Just a human spine trapped in the roots of a tree, no big deal or anything. (Thorsten Kahlert)

Finding the skeleton of an ancient teen murder victim in the roots of a downed tree would make for an excellent folk song, right? Well, get out your banjos: It happened earlier this year in Ireland.

The Irish Times reports that the skeleton, which is estimated to be over 1,000 years old, was found when a centuries-old tree, which toppled in a storm, ripping the upper half of the skeleton up into the air.


(Marion Dowd)

“As excavations go, this was certainly an unusual situation,” Marion Dowd of Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services said in a statement. “The upper part of the skeleton was raised into the air trapped within the root system. The lower leg bones, however, remained intact in the ground. Effectively as the tree collapsed, it snapped the skeleton in two.”


The roots ripped the upper half of the skeleton out of the ground, but the legs remained. (Thorsten Kahlert)

According to analysis, the bones belong to a young man -- probably between 17 and 20 -- who was killed rather brutally. Two stab wounds, most likely from a knife, are thought to have occurred around the time of death. The young man also had a stab wound on his hand, presumably from warding off the attack that killed him.

[3,000 skeletons, many of them plague victims, must make way for new train site in London]

Radiocarbon dating suggests that the young man died in the 11th or 12th century — before the Norman invasion of Ireland — but at 5 foot 10 inches, he'd have been quite tall for the time. Based on the wear and tear of his spine, researchers believe he engaged in a fair amount of physical labor during his short life.

In spite of his unnerving uprooting, the placement of the young man's remains are consistent with a Christian burial. There's historical evidence that the area once held a church and graveyard, though Dowd and her colleagues have yet to find any other remains there.

"This burial gives us an insight into the life and tragic death of a young man in medieval Sligo. He was almost certainly from a local Gaelic family, but whether he died in battle or was killed during a personal dispute, we will never know for sure," Dowd said.

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