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..