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Wood for the living, stone for the dead

29 February 2012
Clontygora Court Tomb Co. Armagh

Stones for the dead : The Clontygora Court Tomb, Cooley Peninsula, Co. Armagh

Wood for the living, stone for the dead, goes the thinking.  That’s how today’s archaeologists think our ancestors, the ones that lived before the ages of copper, bronze and iron, would have seen the world.  It’s why we find post-holes with pottery and human remains in stone chambers; in sites created more than 5000 years ago. We call it the “stone age”… the age before metals; and know it most readily from the lasting legacy implanted in our landscape “megaliths”…or big stones.

And this particular “megalithic structure” I fell upon whilst researching some new routes for “Black Mountain and The Cooley Hills”, (Walk 2 in the Best Walks in Ireland). Cloud was hanging low over the tops and the NI Tourist Board film crew who were also hanging around to make a promo film for a singer had their gear well secreted into their van.
And as the cloud swirled around us obscuring the 21st century landscape, bohereens, bungalows and vehicles, it was easy to let thoughts drift and watch in imagination as ancient ancestors, the elders, performed their sacred ritual in honor of their forebears; and lay their remains within the tomb, while the rest of this population of stone-tooled farmers looked onward and upward from the surrounding slopes; hoping those passed-on would intercede with whatever spirits ruled their world and guarantee good weather and good harvest.
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Farming probably emerged in Ireland around 6000 years ago, especially on the well-drained soils in the eastern part of the country; and so began, what we call, the “new stone age” or “Neolithic” period.  It was probably those farmers, living in their fixed settlements with homes formed by huts of wooden post, thatch, wattle and daub and farming with stone tools, that built these structures. (Walk 4: The Glens of Antrim, takes you through the landscape of the Neolithic axe “factory” at the foot of Tievebulliagh).
And in fact when the tomb was excavated in 1937 they found a stone axe, and the cremated remains of at least one person.  Unfortunately the tomb has suffered a lot of disturbance and archaeologists find it difficult to determine its original shape and size, but the illustration at the site gives you a good idea.  It’s thought the large forecourt created by the massive standing stones, would have been paved, leading into a tomb of three separate chambers.  Apparently it was used will into the Bronze age; a time beginning some 4000 years ago when the wonder and magic of the new technologies, the copper and bronze tools, would have eroded the foundations of their society, (wood for the living, stone for the dead), much as new technologies forge changes in our own lives today.
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Illustration of the likely construction and appearance of the Clontygora Court Tomb

An artists impression of the complete tomb.

Featuring mainly in parts of the West, but especially the North of Ireland, The Ulster Journal of Archeology speculates that the technique, and presumably, therefore, the culture, for building these tombs, came across the narrow North Channel from south-west Scotland, where similar examples are cast within the landscape.

Of course it could be the reverse, (as is often suggested with the Kingdom of Dál Riata further North), which ever direction it does place this site at an important stone age crossroad.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 April 2012 15:58

    Thanks for the pingback. Running very badly behind at the moment… had a lot training materials to write for some cruiser sailng workshops… so I’m afraid I’ve neglected Walking With David a little. Looking to get back on track in the next couple of weeks.

    I enjoyed your Cave Hill (I used to live in Down), and came close to writing about it around 1990, but never did… there’s so much oral tradition that survived in Ulster in spite of everything.
    Regards
    D

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