New Theory of Sacrifice

Read about the theory connecting human sacrifice with sovereignty and kingship rituals during the Iron Age.


Detail of hand from 'Croghan Man', a bog body on display at the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibition.

The exhibition is centred on a new theory that connects human sacrifice with sovereignty and kingship rituals during the Iron Age. Research has indicated that other material connected with these rituals include: items of regalia; items associated with equestrian procession; weapons; feasting utensils; boundary markers; items associated with corn and milk production, such as quern stones and butter deposits known as ‘bog butter’.

In the category of royal regalia are horned head-dresses, such as the so-called Petrie Crown and two horns from a similar head-dress from a bog in Runnabehy, Co. Roscommon. There are two gold collars from Ardnaglug Bog, Co. Roscommon, as well as a skin cape from a bog at Derrykeighan, Co. Antrim, an armlet from Ballymahon, Co. Meath and three pins from the River Shannon. A replica of the leather cloak worn by Baronstown West Man is also displayed.

Objects associated with procession on horseback or by means of wheeled vehicles include: bridle bits and leading pieces from a bog at Attymon, Co. Galway; and a wooden yoke from a bog at Erriff, Co. Mayo. Weapons include: a leather shield from Clonura, Co. Tipperary; a wooden sword from Ballykilmurray, Co. Wicklow; spearbutts from Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim and the River Shannon at Banagher, Co. Ofally; and a spearhead from Roodstown, Co. Louth. Feasting utensils include: a large bronze cauldron from Ballyedmond, Co. Galway; a drinking cup from Keshcarrigan, Co. Leitrim; and wooden bowls from Magheran, Co. Donelan and Emlaghmore, Co. Roscommon.

Anthropomorphic wooden carvings such as those from Ralaghan, Co. Cavan and Corlea, Co. Longford appear to have served as boundary markers. Also exhibited is a wooden vessel that contained large votive butter offerings. This was found in a bog at Rosberry, Co. Kildare, which is the same bog in which the remains of Barronstown West Man was recovered.

Each of these objects appears to have been associated with the inauguration of a new king, and appear to have been buried in boundary areas as a statement and definition of the king’s new sovereignty.

Also in the exhibition is a replica of a large silver vessel found in a bog in Denmark known as the Gundestrup Cauldron. The outside of the cauldron displays images of Celtic deities, while panels on the interior show scenes that can be identified as kingship and sovereignty rituals. The imagery includes a number references to human sacrifice.