Buried with his sheep before him (this one’s for the smut-minded out there)

Some archaeologists working in Ireland, at Corofin, County Galway, may (or may not) have found an early Christian site there, identified by 65 burials in what could, if generously interpreted, be a vallum, an earth rampart that is traditionally held to mark the limits of a monastic enclosure in Celtic areas. Some might say that, given how difficult it is to actually identify Irish Christian sites in archaeological terms, or any religious site at all for definite really, this is a bit hopeful, but the burials are all supine, extended (except for one) and oriented east-west and so, while even that is not ambiguous, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be a Christian cemetery. That isn’t what I wanted to mention. In fact this entry is dedicated to bloggers like Carl Pyrdum and Jennifer Lynn Jordan, the sort of people who can use the phrase “monkey butt-trumpet” and mean it.

You see, the owner of one of the skeletons was buried with a sheep, in what some might call a “compromising position”, as you can see:

compromising Corofin inhumation

The reporting page coyly says that this has led to some “unlikely suppositions”, and well, yes, it would wouldn’t it? But what then would a likely one be? Any suggestions?

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21 responses to “Buried with his sheep before him (this one’s for the smut-minded out there)

  1. Finally!

    (tics ‘cementing associations between self and potential medieval bestiality’ off to-do list)

  2. One obvious serious question, which isn’t entirely clear from the picture, is were the two skeletons actually buried at the same time or was the sheep buried after and/or has the stratigraphy been mucked up in some other way? (That still leaves the question as to why someone buried a sheep. Or we are in a scenario of sheep accidentally dies on top of recently used grave and for some reason it gets covered up rather than moved?)

  3. Now you see that is a likely supposition :-) The post from the group that dug it says merely, “a sheep was also buried within the burial ground cutting the pelvic area of one skeleton”, which seems to leave your possibilities open. I’m not sure if one could necessarily tell if they were simultaneous burials if they were merely close in time and the opening of the grave was carefully done.

  4. If the sheep burial ‘cuts’ the pelvis of the human skeleton, it must be secondary, that is, later in time.

    In the picture it is obvious that the left femur is missing from the human individual which suggests, that the sheep burial did indeed disturb an older burial. So I think we can sort out the ‘buried-with-my-favourite-pet-sheep’ scenario…

  5. Thank heavens for actual archaeology. I never would have spotted the missing bone. But, as magistra says, that does leave a rather odder question: why did someone bury a sheep in the middle, quite literally, of what must obviously have been an occupied human burial? Horse burial I’ve seen, but sheep? Any parallels that you know of?

  6. I thought they buried them that way only in Montana.

  7. Hmm… no parallel cases come to mind.

    The sheep burial (if it is indeed an intentional burial and not just a hole in the ground with a dead sheep in it) could be from an ealier date and not related to the cemetery at all.

    Kindly, Henrik (killer of fancy theories)

  8. It seems to be superimposed, there, though, unless they took out the guy’s femur to get him in past this previous burial. On the other hand, a sheep dying in situ wouldn’t account for the missing bone…

  9. Maybe he was a one legged sheep fancier?

  10. The bottom of the femur appears to be in place and undisturbed. As not all of the skeleton is uncovered, I suspect the ‘missing’ bone its still covered in soil.

    My guess: Someone wishing to humiliate the person come judgement day, buried the sheep in the grave at the same time?

  11. That seems very fair: my anatomical knowledge wasn’t good enough to realise immediately that the visible joint of course implies the rest of the bone.

    I should also say, since this post seems to have caught the attention of the Internet rather, that really credit belongs to the blog site I link to in the entry, who found and first posted this stuff at the Moore Group Blog.

  12. Pingback: Where the men were men… and the sheep kept their distance « Lost Within Modern Civilization

  13. Damn, I always thought when evidence was found that it would be a goat!

  14. Marcus Laurens

    Obviously, someones pet Assualt sheep that died heroically in battle, and was given a hero’s burial.

  15. Thanks for the link TM..

    Regarding our sheep – Henrik is correct. The burial ground was unknown before we discovered it during the course of advance testing for a housing development. During the subsequent excavation, we encountered the sheep skeleton, clearly cutting the human remains..

    That is, it truncated the earlier human burial and was much later in time. As Henrik observed, the femur had been removed during the course of burying the sheep. It’s probable that the farmer didn’t even realise it was human bone.

    Regards

    Moore Group

  16. I should have just asked you guys in the first place, shouldn’t I? Sorry, and thankyou for the traffic!

  17. Pingback: Tweets that mention Buried with his sheep before him (this one’s for the smut-minded out there) « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe -- Topsy.com

  18. So the question is: why bury a sheep? I know of lots of early medieval horse burials, but this has none of the ritual trappings of such sites. Nor would I expect an early Irish sheep to be so buried. Ox, yes, sheep, no. Could be that whoever buried it was disposing of morticinum, carrion, but the Irish penitentials I know call fir carrion to be given either to homines bestiales or other domestic animals (pigs or dogs) rather than being discarded unused. A mystery!

    • Well, from what the Moore Group say up above, I don’t think there’s any reason to suppose the sheep burial was medieval, which may make the question, if not easier, at least someone else’s problem.

  19. I’ve readed everything carefully. I live in Sardinia (Italy) where there’s a very strong sheeps presence. Sheperds are a good component (majority) of the society from Bronze age till now, but we don’t have burials surely indicating sheperds (quite everybody was a sheperd in the past!). However, in our archaeological backround I’ve never seen a sheep burial and I agree with the suggestion of a later burial done without perception of an existing cemetery on the same place. So the absence of a femur is quite logically to attribute to an excavation for to bury a probable ill sheep, no good for to be eaten, as always sheperds always have done in this evenience until now, because now they must declare the ilness and the death of animals to the public authority.

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