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To complete this little trilogy of burial customs we’re going to Ireland. One destination that was on our list was a region known as The Burren. They are, believe me, aptly named. Miles of steep hillsides running down to the sea that are covered with rocks. Little to no vegetation. Barren.

In Ireland there are these brown arrow signs to sites of interest. We got quite skilled at following them to our destinations and this was one of those occasions. They led us away from the coast to, basically, the middle of nowhere. Our goal was an ancient burial site known as The Poulnabrone Dolmen. It’s a stone-age site (Neolithic, actually), kind of like a mini-Stonehenge, that sits a few hundred yards off the road. We were there on a strikingly beautiful day with blue skies dotted with clouds and we had the place to ourselves. It’s truly surreal: this arrangement of rocks sitting in the middle of a vast field of stones. When you get to it you realize that it’s only about 5 1/2 feet high…you have to crouch inside of it. But looking at it you can’t help but wonder at the motivations that drove the construction of this monument, a non-trivial task if ever there was one. According to Wikipedia, there are between 16 and 22 adults and 6 children under there. And here we are, 5-7 thousand years later, visiting their resting place. Maybe that’s why they built it.

5/3/03, The Burren, Ireland

5/3/03, The Burren, Ireland

5/7/03, Drombeg Stone Circle, Ireland

Those brown signs I mentioned earlier were quite a help. On more than one occasion we pulled a u-turn after seeing one and would wander down these tiny roads until we came to something: a castle, a circular stone fort or even a small stone circle set in the middle of working fields. The Dromberg stone circle wasn’t very big but it was pretty representative of the circles to be found all over Ireland. Nearby were the foundations of two huts. There was a pool of water in one into which they would drop hot stones to boil the water. Pretty clever, but a lot of work for a simple thing like hot water.

5/7/03, Drombeg Stone Circle, Ireland

5/7/03, Drombeg Stone Circle, Ireland

Paris, FR 12/8/05

So, in keeping with the spirit of the last post, I’ll tell you about another Parisian tour we did. Navigating the subway system brought us to a normal commercial district with cafes and stores, similar to many we had been through while we were there. The guidebook led us to a nondescript door opening into a narrow hallway. At the back was a lady behind a window that collected our Euros and then we went through a door and down a narrow stairway. A long way down. 130 steps, then down a long stone corridor and into a room (or a grotto) full of bones. Human bones. We were in the Catacombs.

It’s really pretty amazing to see. We’d heard about them before, even seen them on TV, but in person it’s…hard to describe. It’s somber, spooky and overwhelming all at once. The bones are carefully placed, it’s not like they just dumped them. The catacombs were originally quarries but when the cemeteries got exceedingly nasty (which doesn’t even begin to describe the, um, sanitary conditions of the time) they moved the remains on in. Several million of them. That’s lots-o-bones. They placed them in piles according to type, piles of thighs and legs and arms. Piles and piles of skulls. Arranged in many different styles. Skulls were used many times as accents.

They made art.

We walked a long way, 2 km, through rooms and corridors all the same and all different. It wasn’t depressing in any fashion, it was fascinating. And then we climbed up another 85 steps and were,┬árather jarringly, back on the street trying to figure out where we were. It was nice to see the sun.

Note: All photos were taken with no flash. The only illumination was the bare electric lights and my mag lite, held by my lovely assistant. I used a fast lens (50mm, f1.8) and got some interesting shots. I’ve seen almost the same shot as the first one below published somewhere. Apparently the rose is a regular feature.

Paris, FR 12/8/05

Paris, FR 12/8/05

Paris, FR 12/8/05