The Bronze Age in Ireland dates from approx 2500BC to 500BC. The early part of the Bronze Age saw the introduction of new techniques in metal working. Axes and daggers were the most common weapons. This metal working did not totally replace the use of stone but gradually its use increased.
It is during the Bronze age we see the production of some of the finest examples of gold working in Europe emerge from Ireland including lunale, torcs and bracelets. Many of these iconic objects are on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street today.
Late bronze age people were farmers and many sites from this period exist in the archaeological record today. The practice of depositing hoards especially in bogs is also common in this era.
Knowledge of how to make bronze, an alloy of copper and tin came to Ireland from Europe. Mines mostly in Kerry provided the copper and the tin was imported from Britain. Although some copper sources have been identified near Rear Cross- Holyford in Tipperary.
The process of extracting copper from the rock involved a technique called fire setting. A fire was lit underneath the rock containing the copper ore. Once it was heated water was used to cool it quickly. The fractured rock was then broken into smaller fragments with a stone hammer called a maul. The smaller pieces of rock containing the ore where then layered with charcoal and burnt to extract the copper- a process called smelting. The extracted copper cooled and formed into a lump called an ingot. It was this ingot that was then mixed with tin to form bronze objects. In the early part of the bronze age clay and stone moulds were used to shape objects. However as the technology developed there was a move away from flat tools and weapons to more 3D socketed objects.
The burials from the bronze age lack the prestige of the earlier megalithic monuments from the Stone age. Instead the most common burial type of the period is known as a cist. Cists are box like structures made of stone slabs set in the ground. Frequently the floor of the cist would have also been lined with a slab and the top covered over either with one or more large flat stones once the burial had been inserted.
The soil excavated to make the grave was used to back fill once the burial was complete.
Most burials from the period are rectangular in shape 80cm long x 50cm wide x 50cm deep. The small size of the cist meant that unburnt bodies were placed on their side, knees drawn up to the chin, sometimes tied into position and literally rammed into the grave in order to fit. However cremation is more common in cist burials. It is usually only a single burial found in the cist. However variations do occur sometimes. A single pot, usually a food vessel is sometimes found placed near the head.
The discovery of these cist burials is usually made through chance finds such as ploughing, quarrying or agriculture. One such find in Tipperary was at Moneynahoola, Lisvernane in the 1990s.
This cist has been reconstructed and can now be seen at Tipperary Museum of Hidden History when we reopen.
The image below is taken from the book, 'Early Ireland: An introduction to Irish Prehistory' by Michael J. O'Kelly.