The 3,000 years remains of a baby has been found at a site in Ireland that is believed to be the birthplace of Halloween. Studies show that the fully intact skeleton belongs to a 7-10 month child. The remains were unearthed during a three week excavation at Tlachtga, on the Hill of Ward near Athboy Co. Meath. One of Ireland’s most enigmatic sites, the Hill of Tlachtga features impressive circular earthworks which are best seen from the air. Medieval texts link the site to Samhain, the ancient Celtic Festival which is the precursor to modern Halloween.
The skeleton was found on the bedrock at the base of a 1.5m (3-foot, 28-inch) ditch. It may never be possible what caused the death of this child. Excavation and surveys carried out using airborne laser, revealed the area was a key ritual site. This same site, has several different phases of monumental enclosures and it is believe that those are associated with festivals and rituals potentially dating back as far as 1,000 B.C.
The Hill of Ward and Tlachtga, is a site steeped in folklore. According to Irish mythology, it got its name from the daughter of the powerful druid named Mug Ruith. According to legend, the remains of the druidess, who is said to have died on the hill after giving birth to triplets, are buried there. Tlachtga is also believed to be the site of the Great Fire Festival in which sacrifices were offered to the gods on Samhain eve. All hearth fires throughout Ireland were extinguished and then lit again from a central fire on the hill.
As I have written before about Samhain, I will quickly write about what it is, to place this post into the context. Samhain means “Summer’s end”, and it was the great festival of the dead. This was a time when the doorways to the otherworld, or a gap between worlds, opened and journeys through both realms could be made from one side to the other. This means that people could visit their ancestors, the deities and others beings, and vs versa. What goes in, also comes out. The veil between the worlds of the living and the world of the dead was believed to be the thinnest on October the 31st, a day which lies exactly between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice.
The excavation revealed the monument of Tlachtga is actually the last of at least three phases of enclosure on the hill. There is at least one small enclosure, about 15 inches in diameter, enclosed by a very large, tri- or quadrivallate enclosure, about 650 feet in diameter, which was replaced by the monument we may see today. The excavations also brought to light evidence of burning, which could have been ritual fires or the result of glass-making.
It is believed that the child was most likely not the victim of any human sacrifice on the ritual site. The remains have been taken to the School of Archaeology at University College Dublin for further examination.