Age tumulus development are represented by Velika Gruda and Mala Gruda tumuluses, which was dated to the period between the 3000 and 2800 BC. Mala and Velika Gruda tumuluses also have central pit burial. But this time the body was not placed directly into the pit. First a shallow grave pit was dug into the earth to the depth of half a meter. Then a stone cist was built inside the pit. First the bottom of the grave pit was covered with a stone plate and then the vertical stone plates were placed on top of it to form the dolmen cist. The body was placed inside the stone cist and then the cover stone plate was placed on top of it. The stone dolmen cist which was sticking out of the pit was then covered with a tumulus pile.

The final phase in the Copper Age tumulus development is represented by the Mogila na Rake and Bjelopavlići tumuluses. These two tumuluses were dated to the period between 2700 and 2400 BC. These two tumuluses also have a central burial withing a stone cist. But this time this stone cist is free standing on the surface of the earth. There is no trace of a burial pit any more. I don’t have detailed description of the Bjelopavlići tumulus but I do for the Mogila na Rake tumulus. The stone cist was built on a base which was round in shape, and made of medium and small pieces of limestone (0.5 to 0.20 m) mixed with red-brown earth. The cist was built on this layer using local stones. The sides were  constructed from massive trapezoidal shape stone plates (1.40 × 1.00 m, about 20 cm thick), which were bonded with yellow waterproof clay.  The body was placed inside the cist, and the cist was then covered with two massive rectangle shaped plates (1m x 1.20m and 1.80 × 1 m; 20 cm thick). After the cist was covered the dolmen cist was then covered with a tumulus pile.

The Late Copper age Montenegrian tumuluses have several common elements:

1. a central position of the burial within a large multi layered tumulus with stone curb
2. a cross in circle symbol inscribed either on a golden disc which topped the axe shaft hole or on ceramic vesel, which was interpreted as thurible and which was part of a special funerary ceramic set.
3. placing of food vessels inside the burial

These common elements show clear cultural continuity.

But at the same time the actual burial underwent a significant change:

1. a burial inside a pit with or without a cist dug into the ground
2. a burial inside a cist sticking out of a pit which was dug into the ground
3. a burial inside a free standing cist built on the surface of the ground.

This shows clear cultural development.

So by 2500 BC in Montenegro we find massive stone burial dolmen like cists which were placed on the surface of the ground and then covered by multi layered earth tumuluses with stone curbs.

In my previous posts about Montenegrian tumuluses, I already discussed the possibility that the Irish Annals contain records describing the arrival in the mid 3rd millennium BC, of the first metallurgists to Ireland from Montenegro. The finding of golden cross discs in both Montenegro (early 3rd millennium BC) and then in Ireland (late 3rd millennium BC), and the latest genetic data (which I will discuss in one of my future posts) seem to confirm this. 
So there is definite observable cultural influence brought to Ireland by immigrants from Montenegro in the mid 3rd millennium BC. 
But was there, at the beginning of the 3rd millennium, a previous cultural influence brought to Montenegro by people who emigrated from Ireland? 
Is it possible that the cultural process of “raising” of burial cists from the ground, which happened in Montenegro in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC was influenced by these Irish immigrants? Or did the Montenegrian immigrants arrive to Ireland in several waves, the first wave arriving before 2800 BC and the second wave arriving around 2500 BC?
I will talk more about this in my next post. 

Partholon and the great flood

Storm Frank causing havoc across the country

This is a headline form one of the Irish newspapers. Storm Frank is the sixth to hit Ireland since the start of the winter. Huge areas or arable land are under water an so are thousands of houses in towns close to coast, rivers and lakes. These are just some of the images that show the extent of devastation caused by the cumulative effect of this winter’s bad weather.

I feel so sorry for all the poor people who are currently being literally flooded out of their houses. And this is not the first year that Ireland has been experiencing such bad weather. I think that this is now third or fourth winter in a row that Ireland has been battered by storms and if it continues like this, a lot of areas in Ireland will become unsuitable for human habitation and will have to be evacuated. And there is very little anyone can do….

Looking at the above images reminded me of something I read in the old Irish annals. 

The old Irish annals tell us that the first race that lived in Ireland were Fomorians. Then the flood came. Then, after the flood, came the people of Partholón. 

In the “Annals of four masters” we find these comments regarding the life of Partholon and his people in Ireland:

From the Deluge until Parthalon took possession of Ireland 278 years….

The age of the world, 2520 (2680 BC) Parthalon came into Ireland

The Age of the World, 2545 (2655 BC) Rudhruidhe, son of Parthalon, was drowned in Loch Rudhruidhe, the lake having flowed over him; and from him the lake is called.

The Age of the World, 2546 (2654 BC) An inundation of the sea over the land at Brena in this year, which was the seventh lake eruption that occurred in the time of Parthalon; and this is named Loch Cuan.

The Age of the World, 2820 (2380 BC) Nine thousand of Parthalon’s people died in one week on Sean Mhagh Ealta Edair, namely, five thousand men, and four thousand women. Whence is named Taimhleacht Muintire Parthaloin. They had passed three hundred years in Ireland. Ireland was thirty years waste till Nemed’s arrival.

The Age of the World, 2850 (2350 BC) Nemed came to Ireland.

Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Érinn says that Patholon arrived to Ireland in 2061 BC, Annals of Four Masters says that they arrived at 2680 BC. So basically Partholon arrived sometimes in the second half of the 3rd millennium. 

It seems that Partholon and his people also perished in another flood 300 years after they arrived to Ireland which was 300 (278) years after the great flood. Maybe this second flood was another local weather event, like what we are seeing this winter in Ireland. But maybe the above descriptions are actually describing “the flood” and the dates and names got somehow mixed up in some of the Irish annals over the millenniums. I believe that the later could be the case considering that the two Irish annals that talk about the arrival of Partholon give drastically different arrival dates. Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Érinn says that Patholon arrived to Ireland in 2061 BC, Annals of Four Masters says that they arrived at 2680 BC. But also because we actually know when the “great flood” actually did hit Ireland. 

In the book “The Secrets of the Irish Landscape” we read that according to the dendrochronological research done in Ireland on Irish bog Oaks in the Lough Neagh area, during the period between 2354 BC and 2345 BC the oaks completely stopped growing and showed bark changes which indicate that they were submerged in water. 

It seems that it started to rain and it didn’t stop for 10 years. This probably caused complete collapse of agriculture and famine. And the end of what ever culture existed in Ireland at the time. It is very interesting that the date of this catastrophic weather event falls, according to the Annals or Four Masters, right after the date of the demise of Partholon’s people and the date of the arrival of Neimhid. So was this “a flood” or “the flood”?

Believe or not, the Ussher chronology, a chronology of the history of the world, which was written by James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland) in the 17th-century, gives in its list of dates, 2348 BC as the date for the biblical flood. This date falls right in the middle of the above major weather event. Ussher claimed that he determined the date of the flood from a literal reading of the Bible. But did he actually use Irish annals instead? And if so did he mistook a local Irish flood for the “biblical” global flood? Is there another record of a great flood that happened around 2348 BC? Well there is actually. 

