Spiked skull

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 3 (Autumn 1995), News, Volume 3

Excavations at Essex Street West and Isolde’s tower on Essex Quay have unearthed rich archaeological deposits, including a thirteenth-century sapphire ring and a decapitated cranium. Human remains, animal bones, combs, pins, flint stones, medieval and post-medieval pottery, clay pipes and footwear were also discovered.
The severed head was found in organic refuse not far from the city wall. It is believed that the cranium was probably deposited in the context of the medieval practise of displaying severed heads on the city wall. Contemporary depictions of this practise shows heads mounted on both spikes and swords. John Derricke’s famous print (1581) of Sir Henry Sidney setting out from Dublin Castle on his state progress shows the heads of three rebels impaled on spikes over the gate of the castle.
A contemporary account of the execution in London in 1535 of the five uncles of Silken Thomas (10th Earl of Kildare) mentions how they were ‘alle hongyd and headded and quartered… And the quarters with the hedded set up about the citte’.
There has been no decision to date as to when the artefacts will be on display although the thirteenth century finger ring can be viewed in the National Museum. According to Temple Bar Properties the finds will be exhibited when  work on the new Viking Museum in the church of St John and St Michael is completed.
Isolde’s Tower, of which substantial remains survive, was the foremost defensive structure on the river of the Anglo and Norman city wall. It was part of the extension of the pre-Norman walls and has been dated circa 1240. Temple Bar Properties have plans to incorporate it into the design of a residential apartment block to be built on the site.


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