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Skeleton of young man stabbed to death discovered at historic site

The skeleton, which dates from the 12th or 13th centuries, was discovered on dig in East Lothian.

Skeleton found at archaeological dig at Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick.
Addyman Archaeology

The skeleton of a young man dating from the 12th or 13th centuries, who was stabbed to death has been discovered during an archaeological dig in East Lothian.

The remains of the corpse were found during an excavation at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick.

Examination of the skeleton revealed the man had been fatally stabbed four times in the back, twice in the left shoulder and twice in the ribs.

The archaeological dig organised by the Seabird Centre and undertaken by Edinburgh-based Addyman Archaeology and latterly supported by Historic Scotland, uncovered structural remains, individual finds and an important new series of radio carbon dates.

Evidence of a community living at the site has been strengthened by individual finds including stone tools, lead objects, ceramic material and bones of butchered seals, fish and seabirds.

It is not possible to ascertain whether the human skeleton may have had other injuries, due to the legs and some of the right side of the body being cut away in later burial.

However the archaeologists have been able to conclude that the figure is that of a man over 20 years of age, slightly better built than average, with wear to the shoulder suggesting possible archery practice.

Bones: Skeleton adjusted to show where man was wounded.

Archaeologists who uncovered various graves at the historic site, surmised from the size, shape and relative positions of the injuries to the bones of the man that the dagger-like weapon used to stab him had a symmetrical lozenge-shaped section with very sharp edges and 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.

Tom Brock OBE, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “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.”

Scapula: One of the wounds suffered by the man.

Rod McCullagh, senior archaeology manager at Historic Scotland, said: “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.”

Stabbed: Man was also wounded in rib.

The important findings of the Kirk Ness project have been documented in a new book, The Medieval Kirk, Cemetery and Hospice at Kirk Ness, North Berwick: the Scottish Seabird Centre Excavations 1999-2006 (published by Oxbow Books), will be launched by archaeologist Tom Addyman at the Scottish Seabird Centre on March 27.

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