« ZurückWeiter »
employed stone implements to till the ground, to bruise and triturate corn, and to bake bread. Finally, they interred their dead in stone chambers, or collected their ashes in stone urns, and erected over them tumuli of the same material. Upon some of the stones composing these sepulchral monuments we find traces of a peculiar ornamentation, characteristic of the time, and quite unknown during later periods.
“Where the fruits of the earth do not spring spontaneously from the ground, with the natural luxuriance of tropical climates, and thus present, without culture, a sufficient supply of food all the year round, man must of necessity remain a nomad_depending mainly for his subsistence on fishing or the chase_until he has learned to domesticate his prey, and reduce the wild animals around him to his rule. Then he becomes a shepherd; or, as he renders the earth fertile by bis labour, an agriculturist. In either case he ceases to be a wandering hunter, and remains more or less stationary, allowing time for the cultivation of those arts which, prompted by necessity and improved by taste, gradually elevate him in the scale of civilization.
“In this primitive state the timber of the forest supplied him with materials for his rude dwelling, and with warmth for fuel and cookery. The skins of animals, which he killed for food, furnished him with clothing; these he fashioned with a sharp flint-flake, or hard stone edged-tool, and bound together with thongs—using as a piercer, point, or needle, the bone of some fish, bird, or small mammal. At the same time the sinews of animals or thongs of skin, with perhaps some glutinous material resembling cement-possibly pitch or resin-enabled him to fix in wooden shafts or handles the knives, spears, and arrow-heads with which he slew and skinned the beasts on which he preyed.
“ To project the latter weapon, either in battle or the chase, the flexible branch, shaped by the sharp fint edged-tool, formed a bow, which was bent by a leather thong, or the twisted intestine of an animal. The wooden material-of oak, ash, and yew, fir, hazel, and birch, found in our bogs, and still existing as indigenous trees—which formed the bow, the shaft of the arrow, and the handle of the lance or javelin, has perished centuries ago; but the durable materials of flint and stone remain, and of such implements the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy boasts the most extensive collection which has yet been made of the primitive weapons and tools of the early inhabitants of the British Isles. The elegantly-shaped and highly-finished spear or arrow-head would not be of any service to the warrior or the hunter if he did not possess the means of adapting to it a proper shaft, and attaching it thereto with the necessary ligaments. We may, therefore, fairly commence the description of the flint articles with that of the knife, cutter, or scraper.
“ Flint proper, or chalk flint, as distinguished from oolitic chert, is only found in a very few localities in Ireland, chiefly in the counties of Antrim, Down, and Derry; hence we learn without surprise that the great bulk of the specimens of that material have been procured from the province of Ulster. The rarity of flint must have rendered these wenpons very valuable in other districts.”—pp. 5–7.
The Academy's collection of fint articles comprises flint-flakes, weapons, tools, knives, sling-stones, arrow and spear-heads. The most primitive attempt at a weapon or tool of stone is that exhibited in the flint-flake, the edges of which are generally sharp, meeting at a point nt the extremity, while the portion to which the tool was applied is usually chipped, as if it required repeated blows to get it off. The flint-flakes appear to have passed through the three stages of splitting, chipping, and polishingin the latter process they exhibit an amount of perfect finish exceeding anything to be found in our modern manufactures in this article. The remote antiquity of flint knives appears from specimens of them having been found among the incinenated bones deposited in the clay urns in our oldest sepulchres, but that they descended to a later date than that usually assigned to them is evidenced by their having been discovered, in some instances, in connexion with metal articles. From incidental notices in our ancient histories, we learn that flint sling-stones, of which specimens are preserved in the Academy's collection, were in general use among the early Irish. Of flint arrow-heads the Museum contains five varieties, and at page 26 we find an admirable engraving of the finest flint spearhead yet discovered. In addition to the articles already mentioned, picks, chisels, and tools are comprised in the flint collection, which numbers in all, nearly 1,300 articles; and no historic document having yet been found containing any allusion to implements of this material, Mr. Wilde assigns them to the very earliest period of the inhabitants of this island, adding
“ It is impossible to resist the conclusion that they all belonged to a people with industrial pursuits, arts, and habits of life identical with those tribes who, at one time, occupied the whole of north-western Europe and the other British isles, as well as Erin. If they possessed a literature, the archæologist has failed to discover it; and so far as dim tradition lends its feeble light to aid us in the investigation, they appear to have been civilized from without. These propositions, if true, do not militate against the popular idea, first gleaned from the Bardic records and traditions, that Ireland was colonized by an oriental people; they only tend to prove the inhabitation of the island before the arrival of any such civilized colony.
