Bronze Age Burials
Examining Early Burial Graves
Cists ( pronounced ‘Kists’) were an early type of grave used for mainly Bronze Age burials. They usually contained one or more unburnt burials of both male and female.
The structure of these tombs consisted of an underground pit which was lined with slabs or a number of small stones and covered in most cases by a single slab stone. Their dimensions were usually 1 metre or less in each direction. However, the Cist near Gaulstown portal tomb (pictured below) has bigger than average dimensions with a Roofstone which measures 2.2 metres long and 1.7 metres wide. The majority are rectangular in plan, though shapes like polygonal have been found such as the one discovered at Lisnakill (above).
Occasionally Cists are found in groups. In such cases, they are referred to collectively as a ‘Flat Cemetery’. Many Cists are not visible at ground level and have only been discovered through the disturbance of the ground surface as a result of ploughing or site development. They also occur in Barrows and quite frequently as secondary burials in Cairns.
Cremation or burials in Cists were often accompanied by a small single pot or decorated urn which was left near the head and was presumed to contain an offering of food or drink for the spirit of the deceased. The results of excavations at some tombs have confirmed the presence of seeds from wild fruits such as blackberry, sloe and also hazelnut.The burial rite in the early part of the Bronze age was inhumation but with passing time cremation become more dominant.
The word Cist is originally Greek from ‘Kist’.
Article first published October 2010 -- Top image courtesy B O' Keeffe
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