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The recently discovered pagan idol

Archaeological team set to carve replica of prized Pagan idol at Craggaunowen


AN attempt will be made in Clare this month to carve a replica of a recently discovered wooden pagan idol.
The 2.5m oak carved idol, which is over 1,600 years old, was unearthed by archaeologists with Clare-based firm AMS (Archaeological Management Solutions).
On Saturday, August 28, AMS staff, members UCD’s Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture and the Pallasboy Vessel Project (UCC) will endeavour to carve a replica of the Gortnacrannagh Idol at Craggaunowen’s Living Past Experience.
Work on the replica will start at 10am and continue throughout the day with visitors to the site able to watch the progress.
Dr Ros Ó Maoldúin of AMS explained, “Since the Gortnacrannagh Idol is such a unique and significant find, we are making a replica to help us understand the idol better and appreciate how it was made.
“It will be possible for people to see this in action at the Craggaunowen Archaeology Park in County Clare during the last weekend of August.”
The replica is set to go on display at the Rathcroghan Centre in Tulsk, County Roscommon.
The artefact was retrieved from a bog in the townland of Gortnacrannagh, 6km northeast of the prehistoric royal site of Rathcroghan, County Roscommon.
The archaeology team had been working in advance of the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge Road Project.
The idol was made in the Iron Age from a split oak trunk.
It has a small human-shaped head at one end and a series of horizontal notches carved along its body.
Only a dozen such idols are known from Ireland. At over two-and-a-half metres long, the Gortnacrannagh Idol is the largest found here to date.
AMS archaeologist Dr Eve Campbell, who directed the excavation of the site, commented, “The Gortnacrannagh Idol was carved just over 100 years before St Patrick came to Ireland; it is likely to be the image of a pagan deity.
“Our ancestors saw wetlands as mystical places where they could connect with their gods and the Otherworld.
“The discovery of animal bone alongside a ritual dagger suggests that animal sacrifice was carried out at the site and the idol is likely to have been part of these ceremonies.”
Wooden idols are known from bogs across northern Europe where waterlogged conditions allow for the preservation of ancient wood.
The Gortnacrannagh Idol is currently in University College Dublin, where conservator Susannah Kelly is undertaking a three-year process to preserve the ancient object.
Once conserved, the idol will be given into the care of the National Museum of Ireland.
Wood Specialist, Cathy Moore commented, “The lower ends of several figures were also worked to a point suggesting that they may once have stood upright.
“Their meaning is open to interpretation, but they may have marked special places in the landscape, have represented particular individuals or deities or perhaps have functioned as wooden bog bodies, sacrificed in lieu of humans.” 
Analysis of the artefact and the site it was found in are ongoing, and the results of the excavation will be published in a book to be produced by TII.
Roscommon County Council Resident Archaeologist Deirdre McCarthy stated, “Road projects such as the N5 provide a significant opportunity for the investigation of our archaeological heritage.
“Gortnacrannagh is an excellent example. Were it not for the road, we would never have known about this extraordinary site.”

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