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New book reports on the excavations of burials by the National Museum of Ireland,
Breaking Ground, Finding Graves, is an account of 80 years of fieldwork by the National Museum of Ireland.

DUBLIN.- Dr. Pat Wallace, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, is pleased to announce the launch of a new book titled Breaking Ground, Finding Graves – reports on the excavations of burials by the National Museum of Ireland, 1927 – 2006, Edited by Mary Cahill and Maeve Sikor .

Breaking Ground, Finding Graves, is an account of 80 years of fieldwork by the National Museum of Ireland. Since its earliest days the National Museum of Ireland has responded to reports of discoveries of artefacts – including ancient human remains - from all over the country. Reports of discovery of ancient human remains come to the museum in many different ways – through An Garda Síochána, farmers, quarry operators, gardeners and builders. The book contains a very diverse body of material with the earliest burials dating from the Neolithic period c. 3500 BC. Burials can occur in almost any location and the find circumstances vary from the construction of dividing fences by the Irish Land Commission, Irish military operations in the 1940s, to children playing in sand dunes, and night-time ploughing in rural Limerick.

The excavations themselves, carried out over the past century, reflect the interesting story of the development of archaeology in 20th century Ireland. The excavators include former Directors, Keepers and curators such as Adolf Mahr, Liam Gógan, and Joseph Raftery, as well as current curators in the Irish Antiquities Division. The publication is a compendium of more than 400 reports covering a period of over 5000 years – the results of excavations and investigations from Donegal to Wexford, Louth to Kerry and all counties in between.

Together they build up a fascinating picture of burial practice in Ireland showing the range and variety of burial custom and the changes in ritual and deposition as cultural and religious practices developed over time. Whether inhumations or cremations, single or multiple burials, accompanied by special pottery vessels, supplies of food and drink or deposited alone, these burials tell us much about the lives of our ancestors. They tell us about their diet, state of health, what caused their deaths and how many of them lead lives of tough physical work and died of diseases such as bone cancer or from wounds inflicted during violent episodes.

The monograph is structured chronologically. The earliest burials date from the Neolithic, through the Bronze Age and Iron Age to the early medieval, late medieval and post-medieval periods. Brief introductions to each chapter place the reports in the wider context of the burial practices of the period. The monograph is richly illustrated with maps, plans, drawings and photographs including specially commissioned anatomical details showing evidence of disease, diet and injuries. From the museum’s archives antiquarian and modern images of local people observing the excavations show how our fascination with death and burial remains constant.

Volume 1 covers the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

Volume 2 covers the Iron Age, early and late medieval, post-medieval and later periods. It also includes an inventory of sites where human remains have been recorded.

Commenting of the publication, Dr Pat Wallace said “This is the National Museum’s most ambitious publication in 80 years since Christian Art in Ancient Ireland. It captures the true essence of the Museum and the excitement of its ordinary work in the field.”

Mary Cahill is an Assistant Keeper in the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland, specialising in the Bronze Age, particularly the archaeology of prehistoric gold work and the history of collections.

Maeve Sikora is an Assistant Keeper in the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland, specialising in early medieval collections.

The monograph is the fourth in the National Museum of Ireland’s monograph series published by Wordwell in association with the NMI. The publication is for sale in the National Museum of Ireland shop and online at for €50 and at other bookshops.

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