Ancient Chinese records recorded a “great flood” which occurred at exactly the same time. They say that during the reign of the First Emperor, Yao, who came to the throne in 2357 BC,  there were “huge floods that overtopped the mountains”.

The floods started in the 12th year of his reign (2346 BC) and lasted for 9 years. This corresponds almost exactly with the actual dendrochronological records from Ireland.

Now let me make something clear here. One of my friends said in his comment on my article: “there have been innumerable local ‘floods’ throughout history and pre-history, of course, and they would seem global to those being flooded- but a global flood is a scientifically impossible event. There is simply not enough water on Earth for such a thing to occur, and there never has been.”

I actually agree with this. The problem is in what people understand when they read “global flood”. The flood can be global if there is a global weather event which causes intensive long term rain which inundates the rivers and lakes. Both Irish, and Chinese sources talk about huge local floods, not global submersion. And for Ireland we actually have dendrochronological records that prove that this actually happened during the period 2354 – 2345 BC. Biblical flood could have been just the description of the same thing in the near east. The weather event was global, and we have proof of this from around the world and we have the records of this event with dating from the Irish and the Chinese annals which correspond to the actual dendrochronological records. So it is possible to have a global weather event which can cause large local floods globally. 

This event was probably caused by the fragmented asteroid or comet impact, which caused a kind of “nuclear winter” which lasted for 9 years. It also caused the emergence of the belief in the stone sky, firmament. I will talk about the belief in the stone sky in one of my next posts.

Anyway back to Irish floods.

Soooo…..

What happened exactly in Ireland around the time of the great flood? 

Well there are two possible scenarios. 

The first scenario is that Partholon and his people did arrive to Ireland in 2680 BC as the Annals of Four Masters says. They spent 300 years in Ireland and perished during the great flood (2354 – 2345 BC). Well maybe not all of them perrished. The Irish annals say that after the people of Partholon died out, Ireland “thirty years waste” until Nemed arrived with his people. Nemed was said to have been the descendant of Tait, Partholon’s brother. If the people of Partholon were skilled sailors, miners, metalworkers and traders, they probably kept contact with their old country, probably even regular trade contacts. So maybe when Ireland was devastated during the flood, the refugees from Ireland went back down south, maybe back to Montenegro, or even further back to Pontic region. 

The second scenario is that Partholon and Nemed arrived together, but not in 2680 BC as the Annals of Four Masters says, but in 2061 BC as Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Érinn says. This would then fit the first entry about Partholon: “From the Deluge until Parthalon took possession of Ireland 278 years….”

If “the flood” was in the period 2354 – 2345 BC, then 278 (300) years after “the deluge” is 2076 BC (2054 BC) –  2067 BC (2046 BC) . The date that the Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Érinn gives as the date when Patholon arrived to Ireland, 2061 BC, falls right into this interval. This is very interesting. 

Both scenarios correspond well with the dates of the Montenegrian tumuluses containing the golden cross discs (3000 – 2700 BC) and with the dates of the golden cross discs found in Ireland (2500 – 2200 BC).

So did Partholon arrive to Ireland before or after the great flood? What do you think? The thing is this is not even the most important thing. The most the important thing here is that the Irish annals preserved the date of this flood pretty accurately for almost four and a half thousand years…Think about it. 3500 years of oral history only recorded 1000 years ago…Not myth, history…How many other examples of this do we have around? 

I will talk more about this in my future posts. 

In the meantime I want to recommend the book “Climate Development and History of the North Atlantic Realm” by Gerold Wefer in which he explores these climate events and their causes. It is a very interesting read. 

Mala and Velika Gruda tumuluses

Among many tumuluses, cairns, which are strewn over the hills of Boka Kotorska bay, the two stand out: Velika and Mala Gruda.

While the other tumuluses in the area are located on tops of hills, these two tumuluses are located in the middle of the Tivat field. The local people preserved the legends that these two stone tumuluses were Prokletije, piles of stones accumulated through centuries as part of the cursing ceremony. I wrote about Prokletija ceremony in my post entitled “Prokletija – The cursing ceremony“. As a result, these tumuluses were preserved as the taboo linked with Prokletije forbids removal of even a single stone.

Velika Gruda and Mala Gruda tumuluses are only 270 meters away from each other. Mala Gruda is a single phase burial tumulus and has only a late Copper Age (early Bronze Age) tumb. Velika Gruda is a multi phase burial which has late Copper age (Early Bronze age), Iron age and Medieval burials. The late Copper Age (early Bronze Age) burial from Velika Gruda is equivalent to the late Copper Age (early Bronze Age) burial from Mala Gruda. These were rich princely graves, full of well made and decorated ceramics and metal objects made from silver, gold and copper alloys. The archaeologists who excavated these burials postulated that the people who were buried inside the Velika and Mala Gruda late Copper Age (early Bronze Age) burials were involved in trades between the Balkan Hinterland and Southern Italy and probably the rest of the Mediterranean.

So who was buried in these tumuluses? The archaeologists admit that despite all the modern procedures, analysis and equipment used it is “difficult to understand who built the Mala and Velika Gruda burials. This is because there is at present so little knowledge about what was going on in the Southwestern Balkans during the time when these tumuluses were built. Basically the problem is that the way these tumuluses were built, the way they were positioned in the  low lying landscape as well as some of the burial rite details have no parallels in the Mediterranean basin except in a small area of Montenegro and Northern Albania. The first next similar late Copper Age (early Bronze Age) burial is found in the steppe of the Yamna culture homeland….

The investigation of the Velika Gruda tumulus was completed in the early 1990s and the results were published in these two books:

Tumulus burials of the early 3rd millenium BC in the Adriatic – Velika Gruda, Mala Gruda and their context” which was published in 1996 by Margarita Primas who excavated the late Copper Age (early Bronze Age) burial.

The Bronze Age necropolis Velika Gruda (Ops. Kotor, Montenegro) : middle and late Bronze Age groups between Adriatic and Danube” published in 1994 by Philippe. Della Casa who excavated the Middle and Late Bronze Age burials.

A short review of both works by John Bintliff was published in the American Journal of Archaeology.

Archaeological investigation of the Mala Gruda tumulus was performed during the period 1970 – 1971. The tumulus was damaged during the First World War, when Austrian army built a bunker on top of it. The tumulus height in the middle is about 4 meters and the diameter is about 20 meters. Originally it was proposed that the tumulus dated to the period 1900 to 1800 BC. Howevere the latest dating pushes the date when this tumulus was built almost 1000 years back into the past to the period between 2800 to 2700 BC.

