Hiker In County Mayo, Ireland Stumbles Upon Neolithic Burial Site With Bones Dating To 3,600 BC

The burial chamber is believed to have been used for approximately 1,200 years.

A Neolithic burial site has been discovered in County Mayo, Ireland.
Andrew Redington / Getty Images

The burial chamber is believed to have been used for approximately 1,200 years.

In 2016, local hiker Michael Chambers was traversing the countryside of County Mayo in Ireland when he discovered human remains on a Neolithic burial site situated inside of a boulder chamber on Ben Gorm Mountain. Research conducted on these remains show that there may have been more than 10 individuals laid to rest here over a time span of 1,200 years.

The bones of these residents included those of adults, teenagers, and small children and while one child’s skeleton was found to be from 2,400 BC, one of the adult burials had occurred long before and was dated to approximately 3,600 BC, as The Journal report.

Upon initially finding bones scattered haphazardly along the ground of the Neolithic burial site, Chambers contacted local authorities so that the remains could be tested and dated. As soon as it was discovered that the bones were indeed quite ancient, the National Monuments Service teamed up with the National Museum of Ireland and began excavating the site under a project headed up by Dr. Marion Dowd.

Research of the County Mayo site showed that bodies were first taken into the burial chamber to be placed inside of a pit. At some point afterward, it appears that the skulls of these individuals may have been smashed as part of the routine burial rituals conducted by this society. At the same time, some of the much larger bones of the bodies were also deliberately removed from the chamber.

As Dr. Dowd explained, the Neolithic burial site showed a very complex set of rituals attached to the burials of these remains.

“Only a very small proportion of each skeleton was found, with the majority of bones apparently deliberately removed. This discovery indicates highly complex processing of the dead.”

Even more exciting was the revelation that this particular chamber had been in use for well over a thousand years.

“Large pieces of quartz had been placed in and around the bones. When the radiocarbon dates came through it was very exciting. Not only were the bones Neolithic, but the dates showed the site had been used for over 1,000 years.”

Josepha Madigan, the Minister for Culture, was extremely grateful that hiker Michael Chambers was so careful upon finding the bones and thanked hillwalkers for their caution and vigilance in cases like these.

“This is a fascinating archaeological discovery and I want to thank the community of hillwalkers for reporting it to us. Such vigilance is extremely important to us in helping to protect and understand our archaeological heritage.”

With hillwalking such a popular activity in County Mayo, Ireland, there may be many more Neolithic burial sites such as this one just waiting to be discovered.