Poulnabrone represents one of the very few Irish portal tombs that have been archaeologically investigated. This excavation, which was carried out by Ann Lynch, uncovered the remains of twenty two people, sixteen adults and six children within the interior of the tomb. Of these bodies only eight could be sexed and these were equally split between males and females.
The bones were disarticulated and appear to have been placed within the tomb in a de-fleshed condition. This suggested a complex burial ritual, where the bodies were firstly stored or buried elsewhere until they decomposed. The bare bones were then transferred to the portal tomb for final interment. A number of the bones contained scorch marks suggesting that they had been held over a flame prior to burial, possibly during a purification ritual.
A variety of artefacts, presumably representing grave goods, were also recovered from the burial chamber. These included a polished stone axe, two stone beads, a decorated bone pendant, a fragment of a mushroom-headed bone pin, two quartz crystals, several sherds of coarse pottery, three chert arrowheads and three chert/flint scrapers.
Thus the burial evidence from Poulnabrone has given us rare glimpse into the lives of our early ancestors. It appears that they endured a relatively tough existence, that involved hard physical labour, childhood illnesses, occasional violent attacks and early deaths. Although only a small section of the community were deemed worthy of burial in the tomb, there is little evidence for gender or age discrimination, with both male and female remains present as well as young and old. Prior to interment their bones appear to have been stored elsewhere and this may indicate that they were venerated as ancestor relics. Why certain individuals were chosen to be buried in the seemingly exalted location of a megalithic tomb, however, remains a mystery.
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