Medieval murder uncovered in Scotland

Medieval murder uncovered in Scotland

Archaeologists working in southeastern Scotland have made a grisly discovery – the remains of a young man from the 12th or 13th century, who was murdered with multiple stab wounds in his back.

The body was found during an archaeological dig at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick. Various graves were discovered at the site, including the partial remains of a man about 20 years of age. He was found to have been stabbed four times in the back, twice in the left shoulder and twice in the ribs. The nature of the wounds suggest that he was killed with a dagger with a symmetrical lozenge-shaped section and very sharp edges. It was probably at least 70mm long.

Daggers with a lozenge-sectioned blade are a specialist military weapon and carried mainly by military men. This, combined with the accuracy of the stab wounds, implies a degree of professionalism in the killing and arguably a degree of calculation.

The man also had signs of wear to his shoulder suggesting possible archery practice. The archaeological dig also uncovered the remains of some buildings and found objects such as stone tools, lead objects, ceramic material and bones of butchered seals, fish and seabirds.

Tom Brock OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, explained, “Being at the centre of a 900-year-old murder mystery is very exciting for the Scottish Seabird Centre. As an independent visitor attraction, conservation and education charity, we are dedicated to inspiring people to enjoy, protect and learn about their local environment, and this dig has allowed us great insight in to how life was lived in the North Berwick area almost 1,000 years ago. The site of the Centre is an historic site of national importance and visitors can find out more about this rich history from information displayed within and around the Seabird Centre.”

The findings from the dig will be published in The Medieval Kirk, Cemetery and Hospice at Kirk Ness, North Berwick: the Scottish Seabird Centre Excavations 1999-2006, which has just been published by Oxbow Books. It reveals this site, which was a centre of early Christian activity, was home to a church and hospice for pilgrims.

Rod McCullagh, Senior Archaeology Manager at Historic Scotland, added, “We welcome the publication of the Kirk Ness report, which is the result of a successful partnership between Historic Scotland and the Scottish Seabird Centre. Their expansion triggered an archaeological excavation – supported by Historic Scotland – of an important medieval cemetery, which revealed the remarkable remains of buildings dating to 5th to 9th centuries AD. These archaeological discoveries and the subsequent analyses mark a significant advance in our understanding of the early history both of North Berwick and of southern Scotland.”

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