The Mala and Velika Gruda tumuluses have very unusual structure. Remember the Bjelopavlovic tumulus and Mogila na Rake tumulus that I already talked about? They both had central dolmen cists which were built on the surface of the earth. Mala and Velika Gruda tumuluses also have central dolmen cists built from massive stone plates. But these stone plates were placed inside the grave pit which was dug into the earth to the depth of half a meter. First the bottom of the grave pit was covered with a stone plate and then the vertical stone plates were placed on top of it to form the dolmen cist. The cover stone plate was then placed on top of it. The stone dolmen cist was then covered with a tumulus pile of yellow – brown clay. The surface of this clay inner tumulus was then burned using very strong fire, probably during the sacrificial rite which took place on top of this inner tumulus. This resulted in the whole inner clay tumulus being covered with a layer of ash which contained the most of the ceramic and stone finds. The clay inner tumulus was then covered with the layer of stones (large river pebbles) which varied in thickness between 0.3 – 0.5 meters. This stone layer was then covered with earth (humus). It is unclear if his layer of humus was natural or artificial.

The orientation of the dolmen cist was north – south. The body which was placed inside the dolmen cist was very badly preserved and was not possible to determine its precise position, but it is presumed that it was placed into the cist in the fetal position.

In the north part of the stone cist, next to the scull of the deceased, archaeologists have found five golden lock rings.

Lock rings are a type of jewelry from Bronze Age Europe.  They are made from gold or bronze and are penannular, providing a slot that is thought to have been used for attaching them as earrings or as hair ornaments. Ireland was a centre of production in the British Isles though rings were made and used across the continent, notably by the Unetice culture of central Europe. But these lock rings from Mala Gruda tumulus predate all the examples from northern Europe by many centuries and millenniums.

The only other lock rings from the late Copper Age (early Bronze Age) period which are similar to the lock rings from Mala gruda tumulus were found in Velika Gruda tumulus and in Gruda Boljevića tumulus, which is even older than the Velika and Mala gruda tumuluses. I will write about the Gruda Boljevića tumulus in my next post. Velika gruda tumulus also had lock rings of the type found in the Lefkas (Leukas) cemetary. But these Lefkas type rings are much simpler than the Mala Gruda type rings, and look like an inferior quality imitation of the Mala Gruda type lock rings. Here are the Lefkas type lock rings from Lefkas cemetary.

Next to the feet of the deceased, next to the eastern edge of the stone cist, archaeologists have found a set of ceramic dishes in fragments.

First is a shallow bawl with the ring leg:

Again we find the cross in the circle symbol which we see in the plate which was found in the Mogila na rake tumulus
Second is a jug with one handle:

Both dishes were made from reddish brown clay and were richly decorated and polished.

In that respect the plate from the Mala Gruda tumulus is very similar to the the ceramic bawls from the Vučedol culture from the same period like these two: 

In the past when it was believed that Mala and Velika Grida tumuluses were build at the beginning of the second millennium bc, it was proposed that the culture which built these Montenegrian tumuluses was influenced by late phases of Vučedol culture. But now that we know that Velika and Mala Gruda tumuluses were contemporary with the early period of the Vučedol culture things become much more complicated and confusing.

The most important artifacts were discovered at the eastern edge of the grave cist, at the waist level. These were a golden dagger and a silver axe. Actually both objects were made from complex alloys and not of pure gold and silver. Spectrographic analysis had shown that the dagger was made from the alloy of silver, gold and copper in proportion 3:2:2 and that the axe was made from the same alloy but in proportion  4:1:1.

The golden dagger:

The dagger  is leaf shaped with straight edges and rounded top. It has a short tong for attaching it to the handle and a triple profiled central ridge. Similar daggers are found in Anatolia dating to the mid 3rd millennium bc. Her is the Mala Gruda dagger and its Anatolian comparisons:

1. Mala Gruda: N. TASIĆ (ed.), Praistorija Jugoslavenskih Zemalja III. Eneolitsko doba (1979) pl. 42:8.
2. Karataş: M. MELLINK, “Excavations at Karataş-Semayük 1970,” AJA 73 (1969) pl. 74:21 (drawing J. Maran) dated to 2900 – 2600 BC.
3. Bayindirköy: K. BITTEL, “Einige Kleinfunde aus Mysien und aus Kilikien,” IstMitt 6 (1955) fig. 1 dated to 2500 – 2200 BC.
4. Bayindirköy: BITTEL (supra) fig. 4 dated to 2500 – 2200 BC.
5. Alaca Höyük: STRONACH (supra n. 47) fig. 3:4 dated to 3rd millennium bc.

The silver axe:

This silver axe is the last and the most important find from the Mala Gruda tumulus. For two reasons. Firstly the new dating of this axe opens some interesting questions about our understanding the chronology of the distribution of the shaft hole axes in the Balkans. Secondly the new dating of this axe opens some very interesting questions about our understanding of the Early Bronze Age Irish and British history. 

So, why is Mala Gruda axe important for our understanding the chronology of the distribution of the shaft hole axes in the Balkans?

The silver axe has a thin and narrow triangular blade with a cylindrical socket.  In the literature we read that “this type of axe belongs to the Vučedol Kozarac type axes”. However no axes like the Mala Gruda axe have been found in Vučedol culture.

Shape wise Mala gruda axe does look like Vučedol culture axes with one blade and a cylindrical extension for a handle haft. These type of axes were exported to the Eastern Mediterranean including to Troy via Lemnos. This is a picture of a hoard of such axes from Brekinjska (Pakrac) in Croatia.

However the axe from Mala Gruda tumulus is of an exceptional quality and made of Gold + Silver + Copper alloy and not bronze. Silver axes were found in Vučedol site of Stari Jankovci.

You can read about them in this Croatian article and this English article. The Stari Jankovci axes are also silver shaft-hole axes, but their shape is completely different from the shape of the Mala Gruda axe. So we can’t talk about direct link between these Vučedol silver axes and the silver axe from Mala Gruda. However this shows that both the knowledge how to make Mala Gruda type axe shape and material existed in the Vučedol culture, so we can say that it is possible the people who made the Mala Gruda axe were influenced by the Vučedol culture. So we could say that the Mala Gruda axe could have indeed been made by Vučedol metalworkers. Except that the site where the above two silver axes ware found was dated to 2500 – 2040 BC wheres Mala Gruda was dated to 2800 – 2700 BC. This means that the Mala Gruda axe is hundreds of years older. This is a very good article on the dating of the Vučedol culture sites .This opens a big question: who influenced who? Who learned from who?

It is assumed that the earliest shaft-hole axes were developed in the the north Caucasus by the Maikop culture sometime between 3500 and 3128 BC.

From here they spread within few hundred years to a large area in Central and Western Asia and Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans.

 

This picture shops main types of shaft-hole axes and axe molds from the above distribution area from the period late fourth millennium bc – early third millennium bc:

Aegean: 1 Thebes, 2 Servia, 3 Petralona, 4 Triadi, 5 Poliochni;Montenegro: 6 Mala Gruda;
Hungary: 7 Zók-Várhegy;
Rumania: 8 Virgis;
North Caucasus: 9 Lebedi, 10 Novosvobodnaya/Klady;
Daghestan: 11 Velikent;
East Anatolia: 12 Arslantepe, 13 Norşuntepe.

