Deer in medieval Ireland: preliminary evidence from Kilteasheen, Co. Roscommon
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Animal bones are among the most common finds from excavations in Ireland, and the majority of these are the remains of cattle, sheep and pig. While bones from other species are also found they rarely receive much attention in excavation reports where most of the discussion is focused on the economically important species. Deer bones are usually only excavated in small numbers but are common themes in medieval artwork, poetry and literature,1 and so can be said to have a symbolic importance far beyond their economic value. A red deer skull and six fragments of antler from at least three individual deer were found during recent excavations at a high-status ecclesiastical site at Kilteasheen, Knockvicar, Co. Roscommon, on the shores of Lough Cé, and were analyzed by the author. These bones provided an opportunity to partially redress the lack of attention paid to the minor species by synthesizing what is known about deer and deer hunting in medieval Ireland, so hopefully providing archaeologists and historians with useful background information. The paper briefly reviews the biology of deer and the processes of deer hunting before discussing the material from Kilteasheen and its significance.
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