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Archaeologists fail to flesh out skeleton murder mystery

A 1,000-year-old murder mystery exposed by a fallen tree will remain just that.

Skeletal remains of a medieval young man, with evidence of stab wounds to his chest and left hand, were discovered among the roots of a 200-year-old beech toppled by a storm in Ireland last May.

Archaeologists spent weeks on the land near Collooney, Co Sligo, recovering bones from the scene, believed to have been an early Christian burial site.

Months of analysis and radiocarbon dating revealed the man lived between 1030AD and 1200AD, but he was taller than average for the era at 5ft 10in.

Deeper scientific research by bone specialists suggests the dead man was aged 17-20 and that he suffered a mild spinal condition or disease while working in physical labour.

But archaeologist Marion O'Dowd said there is no other material or clues from the site and no other investigations can be carried out to discover the story behind the burial.

"It's not massively rare or massively unusual to find remains of this type," she said.

"But we don't know if he was killed in a battle or if it was a personal combat with someone, but the community or his family did recover him and gave him a proper Christian burial.

"We have sifted everything from the area around the grave and found nothing - no buttons, no coins, nothing. But that is not unusual either. Normally with burials of this type the dead were wrapped in a shroud of some description and that's all."

The closure of the dig and the skeletal remains going into storage, as required under law, in the National Museum of Ireland effectively pulls the shutters down on the cold case.

There are no plans to name the man or for reburial.

Dr O'Dowd, who lectures in archaeology and runs Sligo Leitrim Archaeology Services, said: "Archaeologists would rarely rebury material unless it's very recent, say 19th century. The remains are ancient. You can't rebury them on the spot and it's not that we know of any living relatives."

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