You can read more about the early shaft-hole axes in this great article entitled: “Indications for Aegean-Caucasian relations during the third millennium BC“. The most interesting part of this article I believe is this:

“…The earliest axes in Southeastern Europe are assumed to be the Baniabic type (Vîlcele) axes because their blade is not differentiated from the shaft. The upper edge of the axe is straight, while in the case of the axes of the Fajsz type and Corbasca type this edge is convex. At least some of the axes can be dated to the early Vučedol Culture (c. 31th – 28th century BC). The problem is that this dating is based on the fact that their shape is generally comparable to axes or moulds for axes from the northern Caucasus and Koban region, like the mold from Lebedi or from the Kura-Araxes Culture which were dated to that period. But the type is so simply shaped that even comparisons to much later axes are possible, and this makes the dating of the Baniabic type axes uncertain. The southeast European types of Dumbrăvioara, Izvoarele, Darabani and Kozarac have short shaft tubes and can be grouped to the second morphological trend. In some cases their tubes are faceted or ribbed. This feature is also found on one axe from the hoard of Stublo (Steblivka) in the western Ukraine. These types can be dated mainly to the earlier half of the third millennium BC…. “

So Vučedol culture Kozarac type axes are dated to the same period to which the Mala Gruda tumulus axe was dated. So is it possible that the Mala Gruda axe predates the Vučedol culture Kozarac type axes? And is it possible that knowledge how to make this type of axes was transferred from the South of the Balkans up North and not the other way round?

Finally why is Mala Gruda axe so important for our understanding of the Early Bronze Age Irish and British history? 

According to the archaeological data, a new people appeared out of nowhere on the Atlantic coast of Europe around the mid 3rd millennium BC: The Bell Beaker people. The Wiktionary says: “Bell Beaker is a complex cultural phenomenon involving metalwork in copper, gold and later bronze, archery, specific types of ornamentation and shared ideological, cultural and religious ideas….Several proposals have been made  as to the origins of the Bell Beaker culture, notably the Iberian peninsula, the Netherlands and Central Europe. And debates are still continuing. Archaeologists and historians are still debating whether the spread of Beaker culture was due to the migration of people or spread of ideas or both…”. 

Well for Ireland we know that the arrival of the Beaker culture was due to the arrival of the Beaker people. Before 2500 BC there was no metalwork in Ireland and no beakers. After 2500 BC there was as thriving sophisticated metalworking culture in Ireland and beakers. That can only happen if we have an influx of people with metalworking skills into Ireland around 2500 BC. And archaeologists and historians all agree on this. But where did these metalworking beaker using new Irish come from and who they were is “a mystery”.

But as I already said in my post about the Irish Gold, the answer to this “mystery” has been hidden in plain view in the ancient Irish annals. If only the archaeologists and historians read the ancient Irish annals as histories and not as “pseudo histories” as they like to call them.

So what can the Irish annals tell us about the arrival of the Beaker people to Ireland?

Well the old Irish annals don’t talk about Bell Beaker people of course. But they tell us that: “…after the flood, came Partholón with his people…” The Annals of the Four Masters says that Partholóin arrived in in Ireland 2520 Anno Mundi (after the “creation of the world”), Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Érinn says they arrived in 2061 BC, Annals of Four Masters says that they arrived at 2680 BC. So Sometimes in the second half of the 3rd millennium.

Partholón and his people are credited with introducing cattle husbandry, plowing, cooking, dwellings, trade, and dividing the island in four and most importantly for this story, they are credited with bringing gold which before them was not used in Ireland. As I already said in my post about the Irish gold, this has was actually confirmed by the archaeological finds from Ireland. Some people came to Ireland around the 2500 BC or there after, and brought with them copper metalworking knowledge. They opened the first copper mine in Ireland in Ross Island and started making copper axes. The archaeologists originally believed that these immigrant copper metalworkers also started mining gold in Ireland. And that they used that gold to make golden ornaments. The reason for this belief is that around the same time when the Beaker copper metalworkers arrived to Ireland, we suddenly see gold being used for making ornaments, mostly gold lunulae, about which I wrote in my post about the Irish Gold, and gold cross discs like these ones:

 

But as I already said in my post about the Irish gold, it turns out that the gold from which the Irish lunulae and cross discs were made was not mined in Ireland, but that it was brought into Ireland from somewhere else. Archaeologists are now saying that the gold was brought into Ireland from Cornwall. The local Irish craftsmen then used it to make the lunulae and cross discs. In my post about the Irish gold I argued that these gold ornaments were probably not made in Ireland from imported gold, but that they were made wherever the gold was mined and smelted (Cornwall???), and that the finished gold lunulae and cross discs were imported into Ireland.

The archaeologists believed that these types of ornaments originated in Ireland because they have no precedence in Europe. Until the discovery that the gold from which these ornaments were made did not come from Ireland but from Cornwall. Now they believe that these types of ornaments originated in Ireland or Britain. And I would agree with them when it comes to lunulae. So far there is no precedence for this type of gold ornaments. But I have to say that now we have a proof that the golden cross discs did not originate in Ireland or Britain. I can say this because now we know that hundreds of years before these gold cross discs appeared in the British isles, they were made and used in the Balkans, more precisely in Montenegro. 

Have a look again at the silver axe from Mala Gruda tumulus. 

This silver axe was found together with a strange golden cap covering the the top of the axe shaft. The cap was made from a golden disk which is a thin embossed sheet of gold with a cross at the centre, surrounded by a circle. 

The design on the gold disc cap resembles the most the design found on the gold sun disc which was found in a burial mound at Monkton Farleigh, just over 20 miles from Stonehenge, in 1947 along with a pottery beaker, flint arrowheads and fragments of the skeleton of an adult male.

The two pence piece sized gold disc was made in about 2,400 BC, soon after the Sarsen stones were put up at Stonehenge, and is thought to represent the sun.It was kept safe by the landowner since its discovery and has only now been given to the Museum. The disk is a thin embossed sheet of gold with a cross at the centre, surrounded by a circle, and between the lines of both the cross and the circle are fine dots which glint in sunlight.

The golden cross discs found in Ireland and Britain were all dated to 2400 BC – 2100 BC. The golden cross disc from Mala Gruda was originally dated to the period 1900 to 1800 BC. I believe that this is why no one before made a connection between the Mala Gruda golden cross disc and the cross discs found in Ireland and Britain. Even if someone did make a connection, the Mala Grida golden cross disc was probably classified as being made under the influence of the late Beaker culture. However the latest dating pushes the date when Mala Gruda tumulus was built almost 1000 years back into the past, to the period between 2800 to 2700 BC. Now this changes everything. Someone in Montenegro was making golden cross discs 300 – 400 years before the first such disc appeared in Ireland and Britain. The thing is that this golden cross disc from Mala Gruda has no precedence. Except for another golden cross disc which was used in the same way, for making the axe shaft cap. And this other golden cross disc was found in an even older Montenegrian tumulus, which was dated to the end of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd millennium bc and which was linked directly to the late Yamna culture. I will write about this tumulus in one of my next posts. This means that we can say that unless new archaeological data emerges, the origin of these golden cross disc ornaments is in the early 3rd millennium BC Montenegrian tumulus building culture. 