“ These flint and stone relics, together with the sepulchral remains of the early races of this island, are to the antiquary what the footprints and fossil marks in geological strata prior to the present, are to the palæontologist, out of which he peoples, with plants and animals, a locality, long antecedent to its primeval inhabitation by man. They are the traces of the first wave of population—the pre-historic data which aid and confirm Bardic traditions. Certain it is, that oriental adventurers from some of the countries surrounding the upper border of the Mediterranean—the original seats of art and learning-passing in ships through the Pillars of Hercules, and coasting along the Atlantic-washed shores of Europe, never could have been a people trusting alone for support in time of peace, or for defence in war, to those rude flint and stone weapons and tools which accident has brought to light, and the labours of the antiquary have grouped together in this portion of the collection. The men who trusted to the Aake-knife, chisel, or arrow of Aint, and the stone celt, although they might have crossed in their tree-stem canoes, or skin-covered corraghs, from the Continent of Europe to the nearest part of Britain, and from the nearest point of England or Scotland to Ireland, never could have constructed the craft, nor shaped the course of the vessel that launched upon that voyage of discovery referred to by the Irish Bardic historians."—pp. 31, 32.
From the flint articles used as weapons, cutters, or weapon-making tools, we pass to the objects manufactured from rocks which, though not capable of receiving so sharp an edge or point as the silex, still possess hardness, toughness, and susceptibility of polish sufficient to form serviceable wood-workers and effective weapons.
Of the widely-distributed stone tools or weapons, styled celts from the
Latin word, celtis, a chisel, the Academy's Museum contains a magnificent collection, numbering upwards of five hundred specimens, a great portion of which, discovered in deepening the river Shannon, from 1843 to 1848, were, with many other valuable antiquities, presented to the Institution by the Board of Public Works.
The form of the common variety of the stone celt resembles that of the mussel-shell ; the lower or cutting end is always hatchet or chiselshaped, and smoothed down to the smallest possible edge, the middle usually swells into an oval, tapering to a rounded point. As the principal tool and weapon in use among the early inhabitants of Ireland, the celt was modified to meet various purposes, and specimens are extant resembling knives and daggers in shape, while in a few instances small spear-shaped or chisel celts have been perforated, as if for attaching to a string. The Academy's collection contains upwards of twenty varieties of size and shape of stone celts, in the manufacture of which nearly every suitable description of native rock has been used, and upon their composition and lithological character much important information, contributed by the Rev. S. Haughton, F.T.C.D., and Professor of Geology in Trinity College, Dublin, has been embodied in the Catalogue now before us.
The stone celts in the Academy's Museum most remarkable for beauty, size, and polish, are those composed of the best materials-flint, porphyry, greenstone, syenite, or felstone. In length the stone celts vary from little more than one inch to twenty-two inches, some being of the most elegant form, polished to perfection, presenting extreme precision and perfect symmetry of outline and proportion, whilst others are rude slate-stones, possessing merely the general character of the implement.
In addition to the celts, the Academy's collection of antique stone articles contains sling-stones, hammers, punches, whetstones, touchstones, moulds, querns, or hand-mills, altar-stones, chalices, grotesque figures, Scandinavian flint and stone antiquities, and stones inscribed with the Ogham or occult form of writing in use among the ancient Irish. Each of these articles is carefully described in the Catalogue before us, which, in addition to its other merits, is, we believe, the only detailed treatise yet published on Celtic antiquities of stone.
The Eastern Gallery of the Museum contains the Academy's collection of earthen materials, comprising crucibles, antique jars, bowls, smoking pipes, usually, but erroneously, ascribed to the Danes, pavement tiles, glass articles of dress and personal decoration, and small white cubes of porcelain bearing Chinese inscriptions, which have been found in a variety of localities in this country, in such numbers as warrant their being placed in any collection of antiquities connected with Ireland, although the mode or period in which they were brought hither has not yet been discovered.
The most interesting contents of the Earthen Department are, however, the sepulchral urns, very great numbers of which, containing incinerated human and animal bones, have been discovered in Ireland, singly, in small subterranean stone chambers, or aggregated in earthen mounds. “These,” says an old English writer, "are sad and sepulchral pitchers, silently expressing old mortality, the ruins of forgotten
times, and can only speak with life: how long in this corruptible frame some parts may beuncorrupted, yet able to outlast bones long unborn and the noblest pile among us." In form the urns vary from the vase to the bowl-shape, and their decorations consist of rude dots, oblique indentations, raised hoop-like ridges, circular indented lines, or upright horizontal ehevrons of a pectinated character.
Of some of the urns the material is a coarse clay, but those of a higher class contain sand and small fragments of stone, while the coating of the interior of the very fine specimens exhibit minute particles of quartz and felspar. The inner surfaces of the Irish urns are generally blackish or dark brown, while the exterior is light red, grey, or brown; the clay-coloured urns exhibit but little trace of fire, and the brown belong to the thinnest and hardest description of pottery.
