Facilitating transitions: Postmortem processing of the dead at the Carrowkeel passage tomb complex, Ireland (3500–3000 cal. B.C.)

Jonny Geber, Robert Hensey, Pádraig Meehan, Sam Moore, Thomas Kador

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This study explores the burial practices and secondary funerary rites at the Carrowkeel Neolithic passage tomb complex in County Sligo in northwest Ireland. An osteological and taphonomic reassessment of cremated and unburned human bones recovered from the complex during an archaeological excavation more than a century ago has produced significant new insights into how the people of Carrowkeel perceived death and how they maintained and manifested social links with their ancestors. In addition to the rite of cremation, a complex postmortem burial practice is further attested by the presence of cut marks on several of the unburned bones, which indicate that the bodies of the dead were dismembered before they were placed in the tombs. It is argued that both cremation and dismemberment (and possible defleshing) may have been physical expressions of similar objectives, relating to excarnation and removal of flesh from the bodies of the deceased. Processing the bodies and thereby assisting the dead to transcend to an extra-bodily realm of existence may have been the main focus of the burial rite. The passage tombs at Carrowkeel should perhaps be viewed as places of curation, transformation, and regeneration of enduring ancestors that enabled both a physical and spiritual interaction with the dead and allowed for their omnipresence among the living.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-51
JournalBioarchaeology International
Issue number1–2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • cremation
  • dismemberment
  • excarnation


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