Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

600-year-old body find in Fermanagh crannog site sparks murder mystery

The crannog site in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
The crannog site in Fermanagh
Archaeologists pictured at the site in Fermanagh
The sub-floor of a circular house uncovered during an archaeological dig just outside Enniskillen
A bone comb uncovered during an archaeological dig just outside Fermanagh

A 600-year-old body found by archaeologists excavating the crannog site in Co Fermanagh may have been the victim of an ancient murder mystery.

The fact the woman, who was in her late teens when she died, was not buried in either a recognised graveyard or in traditional manner has led archaeologists to consider foul play.

Excavation director Dr Nora Bermingham dated the teenager's death to around the 15th or 16th centuries.

"The skeleton of a young woman, probably around 18 or 19 with very bad teeth, was found in the upper layers of the crannog," she said.

The expert described the burial as "irregular" but said the cause of death may only be discovered when the remains are examined by a bones specialist.

"All we can say at the moment was that the burial itself was in slight disarray, it was slightly disarticulated, which means that it wasn't a normal internment," she said.

"This person wasn't laid out on their back in an east-west direction, which is normal for a Christian burial.

"The body seems to have been bundled into the position it was buried in."

Considering whether the young woman may have been killed, Dr Bermingham added:

"It's not uncommon for people who have either committed crimes or people who have been murdered or what not to have been buried in this fashion."

Dr John O'Keeffe, principal inspector of historic monuments with Stormont's Department of the Environment, also believes something other than natural causes may have been a factor.

"I very much suspect it was somebody who probably died suddenly and tragically at the site and rather than being brought to a grave yard they were buried there," he said.

"I don't know if that was clandestine or what."

The skull of the woman has sustained damage, but archaeologists are not sure if that happened prior to death or by disruption of the site in the centuries since.

While the woman may be over half a millennium old, she would have lived at a time when the crannog was coming to the end of its period of habitation.

Carbon dating has confirmed that some of the site's earliest homes were built in and around 670AD.

As the dig through century upon century of crannog life got closer to the initial foundations, archaeologists knew there was a possibility of finding more human remains.

"At other crannogs that were excavated in the 1930s there were people's heads lying about the bottom," said Dr O'Keeffe, noting that some skeletons were also found in manacles and chains.

"It may have been an element of conquest, saying, 'Right, this is mine now boys, we are going to consecrate it with the blood of your ancestors'."

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