“ It is difficult," writes Mr. Wilde, " to form an unexceptionable classifi. cation of mortuary urns, according to size, shape, or ornamentation ; and except where other objects besides bones are found therein, such as metallic weapons, &c., anything like a chronological arrangement of them
would be impossible. The skill displayed in the construction of the material, or in the formation of the pattern worked upon it, is not, of itself, sufficient to warrant us in assigning to these fictile vessels comparative ages, no more than the remains of earthen materials, from the rudest pottery to the finest porcelain of the present day, could afford the inquirer, some centuries hence, å means for chronologically classifying the pottery of the nineteenth century. The varieties exhibited by these urns may be characteristic of peculiar races, tribes, or persons, or expressive of their cost and value, or of the art of the day. But the first step in inquiring into the comparative ages of these vessels should be a careful personal examination of the excavations either undertaken for their investigation, or occurring accidentally; all the circumstances attending their discovery should be accurately noted at the time and on the spot; and in no instances should workmen be sent to excavate without directions to stop the moment they arrive at a stone chamber, until competent persons are present. We also earnestly entreat those who undertake the ex. amination of tumuli to make themselves, in the first instance, acquainted with wbatever is at present known on the subject.
“ As already stated, Irish cinerary urns have been found under three cir. cumstances :- In small kists, placed without any ostensible mark, at least at the present day, beneath the surface of the soil, each just sufficiently large to hold one or two vessels. The chamber is sometimes occupied with the urn and its contents alone ; in other cases it also contains charcoal and portions of burned bone; and in some instances the flooring-stones have become vitrified upon the upper surface, thus leading us to believe that the funeral pyre was lighted over the grave after it was formed; of this, the charcoal and the vitrification of the stones afford presumptive proof. These small chambers are sometimes found near the surface, or in the periphery of the large tumuli that usually cover cromlechs or surround extensive sepulchral chambers, and appear to be of a much more recent date than the original structure of the tumulus in which they are placed. Such minor interments may have been those of the family or descendants of the persons originally interred beneath ; or the place strong in the odour of sanctity-may have been resorted to as a burial-ground long subsequent to its original formation, from that feeling of veneration which instinctively consecrates the resting place of the dead. These urns are also found imbedded in the earth, in which case they are generally aggregated in cemeteries upon the sides of hills.
"It does not, however, follow that either cremation or urn-burial was the earliest form of sepulture adopted on this island ; on the contrary, there is
every reason to believe that the bodies (of distinguished persons, at least) were interred entire within the chambers of cromlechs, clothed in the costume of the period, decorated with the ornaments suited to their rank, armed with the weapons belonging to their tribe or condition, and accompanied by the bodies of their favourite animals, who were probably sacrificed on the occasion to their manes. Hundreds of these cromlechs stud the face of the country, and many still remain enclosed within their enveloping earth-mounds; the chamber, in each instance, being capable of holding one or more human bodies, either in a horizontal, sitting, or recumbent position. Urns containing calcined bones of men or animals may have been discovered within the cromlech chamber, but the authorities upon that subject are defective, and much yet remains to be cleared up in this inquiry. Subsequently we find the ashes of the dead collected into fictile vessels, and placed in small chambers
upon the surface, or within the body of the earthen mound. So early as A. M. 3959, we learn from the Books of Leinster and of Lecan, that the body of Slanoll, son of Ollamh Fodhla, was buried in the earth. But even after the Christian era, we read in one of our ancient topographical Irish MSS., when describing the raths at Tara, that the body of Laoghaire one of the last pagan kings of Ireland—' was interred, with his shield of valour, in the external rampart in the south-east of the royal Rath of Laoghaire at Tamur, with bis face to the south, as if fighting with the Lagenians, or Leinster men. Laoghaire, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, died at Cassi, in the plain of the Liffey, about the year A.D. 458. Eoghan Bel, King of Connaught, was also interred, with his red javelin in his hand, and his face turned towards Ulster. According to a popular tradition, many of these cromlechs are still styled Leaba Diarmada agus Grainne, “the bed of Dermod and Grace,' concerning whom there are many legends still afloat among the Irish peasantry; and also some romantic Finnian tales, descriptive of their history. Cromlechs are in some places called · Hags' Beds.'
“Urns vary in position, some being erect, and others inverted; their contents, in both instances, consist of fragments of bones, bearing unmistakable evidence of the action of fire. A sufficient quantity of these bones has been examined to prove them human, and we have a large collection of them in the Museum. The body must, therefore, have been burned, and the bones reduced to this calcined condition, before they were placed in the urn; and, from the circumstance already stated, it is probable that the cre. mation took place upon the spot, and that the charred wood and vitrified stones were the result. Besides these human bones, those of minor animals have been found, but often much less calcined than the human remains; therefore, it may be conjectured that such animals were thrown as sacrifices on the expiring embers. In some cases two urns have been discovered, the one placed within the other; and, in one instance, a small urn was found inverted over two small bones (of the hand and foot), probably of some distinguished person, which were lost in battle. Most of these urns are hand-formed, without the assistance of a wheel, and were probably made at the grave, with the materials most ready at hand, and placed, while in a soft state, within the burning embers, which, with the surrounding hot stones and clay, served as a kiln for baking them. The fact of urns having been found in a bent or crushed condition lends probabilitity to this conjecture; but others were evidently formed with greater care, and appear to have been specially prepared for the purpose."-pp. 170-3.
Seven specimens of the urns found in the Academy's collection are engraved in the Catalogue, and relative to one of them, figured at page 179, Mr. Wilde writes :
• Beautiful, however, as the shapes and decorations of these vessels un