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History of Irish Cremation

The earliest metalsmiths were buried in megalithic monuments known as wedge tombs. However, around 2200 BC these began to be replaced by separate burials of one or more persons either in simple pits or in stone-lined graves known as cists that are sometimes found clustered in cemeteries. In keeping with earlier burial practices, the remains were cremated, but in a new development, unburnt bodies were also interred, usually in a crouched position. Highly decorated pots known as Food Vessels and – very occasionally – other personal possessions accompanied the dead. Gradually, cremation became popular once more, and the burnt bones were placed in large decorated pots called urns, which were inverted in the graves. Different types of urns – Vase, Encrusted, Collared and Cordoned – were used, and in some cases, Food Vessels and tiny vessels called Incense Cups were placed with them, accompanied occasionally by daggers, beads, pins and ceremonial stone battleaxes.

From about 1200 BC, climatic deterioration and other factors resulted in a period of development and innovation. The dead were cremated and sometimes placed in undecorated urns, often buried at the centre of small ring ditches. Metalsmiths made spearheads, rapiers, axes of a type known as palstaves and a range of smaller tools. After 900 BC the production of large numbers of weapons, especially swords, and the deposition of hoards suggest a period of violence and uncertainty. Other weapons and tools were produced including shields, cauldrons, spears and axes as well as tools such as chisels, gouges, punches, tweezers, sickles and knives. Bronze horns were cast in moulds and these are among the oldest known musical instruments from Ireland. Crude, coarsely-made pottery was used for cooking, storage and as containers for the cremated bones of the dead. Wooden trackways were constructed across bogs, and at Doogarrymore, Co. Roscommon, two wooden wheels from a cart used in the 400 BC were found in association with such a trackway.

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