Now the big question: Is it possible that people who made these golden cross discs in Montenegro or their descendants, were the same people who later made the golden cross discs in Ireland and Britain? Was there a migration from Montenegro to British Isles around the middle of the 3rd millennium BC? I believe so. And guess what, the Irish annals says so too. But I will talk about this more in one of my next posts. 

Until then stay happy and keep smiling. 

Mogila na Rake

Several early Bronze age tumulus graves have been discovered and excavated in Montenegro in last 10 years. They are concentrated in the fertile Zeta and Bojana valleys, both of which are linked to the Skadar lake. I already wrote about the Bjelopavlići tumulus. This time I will write about the tumulus known as “Mogila na rake” or “Spič tumulus” which was discovered in 2011.

Spič tumulus (Mogila na rake)

Tumulus which was found in the Spič field just south of Sutomore, under the Nehaj fortress is a tumulus type grave with a central dolmen cist which was built from a massive stone plates. It is estimated to be almost 5000 years old, dating to the early 3rd millennium BC, more precisely to 2700 BC. This is one of the so called princely graves common for southern Europe of that period.

This is a completely new archaeological locality. It was discovered by pure accident while people were clearing part of an old forest to build a house. Here is a picture of the first sight of the dolmen cist emerging from the tumulus mound.

This is what the dolmen cist looks like after all the soil was cleared away.

According to the archaeologists the tumulus was built by the people who belonged to the early bronze Age Ljubljana culture. This culture seem to have stretched along the whole East Adriatic coast. It also seem to have stretched inland into Bosnia and all the way to Sava and Danube where it could have had contacts with Vučedol culture.

The original tumulus had the radius of about 15 m and the height of about 1.80 m. The dolmen cist is surrounded by a ring of stones, which ritually separates the land of the dead from the land of the living. The sacred area was carefully cleared and compacted. It was then covered with fine dry soil and then treated with fire. Only then the central dolmen was built. The dolmen was made from massive stone plates. The person buried inside this dolmen cist was buried in a foetal position. This symbolizes rebirth after death and points to a belief that the death was seen as a new birth. Once the deceased was placed inside the cist, the cist was sealed with several types of clay, making the grave completely watertight The inside of the grave was as dry as when it was initially sealed almost 5000 years ago.  

This is the translation of the excavation report filed by archaeologist Mladen Zagarčanin who lead the excavation:

The Early Bronze Age tumulus “Mogila na Rake“ from Sutomore was found on the northeastern part of Spič field, about 1 km from the sea. The big earth-stone tumulus which had diameter of about 15 m, and height of about 1.80 m. It was discovered during the works related to the clearing of a private land with the use of diggers. During the dig the majority of the western and northeastern part of the tumulus was destroyed. The excavation work stopped when the digger uncovered the cover plate of the central tomb dolmen cist.

This is a rough cross section diagram of the tumulus:

The tumulus was covered with a layer consisting of large river pebbles.

After removing the stone layer the removal of the red-brown earth layer, about 0.80 to 1.00m thick, was carried out. There were almost no stones in this layer, although now and then one could notice particles of grime, small fragments of broken flint and small pieces of atypical pottery. The excavation of the earth mound confirmed the dense concentration of small and big stones, about 1.20 m thick, from which the stone layer was formed, covering the middle of the conical pile of pressed red coloured clay. The diameter of this layer was about 3.20 m, and the height about 0.80 m.
Further excavation revealed, the layer of green-dark earth, partly mixed with grime, which was roughly piled along the dolmen cist walls up to 0.60 cm height. Several fragments of pottery were found in this layer, as well as larger amount of chipped stone , while a smaller flat stone construction was confirmed on the north side of the same layer. We can assume that this construction represents a stair abutting the tomb, and it could have served as a platform from where the person in charge of the burial carried out the ritual.

With the removal of the green-dark layer the base of lower stone covering was revealed, round in shape, and made of medium and small pieces of limestone (0.5 to 0.20 m) mixed with red-brown earth. The cist was built on this layer using local stones. The sides were  constructed from massive trapezoidal shape stone plates (1.40 × 1.00 m, about 20 cm thick), which were bonded with yellow waterproof clay.

The cist was covered with two massive rectangle shaped plates (1m x 1.20m and 1.80 × 1 m; 20 cm thick), a large amount of yellow green clay was added to the layer of green-dark clay, whose purpose was to cover the plates both above and below, providing in that way the hydro insulation of the tomb interior.

Before the funeral ceremony, the interior of the cist was covered with a layer of fine sea sand, and the body was put on top of it in a foetal position, with the head directed toward to west, arms folded at the elbow, and with folded legs.

The anthropological analyses showed that the buried person was a man in his forties or fifties who had serious problems with his spine during his lifetime. During the detailed bone examination, it was concluded that he suffered of osteoporosis, or bone loss. It was also concluded that arthrosis, or arthritis was present among the ilium bones, as well as diseases of peripheral joints because of degenerative changes in joint cartilage. The third bone disease was found in the lumbar area and sacrum. The deformation found here indicates that the deceased walked with problems during his lifetime and that he suffered great pain in his back. These diseases suggest that he spent much time on horse back, because those deformities are characteristic for riders.

What is very interesting is that this was not the only skeleton found in the cist.

The bones of a child 8-10 years old (teeth and parts of other bones were preserved) were found his legs, as well as a smaller number of bones of a person 25-30 years old. The archaeologists assume that those are the bones of close family members, perhaps his son and wife who died before him. The missing skull and other bones of the buried skeletons point to the possibility that their bones were excavated from some other place and put in this tomb later on. But there is also a possibility that the woman and the child were sacrificed and then buried with the man. 

The cist did not contain any metal objects which is strange for these types of graves from this period. This could mean that this is not a grave of a warrior but a person who was in some other way important. Like a priest.

What was found in the cist are two ceramic vessels: a jug and a shallow plate.

The plate has a thick ring shaped stand and was thus interpreted as a thurible, a vessel used for burning incense during rituals. The thurible is richly decorated on both sides. The cross shaped detail was drawn on the upper surface which was shaped as a shallow plate with the extracted front and rounded back part, formed by the ribbons filled with the crossed lines. The ribbon ornaments formed borders which go along the edge of the vessel. Two holes were made on the corners of the extracted part of the thurible. On the bottom, a star shaped detail was engraved, formed of triangle fields and filled with crossed lines.

