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One Knight's Stand


The secrets of a medieval knight found buried in a lost royal chapel at Stirling Castle were revealed in a TV documentary.

Who was the mystery knight buried at the castle and how did he die – these were the questions BBC 2’s History Cold Case attempted to answer. After months of close collaboration between Historic Scotland and a specialist team from the University of Dundee his story was finally told.

[Left] Jo Buckberry from Bradford University’s Anthropology Research Centre, [Right] Facial reconstruction of skeleton
[Left] Jo Buckberry from Bradford University’s Anthropology Research Centre
[Right] Facial reconstruction of skeleton


The programme examined how and why two people whose remains were found in a lost royal chapel within the castle walls met violent ends at some point between 1270 and 1400.

To be buried in such a prestigious place suggests they were important, the archaeology also indicates that they were interred there due to extreme circumstances, like a siege.

One skeleton belonged to a powerfully-built young man whose bone structure shows he spent a lot of time on horseback and was brought up to wield weighty weapons – a knight.

Professor Sue Black and her team of forensic anthropologists from Dundee found that he had survived a number of serious wounds before meeting his end.

They also piece together evidence to show where he was brought up, what sort of food he ate, and whether he was likely to have been a victim of the Wars of Independence which raged between Scotland and England.

As the castle changed hands several times there are question marks over whether he was Scottish, English or even French.

The other skeleton is enormously unusual, as it belongs to a woman who had neat, square holes punched through her head by a medieval weapon.

To find out more about her identity and her gruesome fate the team called on Dr Jo Buckberry from Bradford University’s Anthropology Research Centre.

During the programme they experimented with different sorts of weapons to see which one was responsible for the fatal blows.

skeleton

Richard Strachan, Historic Scotland Senior Archaeologist

“Professor Black and her team have done a great job in finding out more about the skeletons they examined and the programme promises to be very exciting indeed.”



The skeletons were discovered in 1997 during preparatory work for the £12 million project in which Historic Scotland is returning the Renaissance Palace at Stirling Castle to how it looked in the 1540s.

Archaeological research for the project led to the discovery of the chapel, which was from a much earlier date, and a dozen skeletons.

Scientific techniques have become more sophisticated since the 90s, meaning the Dundee team can reveal much more.

This includes using advanced stable isotope analysis to test bones and teeth for evidence of the person’s diet and for chemical information which can show where they spent their childhood.

Experts are also now able to tell more about how any damage to bones or teeth occurred – through illness, disfigurement or violence – and whether it caused the person’s death.

FURTHER INFORMATION

  • Read more about the Stirling Castle skeletons