Kingship and Sacrifice

Read about the Bog Bodies Research Project at the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology.

The exhibition, Kingship and Sacrifice, is the result of the findings of the National Museum of Ireland’s Bog Bodies Research Project, which was established in 2003 following the discovery of two Iron Age bog bodies at Oldcroghan, Co. Offaly and Clonycavan, Co. Meath.

The remains were dated to between around 400 BC and 200 BC and they were in a remarkably good state of preservation. The Bog Bodies Research Project scientifically examined and documented the human remains in question using a multi-disciplinary team of international experts.

Thirty five specialists, many of whom had vast experience in the field of bog body research, worked in conjunction with staff from the Irish Antiquities Division and Conservation Department of the Museum. A wide variety of analyses were carried out, including: CT and MRI scanning; palaeodietary analysis; fingerprinting; histological; and pathological analysis.

Fingers from a Bog Body

What's in the Kingship & Sacrifice Exhibition?

The exhibition provides a general overview of the analyses and their significance in addition to placing the finds in a broader European context. Information is provided about Iron Age bog bodies found in Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and England.

Also featured are two other Irish bog bodies from the National Museum of Ireland collections - Gallagh Man, Co. Galway and Baronstown West Man, Co. Kildare. The archaeological significance of the bog bodies is presented and explored throughout the exhibition.


A New Theory of Sacrifice

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.

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In this Exhibition
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