Now have a look at the cross symbol drawn on the top surface of the thurible. Remember the grave is dated to 2700 BC:

Is this pattern just a decoration with no meaning? Well if the above incense burning vessel was the only vessel with this symbol found in Montenegro we could say that this is indeed just a meaningless decorative pattern. But exactly the same vessels were found in other tumuluses and some of them are even older than this tumulus and were dated to the end of the 4th millennium BC. Surely the pattern choice was deliberate and must have had some cultural or maybe even religious meaning. I will talk about these other tumuluses and why they are extremely important for understanding of the Early Bronze Age Irish history in my next post. For now, let me just ask you a question: do you remember the gold cross discs which the Early Bronze Age Irish copper miners loved so much? The ones I wrote about in my post Or -Ireland’s gold

This is the pair of these “Irish” golden discs found in Monaghan, dated to 2200 – 2000 BC.

Remember that I said that these “Irish” cross discs were made from gold that was brought into Ireland from Cornwall? The gold which was, according to the Irish annals, brought to Ireland by Partholon? The same Pathalon which according to the Irish “pseudo histories” came from the Balkans, via Iberia sometime during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC? 

Please note the cross symbols on the discs. This is the same cross symbol found on the thurible from the Sutomore dolmen. Is this just a coincidence? I don’t think so. Not just because there are several incense burning vessel with this symbol found in Montenegro. But also because the same tumuluses which contain the incense burning vessel with this symbol also contain golden discs with this symbol… And all of them predate the Irish gold cross discs and because it all fits perfectly into the story of Partholon found in the old Irish histories.

But more about it in my next posts. Until then stay happy.

Ór – Ireland's Gold

The earliest evidence for gold working dates to the fifth millennium BC. This is based on the discovery of the Varna cemetery which is located approximately half a kilometer from Lake Varna and 4 km from the Varna city centre in Bulgaria. The cemetery was dated to the period 4,600 BC to 4,200 BC. The cemetery belonged to the Charcolitic Varna culture. The graves of this cemetery were full of  golden artifacts and they are considered to be the oldest golden artifacts in the world.

These Varna guys were obsessed with gold. As a matter of fact, just one of the graves from the Varna cemetery, the so called golden grave (grave 43) contained more gold, than has been found in all the other archaeological sites in the world from that epoch…

It seems that this love of gold was not universal. The surrounding Balkan cultures like Vinca Culture seem not to care very much for gold and the situation was pretty much the same in the rest of Europe at that time.

It took over a 1500 years for gold work to reach Britain and Ireland. The first gold objects appear in Ireland at the end of the third millennium (2200 BC). But it seems that once the Irish discovered gold, they became obsessed with it and couldn’t have enough of it. But it seems that the Irish had a very peculiar and exclusive taste when it came to the type of gold objects they liked. A few of these kind of thingies were found in the Early Bronze age archaeological site:

But it seems that the favorite type of golden trinkets of the late 3rd millennium Irish were these two types of gold objects: a peculiar gold lunulae and even more peculiar gold cross discs:

The Gold lunula (plural: lunulae) is a distinctive type of late Neolithic, Chalcolithic or (most often) early Bronze Age necklace or collar shaped like a crescent moon. Most have been found in Ireland, but there are moderate numbers in other parts of Europe as well, from Great Britain to areas of the continent fairly near the Atlantic coasts. Although no lunula has been directly dated, from associations with other artefacts it is thought they were being made sometime in the period between 2200–2000 BC. A wooden box associated with one Irish find has recently given a radiocarbon dating range of 2460–2040 BC.

Beautiful things don’t you think? The Irish seem to think so too. Of the more than a hundred gold lunulae known from Western Europe, more than eighty were found in Ireland.

This is what you can read on the National Museum of Ireland’s website about the 3rd millennium Bronze Age Irish gold craze:

The National Museum of Ireland’s collection of Bronze Age gold work is one of the largest and most important in western Europe. The immense quantity of Bronze Age gold from Ireland suggests that rich ore sources were known. 

Gold has been found in Ireland at a number of locations, particularly in Co. Wicklow and Co. Tyrone. The gold is found in alluvial deposits from rivers and streams. This gold is weathered out from parent rock and can be recovered using simple techniques such as panning. These gold deposits are still exploited today.

This gold is weathered out from parent rock and can be recovered using simple techniques such as panning. In Wicklow mountains this technique is still used today by prospectors to find gold nuggets as you can see on the below picture and this video.

The Wicklow Mountains form the largest continuous upland area in Ireland. They occupy the whole centre of County Wicklow and stretch outside its borders into Counties Carlow, Wexford and Dublin. Where the mountains extend into County Dublin, they are known locally as the Dublin Mountains

Wicklow mountains are criss-crossed with thousands of streams and a lot of them carry gold and some of them carry a lot of gold.

This is the Wicklow gold nugget (or more precisely its replica).

This gold nugget, weighing 682 grams is the biggest gold nugget found on British Isles. It was found in the Ballin valley stream which is located near the town of Avoca in County Wicklow, Ireland, in September 1795. A cast of the ‘Wicklow Nugget’ is held in the Natural History Museum in London. The stories of how the nugget was discovered are many. One story is it was found by workers felling trees on an estate owned by Lord Carysfort. Another that it was found by a local school teacher walking on the banks of what is now the Goldmines River. Either way the nugget sparked the first and only gold rush in Ireland. The search for the source of the gold that can still be panned today in the rivers of Wicklow has gone on since 1795 but the mother lode has never been found.

So there is plenty of gold in Ireland. But how did the Irish learn how to find it, exploit it and make these amazing gold artifacts from it? The National Museum of Ireland’s website say this:

While we do not know precisely how the late Neolithic people of Ireland became familiar with metalworking, it is clear that it was introduced as a fully developed technique. Essential metalworking skills must have been introduced by people already experienced at all levels of production, from ore identification and recovery through all stages of the manufacturing process….Basically the gold working had become well established in Ireland and Britain together with a highly productive copper and bronze working industry. 

What this basically says is that gold working was brought to Ireland by the outsiders, invaders, by the same people who brought copper mining and metallurgy. These guys arrived to Ireland between 2400 BC and 2200 BC looking for copper. And they found it. In huge quantities.

Records of mining in Ireland date back to the Early Bronze Age when southwest Ireland was an important copper producer, with evidence of old copper workings at Ross Island located in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Ross Island is a claw-shaped peninsula in Killarney National Park, County Kerry. Copper extraction on the site is believed to be the source of the earliest known Irish Pre-Bronze Age metalwork, namely copper axe heads, halberds and knife/dagger blades dating from 2,400 – 2,200 BC. These finds have been distributed throughout Ireland and in the West of Britain – in South Britain the metalwork was imported from across the Channel.

