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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 December 2007, 13:09 GMT
Ancient secrets emerge from grave
Skull of Bishop Henry
The remains of Bishop Henry were found with key grave goods
The bones of six bishops buried more than 600 years ago have been identified using new hi-tech methods.

The medieval bishops, who died between 1200-1360, were discovered during an excavation at Whithorn Priory in Galloway between 1957 and 1967.

It was known the remains were of powerful churchmen of the Middle Ages, but their identities were a mystery.

But Historic Scotland research has shown when the men died, who several of them were and even what they ate.

Radiocarbon dating helped identify the graves of bishops Walter (died 1235), Henry (d. 1293), Michael (d. 1359) and Thomas (d. 1362).

This has been a rare opportunity to build up a picture of life and death among Scotland's rich and powerful churchmen
Peter Yeoman
Historic Scotland

Also identified was Gilbert (d. 1253) and a central grave which it is thought was being used for a second time but had originally been the burial place of bishop John (d. 1209).

Analysis using new techniques showed that the bishops had all probably come from southern Scotland or maybe Cumbria - at this time the church in Galloway fell under the archdiocese of York.

Dietary evidence shows the bishops enjoyed high quality meat and fish - including large sea fish such as cod.

One of the most impressive finds from the excavation was a gilded and enamelled crozier head that dates from about 1175.

The grave also contained brocade threads from vestments, gilded sequins from a headdress and silver altar vessels.

Grave and grave goods
A chalice, platter, crozier head and ring were among the finds in the dig

This has now been identified as the grave of bishop Simon (d. 1355).

Peter Yeoman, senior archaeologist with Historic Scotland, said: "This has been a rare opportunity to build up a picture of life and death among Scotland's rich and powerful churchmen of the Middle Ages.

"Very fine gilded altar vessels, a gold pontifical ring, and the remains of a wooden crozier were found with the skeleton in the central grave, all of which showed he was a bishop.

"But it was only when we had the radiocarbon dating that we were able to say it was probably Bishop Henry who died in 1293, who had been important in rebuilding parts of the priory after it was raided and damaged by soldiers in 1286."

The finds made during the excavation are all in the collections of National Museums Scotland.

The research was carried out by Edinburgh-based Headland Archaeology on behalf of Historic Scotland.

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