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Ancient horse burials of the Bronze Age: folklore and superstition

Ian Harvey

For a long time, horses have been an important aspect of both Eastern and Western cultures. Horse burials can be dated back as far as the Early Bronze Age, and that is very significant as there aren’t many other animals that appear to have held such a valued position in so many cultures. The earliest evidence that has been found of a horse burial comes from Newgrange in Ireland, in a funerary complex dating back to approximately to 2400 BC.

Skeleton of a horse Photo Credit

Skeleton of a horse Photo Credit

In Irish, British, and Scandinavian culture, horses represent fertility, power, status, and warfare. Horse-related artifacts are some of the most common archaeological finds, and a wealth of items such as harnesses and chariots have been discovered in bogs, graves, and other locations across the globe. This shows just how widespread and important the horse was in ancient societies, not just in a religious sense, but as a practical necessity for everyday life.

Skull of a horse

Skull of a horse

The skulls of horses have been found buried in the foundations of ancient Irish houses, and the extremely arduous task for the archaeologists and ethnographers involved is determining why the skulls were placed there. It is possible that the skulls were buried under the houses in a ritualistic manner in order to ensure good favor from the gods and the family’s ancestors.

In Irish culture, it is believed that horses are able to feel “evils invisible to men” and thus protect their owners. It is possible that the skulls were buried in order to grant protection to the family from supernatural.

 

 

An animal-powered thresher

An animal-powered thresher

According to a 2015 study by archaeologist Colm Moriarty, placing the horse skulls under the floorboards was supposed to enhance the resonance of sound and improve the acoustics of the room. These skulls are referred to as “acoustic skulls”.

In many cultures, loud noises were believed to expel evil forces. In Ireland, during the harvest season, traditional dances and the threshing of the grain were both acts of great social importance. It is believed that the skulls of the horses would amplify the loud echoes of the dancer’s feet, as well as the sounds of the threshing, thereby protecting the community from evil spirits.

Horses, along with horse-riding equipment, were often buried with deceased humans as a way of demonstrating their power, wealth, and status. It was also believed that the person would be able to make use of the horses and equipment in the afterlife.

Today, horse burials are no longer practiced as they were in the Bronze age, but the animals still remain an important part of Irish culture, folklore, and mythology.