The archaeology of the site has unearthed both mining operations and a smelting camp where the Copper ore was processed into a type of metal distinctive enough to be traced these early tools. As there is no evidence that the complex technology had developed spontaneously, this early metallurgy would indicate contacts with mainland Europe – in particular, extending along the coastline from Spain through Normandy. The Ross island operation was associated with beaker pottery and continued until ca 1,900 BC

And at the same time we see the appearance of the gold artifacts in Ireland too. So something very interesting happened between the 6th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC on the European Metal scene. As I already said the earliest evidence for gold working dates to the fifth millennium BC Varna culture. The earliest evidence for copper working dates to the 6th millennium Vinča culture. And as I said already, for a while the gold dudes from Varna and the copper and bronze dudes from Vinča didn’t really go out much and didn’t mix with one another or anyone else for that matter. They were too busy digging, smelting and making Metal, perfecting their art you know. But then one day, probably at the end of the 4th millennium, the beginning of the 3rd millennium, they must have been invited to a party organized by these new foreign kids who just came to Europe, the Beakers. I mean those Beaker dudes were mixing some strong stuff in those pots and their parties were the hottest thing in town. So I guess the Copper dudes kitted themselves out with all the copper tools and the Gold dudes kitted themselves out with all the gold bling and went to the party. What happened at that party is a bit hazy. But at some stage someone, and I would bet it was one of those Beaker kids, said something like this: “Hey you, the copper dudes! Have you ever thought of making weapons out of copper?! I know the agricultural tools are useful but they are not cool man! You know what’s cool?! Daggers! And Axes! And you really have to start working on your image! You look too rough, too uncultivated, too like “Neolithic” or something! You need something like what those gold dudes are wearing! But you can’t just wear shit loads of gold bling and expect girls to say “He is so cool”! No, that just makes you look like a sissy! What you really want is shit loads of copper weapons and shit loads of gold bling! Then you gonna look like gangstas! Girls love gangstas man!” The rest is history. From that moment on, a once relatively peaceful Europe is overrun by a bunch of copper weapons wielding, beaker pot loving gangstas, covered in gold. 

The guys who jumped out of the boat on the Irish shore in the late 3rd millennium BC were one of those guys. But these were no sissies, a peace loving people who kept themselves to themselves. They came to Ireland to mine and process copper to make weapons and I am sure they knew how to use them. It is very possible that they very quickly make themselves the only gang in town. O and these gangstas loved gold. So they, employed the same mining and metallurgical skills they used to find, mine and process Irish copper to find and process Irish gold and turn it into gold lunulae and gold cross discs that they loved so much. Right? Not exactly.

Back to the National Museum of Ireland’s website then goes on to say this:

Although gold has played an important part in the cultural history of Ireland, notably in the wealth of recovered gold ornaments,  records of gold extraction or its occurrence are relatively sparse and poorly documented prior to the 17th century….Although gold has been found in Ireland at a number of locations, particularly in Co. Wicklow and Co. Tyrone, it has not yet been possible to identify the ancient sources where gold was found (which was used for the Early Bronze Age gold artifacts found in Ireland)….

The National Museum of Ireland’s website is basically saying that even though the Early Bronze Age Irish were heavily blinged, we have no idea where the gold used to make this bling came from. Well, it seems that the information on the National Museum of Ireland’s website is slightly out of date. We actually now know where the gold used to make the early Bronze Age Irish bling came from, and it didn’t come from Ireland. This is the result of the latest study conducted by the scientists from the Bristol university who recently, together with the scientists from Leeds university, compared the gold from which the early Irish gold artifacts were made, with the naturally occurring gold deposits in the British Isles. The results were published in the paper entitled: “The genesis of gold mineralisation hosted by orogenic belts: A lead isotope investigation of Irish gold deposits“. You can also find them in the paper entitled “A Non-local Source of Irish Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Gold“.

Chris Standish, an archaeology PhD student in Bristol University used the latest advances in geochemistry to compare Irish native gold and museum gold using variations in the four natural types of lead atoms, or lead isotopes. The quantities of lead are tiny, around 0.002 per cent, and were measured using a mass spectrometer. The chemical composition of the material used to make the  early Bronze Age, 2,200 to 1,800 BC gold artifacts was cross checked and proved to be consistent. This suggests that all the early Bronze Age Irish gold have come from one area, possibly from river gravels. This chemical composition was then compared with the composition of all known Irish natural gold deposits. The chemical composition of the naturally occurring gold in Ireland was collected by the geologist Rob Chapman from Leeds University, who has spent hours standing in ice-cold streams and rivers across Ireland panning for gold. 

Scientists couldn’t find a match between any of the Irish gold deposits and the Museum gold. They examined likely areas, including the gold deposits from Mournes, Croagh Patrick, Counties Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford. Looking purely at the lead isotopes, gold in the artifacts is most consistent with gold from the southeast (Wicklow). But there is too little silver and trace metal for it to be a proper match. Standish suggests there may be gold he has yet to analyse, but another, controversial, explanation is gold imports. According to Chapman, “The lead signature he [Standish] gained from the early Bronze Age artifacts corresponded to the granite rocks in Cornwall”. This means that the Early Bronze Age Irish gold artifacts were made from gold found and panned in Cornwall. 

This is a golden lunula from Cornwall dated to the period 2400BC-2000BC. Does it predate the Irish ones?

Chapman then went to say that the results of the study “have irritated some archaeologists.

So Chapman then had to add this to his paper: “Natural gold does occur in Cornwall, but it is difficult to find and we cannot say categorically whether the gold content is compatible or not. Since the early Bronze Age, the land has changed so much that you cannot visit the same sites available to the Bronze Age people; some lie underwater. One possibility is that there is a deposit of gold somewhere in Ireland which has eluded modern prospectors but was used by Bronze Age people….”

Given extensive gold exploration in Ireland since the 1980s, a hidden source is somewhat unlikely, say geologists, dimming hopes of an Irish El Dorado. But it’s a possibility. And archaeologists and historians, who were irritated by the results of this study and who are refusing to accept the new geological data are clinging to it. 

One of those irritated archaeologists is Mary Cahill, curator of the National Museum of Ireland’s Bronze Age collection, who had this to say about the whole thing: “…there is no supporting archaeological evidence for extensive gold imports to Ireland at this time. We know that Irish copper and bronze objects turn up in Britain, but there are no signs of gold coming in. And clues pointing to southern Britain as a source for Irish gold are not conclusive….“. This is a perfect example of how archaeologists and historians are refusing to accept the latest scientific data because it contradicts with commonly accepted theories of what happened. 

I also love the way these finds were actually interpreted by Standish: 

Lead author Dr Chris Standish says: “This is an unexpected and particularly interesting result as it suggests that Bronze Age gold workers in Ireland were making artefacts out of material sourced from outside of the country, despite the existence of a number of easily-accessible and rich gold deposits found locally.


“It is unlikely that knowledge of how to extract gold didn’t exist in Ireland, as we see large scale exploitation of other metals. It is more probable that an ‘exotic’ origin was cherished as a key property of gold and was an important reason behind why it was imported for production.

Isn’t a much simpler and more logical explanation that the Early Bronze Age gold objects found in Ireland were made in the same place where the gold was found, in Cornwall and that they were then brought to Ireland as finished products? But that would make even more people even more irritated. This would effectively put an end to the accepted history and the story of the Early Bronze Age Ireland being the Golden Isle, the center of the European gold working crafts of that time …So the official archaeology and history is surprised and irritated with the new data showing that the “Irish gold” was brought to Ireland. 

