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Medieval skeleton tangled in tree roots unearthed in storm

An ancient tree in Ireland topples over to reveal an even more ancient skeleton caught up in the roots.

The skeleton under excavation from the tree roots. Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services

It would have been a bit of a shock to the person who first found it. A massive old tree on private property in the town of Collooney in County Sligo, Ireland, fell over in a winter storm. It wasn't just roots that were upturned. The tangled wreckage held a mysterious skeleton.

Ireland's National Monuments Service called in Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services, an archaeological consultancy, to investigate with an aim of preserving the remains. Sligo-Leitrim shared the story of the find, its first project, last week.

The beech tree that blew over was 215 years old, but the skeleton turned out to be much older. The researchers used radiocarbon dating to estimate that the body came from between 1030 and 1200 AD, making it an early medieval burial.

Sligo skeleton legs
The skeleton's lower legs stayed in the ground. Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services

When the tree uprooted, it took the upper half of the body with it, leaving the lower legs still in the ground.

Despite being trapped in the tree's root system, the skeleton told a fascinating story. It belonged to a young man, probably no more than 20 years old at the time of his death. His passing was a violent one, with apparent knife injuries to his ribs and hand. The archaeologists describe the grave site as a "formal Christian burial."

"No other burials are known from the area but historical records do indicate a possible graveyard and church in the vicinity," archaeologist Marion Dowd told the Irish Archaeology blog.

The skeleton has attracted attention due to its interesting place in history as well as the dramatic way in which it was revealed. It provides an unexpected peek into a past where hard labor was a way of life and young death a much more common possibility.

(Via Irish Times)