Interrogating the Dead: Carn More Cemetery: Late Neolithic Early Bronze Age Burial

The discovery of a unique or exceptional find during an excavation presents archaeologists with a most challenging problem, i.e. how to interpret it? The discovery of a granite 'animal' at Carn More poses many questions.  Is this a sculpture of a virile Bull, sacrificed on the grave of a dead Chieftain? What does this mean? Is there a rational explanation for this discovery?

A burial monument dating from c.1900-1600 BC at Carn More revealed many cist graves.  The central burial pit was covered in an 'altar' that included a granite 'animal' resembling a resting cow or sheep, pierced or stabbed on one side. Next to this remarkable object was a standing stone that had fallen (or been deliberately thrown down) before a small cairn was raised.

Granite boulders sometimes become eroded into unusual shapes. Most of the form of the Carn More 'animal' was probably caused by erosion. However, the stone is clearly modified into its final form, and dating to around 1900-1600 BC it is one of the earliest three-dimensional stone sculptures in Ireland. There is a flat area at the  base of the neck upon which offerings could be placed.  It is very tempting to add a pair of eyes to this face: these might have been painted. From the hole in the side, the animal was ritually murdered.

Around this cairn was a ring of eight cists containing single burials. Cists either contained cremated (ritually burnt) or unburnt burials. The acidic soil had dissolved the bones for most of the unburnt burials but one remained showing an adult male 17-25 years old. Many cists contained pottery vessels, perhaps holding food to sustain the dead as they passed to (or through) the Underworld. Other outlying pits contained pottery vessels and more cremations.  

ASI: What else was here?
Carn More also contained a large barrow and two small ring-barrows. The large barrow had a stone-built communal burial chamber and the smaller ring-barrows were for single individuals. All the barrow mounds were supported by dry-stone walls that had later collapsed into the surrounding ditches.