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Pictish man who suffered brutal death may have been royalty

Analysts have been studying a 1400-year-old skeleton found in a cave in the Highlands.

Rosemarkie man: A facial reconstruction.
Rosemarkie man: A facial reconstruction. Dundee University

By Iain Ramage

A Pictish man who suffered a "brutal death" about 1400 years ago could have been royalty, according to researchers.

Archaeologists found the skeleton in a recess of a cave in the Black Isle in the Highlands.

The 'Rosemarkie man' was discovered in a cross-legged position with stones weighing down his limbs while his head had been battered multiple times.

Analysis carried out on behalf of the Rosemarkie Caves Project now suggests he was a prominent member of the community, possibly royalty or a chieftain.

The findings show he had a high-protein diet, which researchers have few other examples of during that period.

Simon Gunn, founder of the project, said: "He was a big, strong fella - built like a rugby player - very heavily built above the waist.

"It's rather peculiar that he had a very high-protein diet throughout his life, to the extent that it's as if he had been eating nothing but suckling pigs.

"He was a bit special, that could be royalty or a chieftain.

"Obviously he had a rather brutal death, but he was buried quite carefully in that cave."

Mr Gunn added he was only aware of two examples of people in Scotland around that time having a similar diet.

A bone sample sent for radiocarbon dating indicates that he died sometime between 430 and 630.

'He was a bit special, that could be royalty or a chieftain. Obviously he had a rather brutal death, but he was buried quite carefully in that cave.'
Simon Gunn, founder of the Rosemarkie Caves Project

The man stood at 5ft 6ins and was aged about 30 at the time of his death.

His skeleton had no injuries other than those inflicted during his death. This suggests he was not a warrior or engaged in arduous labour.

Mr Gunn also said the cave burial could have been a way to place his body at an "entrance to the underworld" as part of a ritual.

The team believe there was a feast after Rosemarkie Man's death, either in celebration or reverence of his passing, as there were piles of animal bones near where he was discovered.

Forensic anthropologist Dame Sue Black previously helped to detail his injuries.

The remains were found in a cave.
The remains were found in a cave.

Earlier analysis from 2017 shows the first three impacts broke the man's teeth, fractured his left jaw and back of his head.

The fourth strike went through his skull from one side and out the other as he lay on the ground, while the fifth blow was to the top of his head.

Professor Black added: "It could well be that we are looking at someone prominent. If you have a high-protein diet you are eating well and are not in the poor of the community."

Researchers at Dundee University later did a facial reconstruction of the man.

The Rosemarkie Caves Project has been surveying a series of caves along the coast of the Black Isle. Evidence shows the caves were being used in some way from 2300 years ago until the recent past.

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