BBC Home > BBC News > Scotland

Castle bones may belong to knight

29 June 09 12:30 GMT

Archaeologists believe that bones discovered at Stirling Castle may have belonged to a knight killed in battle or during a siege in the early 1400s.

It is thought that despite the warrior's relatively young age of about 25, he may have suffered several serious wounds from earlier fights.

Researchers thinks it is also possible he may have been living for some time with a large arrowhead in his chest.

The bones were discovered in a chapel at the castle in 1997.

They were excavated when archaeologists were working in an area of the castle which turned out to be the site of a lost medieval royal chapel.

Peter Yeoman, from Historic Scotland, said because the man was buried at the heart of a royal castle, it was indicative he was a person of prestige, possibly a knight.

Some research was carried out on the skeleton at the time of its discovery, but a lack of technology meant it was difficult to assess the remains in more detail.

Since then scientists have been able to perform laser scanning which revealed the wounds.

Bone regrowth around a dent in the front of the skull suggested the man had recovered from a severe blow, possibly from an axe.

The warrior had also lost a number of teeth - perhaps from a blow, or a fall from a horse.

The fatal wound, however, occurred when something, possibly a sword, sliced through his nose and jaw.

Mr Yeoman said: "We know little about this burial area but the evidence suggests it was sometimes used during extreme circumstances, for example to bury the dead during a siege.

"However, by using modern analysis techniques we have started to discover quite remarkable information about this man.

"It appears he died in his mid-20s after a short and violent life.

"His legs were formed in a way that was consistent with spending a lot of time on horseback, and the upper body points to someone who was well-muscled, perhaps due to extensive training with medieval weapons."

A large, tanged arrowhead was found in skeleton and appears to have struck through the back or under the arm.

Crystalised matter attached to the arrowhead may have been from flies or other insect larvae and could have been from clothing the arrow forced into the wound.

Gordon Ewart, of Kirkdale Archaeology, who carried out the excavation and some of the research for Historic Scotland, said: "This is a remarkable and important set of discoveries.

"There were a series of wounds, including a dent in the skull from a sword or axe, where bone had regrown, showing that he had recovered.

"At first we had thought the arrow wound had been fatal but it now seems he had survived it and may have had his chest bound up."

War hammer

Little is known about who the man was or where he came from.

Further study is planned on tooth enamel and bone samples which may shed light on his origins.

His body appeared to have been buried in the same grave as a small boy of one to three years old.

Archaeologists cannot be certain that the two were linked but radiocarbon dating suggests both date from the early 15th Century, and there was no evidence of one grave having been cut through the other.

They were part of a group of 12 skeletons, some highly fragmentary, which were discovered.

Among them was a female, probably buried some time in the 13th Century, who had two neat, square holes through her skull which were consistent with blows from a war hammer.

Related BBC sites