But guess what? The old Irish annals, the so called “pseudo history” tells us that the gold was “brought into Ireland” and that it was brought right about the time when the first gold artifacts start appearing in Ireland.

The old Irish annals tell us that the first race that lived in Ireland were Fomorians. Then, after the flood, came the people of Partholón who are credited with introducing cattle husbandry, plowing, cooking, dwellings, trade, and dividing the island in four. But Partholon also brought gold. 

Labor Gabala Erenn tells us that Partholon had with him two merchants: Biobhal (Bibal) and Beabhal (Babal). Babal brought cattle to Ireland, and Bibal brought gold.

So when did Partholon come to Ireland? 

The Annals of the Four Masters says they arrived in 2520 Anno Mundi (after the “creation of the world”), Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Érinn says they arrived in 2061 BC, Annals of Four Masters says that they arrived at 2680 BC. So Sometimes in the second half of the 3rd millennium. 

So far the “pseudo history” is right on the money. 

And finally where did the Parthalon come from?

The earliest surviving reference to the Partholóin is in the Historia Brittonum, a 9th-century British Latin compilation attributed to one Nennius. Here, “Partholomus” is said to have come to Ireland from Spain.

Seathrún Céitinn’s 17th century compilation Foras Feasa ar Érinn, says that Partholón was the son of Sera, the king of Greece, and fled his homeland after murdering his father and mother. He lost his left eye in the attack on his parents. He and his followers set off from Greece, sailed via Sicily, around Iberia, and arrived in Ireland from the west, having traveled for seven years.

The Lebor Gabála Érenn, an 11th-century Christian pseudo-history of Ireland, tells us more. It tells us that Partholón came from either Sicily or Mygdonia which was an ancient territory, part of Ancient Thrace. According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn Partholon was the son of Sera, son of Sru, a descendant of Magog, son of Japheth (see Japhetites), son of Noah. Partholón and his people sail to Ireland via Gothia, Anatolia, Greece, Sicily and Iberia, and landing at Inber Scéne (Kenmare in County Kerry). This is the closest landing point next to the ancient Ross Island copper mine. This mine was the reason why the pot loving, copper weapons making and gold bling wearing Beaker gangstas came to Ireland. 

So is the Irish “pseudo history” right about the Balkans being the birth place of Partholon like it was about when he landed in Ireland, where he landed in Ireland and the fact that he and his people had brought gold to Ireland? I believe so. But I will talk about this in one of my next posts. 

Bjelopavlići tumulus

Several years ago, archaeologists discovered a partially destroyed tumulus in the area between the two villages Frutak i Kujava near the town of Danilovgrad in Montenegro. The area is located in extremely fertile region which surrounds the lake Skadar and its tributaries.

 
The tumulus which originally had a diameter of 20 meters and a height of 1,75 meters was badly damaged by farming. Eventually plowing exposed a stone dolmen cist. Inside archaeologists discovered two bronze spearheads, a bronze needle, a bronze bracelet, a bronze armlet and a bronze fibula. Unfortunately I don’t have any more info about this tumulus nor pictures of the artifacts found in it. I would really appreciate any help in locating additional information about this tumulus.

Anyway, the area where this first tumulus was found had many more ancient tumuluses which managed to stay undisturbed until the present day. There were 6 more tumuluses in Frutak and 4 more in Kujava. So the archaeological investigation in the area continued.

In 2014 a team of archaeologists lead by Predrag Lutovac opened the second tumulus. Inside of the tumulus archaeologists discovered two stone dolmen cists.

The cists were surrounded by two concentric stone circles, one inside the tumulus and one marking the outer edge of the tumulus. 

Archaeologists believe that the edge of the tumulus was marked with a stone circle not only to prevent the tumulus soil erosion but also in order to separate the land of the dead from the land of the living. 

The data available about this archaeological site is extremely limited and confusing. It amounts to few news articles and one video interview. From this I was not able to determine how many people were buried in the tumulus. I believe that from what I can gather there were all together four people buried in the tumulus. I can’t wait to see the DNA data retrieved from the remains. I’d say we are in for a surprise… 🙂

This is the picture of the skeleton of the person buried inside the bigger dolmen cist. It is a skeleton of an adult male. He was buried in a fetal position. According to the archaeologists this symbolises rebirth after death and points to a belief that the death was seen as a new birth.

The tumulus was originally provisionally dated to the early Bronze age to the period around 1850 BC, but the latest results have moved the dating even further back in time, to around 2400 BC. According to the archaeologists the tumulus was built by the people who belonged to the early bronze Age Ljubljana culture.

Inside the tumulus archaeologists discovered ceramic artifacts. 

They also discovered bronze bracelets but unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of these bracelets.

And finally, archaeologists discovered this mysterious bronze disc like object.

Now are you seeing what I am seeing? Are you seeing the concentric groves, the holes which look like they were drilled in the metal and used for screws or some kind of bolts or rivets? What is this and what was it used for? How was it made? And am I the only one who can see a “Celtic”  cross shape in it?

The vertical hands go below the circle and the horizontal ones go above the circle? Maybe yes maybe no 🙂 Unfortunately I don’t have the picture of the other side of this object so I can’t confirm my hypothesis. O and by the way, “Celtic” is in quotes for a reason 🙂 This object has nothing to do with Celts or Christianity….I use the name “Celtic cross”  because this is today the most commonly used name for this type of solar crosses even though the earliest examples of these solar crosses predate Celts by millenniums and date to 6th millennium BC Balkans and Central Europe…

Regardless of whether this is a “Celtic” cross or not, this is still a very intriguing object. Few people asked me if I had a scale of the object. Luckily I do. I hope this helps the speculation about the use of the object. 

This is a comparative table of Macedonian, Balkan and Caucasian bronze Early Iron Age (8th century bc) ornaments (pieces oj horse gear) . Have a look at the item 27 from the Balkans. I think this can help us understand the purpose of the above object. 

But we have to be careful when making conclusions based on the similarity of these two objects. Just because the symbol on two objects is the same doesn’t mean that they have the same function. The same symbol is found on Celtic standing crosses. Also just because the symbol first appears on horse riding equipment in bronze in the late Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, it doesn’t mean that it could not have been used on other earlier objects with completely different function. This doesn’t mean that the object from the tumulus is not part of the later contamination.

Anyway this is not why this discovery is already rewriting European history. It is the fact that we have early bronze age dolmens in the western Balkans that is so important. This is going to take some digesting and explaining. But I believe that this is just the beginning of the “surprise discoveries” and that what is to come is going to be even more interesting. 

According to the archaeologists only in Montenegro there are between 3000 and 5000 tumuluses of which only 10 have been excavated. What else will be found when all the other tumuluses are excavated and how will this change our understanding of the Early European Bronze Age?