Blackfriary: an infant burial

Blackfriary: an infant burial

Burial 3, Cutting 3

Burial 3 is one of the many interesting finds located in the complex and busy Cutting 3. Malika Hays originally uncovered the burial and found an infant in situ; she initially exposed a large portion of the fragmented skull and some long bones.

Blackfriary Burial 3, Cutting 3

It took approximately, two days to uncover the majority of the infant skeleton. With a trowel, bamboo stick, sponge and water I slowly began removing the dirt from the bones. The bones are small and fragile, so I worked slowly in order to decrease the risk of breaks and dislodging the bones from the soil. Spraying the burial and the surrounding soil with water eased my worries. The damp soil makes it easier to remove the dirt and makes the bones stick to the ground.  The cautious work paid off!  The majority of the bones are intact.

 Jessica & Siobhan excavating Burial 3 – the bones are extremely fragile

With the infant’s bones exposed, Siobhan, the Queen of osteology, helped me fill out the skeleton report sheet. The infant is extended and facing east. The positioning of the burial is important because the body appears to have been purposely placed facing east, towards Jerusalem, indicating a Christian burial tradition.

After photos and levels were taken of the head, feet and pelvis, Siobhan and I began to remove the skeleton from the burial. We slowly worked on excavating the skeleton from the skull to the feet. Since the skull was so fragmented, it was the most difficult and time consuming piece to excavate. Despite the trouble, the sphenoid was found intact in situ. We also found some teeth. Siobhan says that the crowns of the teeth are present, but that the roots have not developed. Based on the characteristics of the teeth, she believes that the infant may have been 0-3 months old.

Burial 3, fully exposed

Once all of the bones were removed and soil samples were collected from underneath the skull, hands(?) pelvis and feet, we had to try and determine the grave cut or boundaries of the burial. At first we tried spraying the burial site and the surrounding soil with water to see if we could spot any discolouration which could indicate the extent of the burial cut. Unfortunately, this did not yield any results. This led Siobhan and I to excavate a sondage into the north south and east west sections. This followed the placement of the head, hands and feet and allowed us to collect more soil for sieving and see if there was a change in the soil. We were unable to determine the full extent of the burial, but it appears to be a shallow-curved grave cut. Typically, graves are cut into undisturbed ground, but this grave has been cut in disturbed soil resulting in the discovery of (additional) disarticulated human bone.

As I worked on cleaning the bones from Burial 3, Siobhan busied herself with bagging and recording the bones from the other burials. Once Siobhan finished, she began to bag the dry bones from Burial 3 as I worked on sieving the soil we collected. Tweezers are a wonderful tool for collecting little shards of bone!


Siobhan busy bagging the bones from Burial 3

I finished sieving the soil this afternoon and we hope to have all the bones bagged by tomorrow.

Jessica Poulin

Blackfriary Supervisor

McGill University

August 9th 2011


About Irish Archaeology Field School

The Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) is Ireland’s leading provider of university accredited, site based archaeological research and training. Our archaeological and heritage programs include research projects in a number of locations in Ireland, including in Co. Wexford and Co. Offaly (with satellite schools frequently undertaken elsewhere). We provide credited and uncredited programs (and internships) for novice and experienced students, and also specialise in the preparation of purpose-built faculty led programs incorporating excavation, historical research, remote sensing, non-invasive survey, ground investigation, landscape assessment etc. Whilst our programs are excavation-centered and aimed primarily at students of archaeology, anthropology and history, courses are open to all, and are guaranteed to give you an enriching and thoroughly worthwhile study abroad adventure.
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5 Responses to Blackfriary: an infant burial

  1. Jessica says:

    Hi Dad. I’m so happy that you and mom could come to the site. It was great that you could meet everyone and see what we are working on.
    Emma, thank you for your kind words. I wish I could have been at the site earlier, it would have been great to work with you again. I hope we have that opportunity in the near future!

  2. Emma says:

    Jess, you would have the patience and eye for that job! Great work!! The discovery of the teeth is absolutely brilliant…I’m in awe!

  3. michael poulin says:

    Great blog Jessica. I am glad that Angela and I had a chance to visit the site and watch you and your associates at work, Michael

  4. Donal says:

    Very interesting. The East west burial orientation in all Christian burials follows the layout of Christian churches and – I think – has to do with judgement day and the resurrection. Jerusalem doesn’t function as magnetic north for Christians as Mecca does for Moslems. Any dating evidence for the burials?

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