Antler hammerhead found in cave ‘likely to be prehistoric’

An antler hammerhead found in a Burren cave is “likely to be prehistoric”.

Along with the “hugely exciting” hammerhead find, archaeologists also came across the skeleton of a teenager who carbon dating suggest sought shelter in the cave sometime in the 16th or 17th century.

The skull of the skeleton and the hammerhead were discovered by cavers last June in a small cave on Moneen Mountain outside Ballyvaughan, Co Clare.

The National Museum Service then carried out a 10-day excavation last August.

Presenting the findings in Tubber last night, lead archaeologist Marion Dowd of IT Sligo said the cave was used in the Bronze Age about 3,000 years ago, and again at the end of the Medieval period.

“The discovery of the fabulous antler hammerhead is hugely exciting,” she said. “I can’t find any other parallels in Irish archaeology.”

Final tests to confirm the prehistoric origin of the antler — from a red deer stag aged six-and-a-half — have yet to be completed.

Dr Dowd said that the discovery of the hammerhead in an Irish context “is very interesting and very significant”.

A large quantity of pottery shards dating back 3,000 years were also found, along with a piece of an antler from a red deer and butchered animal bone from the period.

“It is a fabulous collection. While the material is domestic in nature, there is no evidence that the cave was inhabited at this time.”

The discovery of the full skeleton was “quite poignant and quite sad”, Dr O’Dowd said.

“It gives a real, human element where we had a teenager dying in a cave all alone where he or she came to seek shelter or to hide. Nobody never knew from this time where this teenager went.”

DNA tests are required to determine the sex of the teenager, who was aged between 14 and 16.

“This was not a situation where a body was dumped. We also found no evidence of trauma.

“The bones show that the individual had quite stunted growth — possibly because of malnourishment.

“The skeleton is somewhere between 350 and 500 years old.”

Dr Dowd said that the cave has not been disturbed until now.

“The landowner knew that the cave was there, but it is very small. It measures three metres by two and a half metres and you can’t stand upright in it.”


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