An Irish Idol

Digs & Discoveries November/December 2021

(John Channing)
(John Channing)

During a road construction project in County Roscommon, archaeologists recovered a 1,600-year-old wooden idol from a bog near the town of Gortnacrannagh. The eight-foot-tall figure, which may represent a pagan deity, was carved from a split oak trunk and has a small human-shaped head as well as horizontal notches cut along its length. A dozen similar ancient statues have been found across Ireland, but this is the largest to date.

The idol’s discovery in a boggy landscape is significant. In ancient Irish culture, watery places were commonly associated with the supernatural otherworld, the realm of gods and heroes. Archaeologists also discovered animal bones and a ritual dagger nearby. “It was essentially a sacred wetland where, over several thousand years, people deposited special objects,” says archaeologist Eve Campbell of Archaeological Management Solutions. “It’s likely that this figure played a role in these rituals.”

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