Boy died ‘alone in the cold’ 500 years ago

Forensic analysis of a skeleton discovered in a cave in the Burren in 2011 is believed to be that of a teenage boy who may have died up to 500 years ago.

The human skull was discovered by cavers at Moneen outside Ballyvaughan and prompted a rescue archaeological excavation funded by the National Monuments Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs.

The full scientific investigations of the skeleton have just been published, revealing the remains are that of someone who had died aged 14-16. There was evidence of stunted growth, almost certainly a result of malnutrition and hunger. He was 1.24m tall.

Radiocarbon dating was undertaken at Queen’s University Belfast and revealed the teenager had died sometime between 1520 and 1670.

Historian Ciarán Ó Murchadha suggested the likely timeframe for the boy’s death is during the Commonwealth period (1649-1660), when Clare endured nearly two decades of famine, warfare, disease, and mass human casualty.

Excavation director and IT Sligo lecturer Marion Dowd said: “We do not know who he was, but there are a few details we can be pretty certain about. Isotopic analysis by Dr Thomas Kador at University College London indicated the boy was local to the Burren. We can imagine he was born and reared close to Ballyvaughan village. He would have been a Gaelic Irish speaker and probably did not speak English. He would have been Catholic, and almost certainly came from an impoverished family.”

How the teenager came to be in the cave is a mystery, however. “We found the remains within a small rectangular niche in the wall of the cave. It was a small space, just about big enough for a teenager to crawl into. The position of the bones suggests the boy curled up in this small space and died there, alone in the cold,” said Dr Dowd.


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