Burial practices and death rites of the ancient people of Ireland have been revealed by a new analysis of bones by researchers, including some at the Institute of Technology Sligo.

The bones were found in 1911 during an excavation of the 5,300-year-old passage tomb complex in Carrowkeel, Co Sligo.

The remains were thought to have subsequently gone missing, until they turned up in an archive in the University of Cambridge 16 years ago.

The bones came from around 40 different individuals, some of whom were cremated and others that were not.

Analysis suggests the remnants date to between 3500 and 2900 BC and that some of the individuals may have been dismembered.

The findings, which have been published in the journal Bioarchaeology International, are part of a project applying modern techniques and research questions to the human remains.

The research provides a new insight into how people in Neolithic Ireland perceived death, and maintained and manifested social links with their ancestors.

The results suggest Carrowkeel was a highly significant place in Irish Neolithic life and death.

Sam Moore, lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology at IT Sligo, as well as Sligo-based archaeologist Dr Robert Hensey and independent researcher Pádraig Meehan were involved in the study, which was led by Dr Thomas Kador from University College London.

The analysis of the bone fragments was done by Dr Jonny Geber from the Department of Anatomy at New Zealand's University of Otago.

Dr Geber said the new evidence suggests that a complex burial rite was undertaken at Carrowkeel, which involved a funerary rite and placed a particular focus on the "deconstruction" of the body.

"Attempting to understand the reasons these ancient communities dismembered the bodies is one of the real fascinations with this research," said Mr Moore.

"In the societies of the past, ancestry had more to do with group identity. This appears to have held real importance in Neolithic Ireland."

While evidence of similar pre-historic funerary rites has been uncovered in the UK, this is the first definitive discovery of similar practices during the same period on the island of Ireland.