Facial reconstructions show how murdered 6th century men and women might have looked

By Ben Miller | 01 October 2015

Cramond grave could have been crypt for royal burials in 6th century Edinburgh

A photo of the reconstructed face of a 6th century man found at a crypt in Edinburgh
Male, aged 18-25 (died 540-600 AD). Isotopic analysis indicates he grew up in or around Cramond and spent his last surviving years in the area. Forensic evidence reveals he suffered from a sharp-force injury and two cuts above his right eye which healed before his time of death, suggesting he may have been a warrior fighter© Hayley Fisher
A mass burial found under an Edinburgh car park in 1975 included two murdered warriors and at least two generations of the same family, according to archaeologists who have used the 6th century remains to create a series of facial reconstructions.

A photo of the reconstructed face of a 6th century woman found at a crypt in Edinburgh
Female, aged 18-25 (died 430-570 AD). Isotopic analysis reveals she grew up locally and spent her final years in Edinburgh. The forensic report points to murder from a blunt-force injury to the right side of the head which would have left brain exposed. Chipping to her right molar may be further evidence of a violent attack© Hayley Fisher
At least one of the family members suffered a “violent” and “murderous” end, with one female displaying “shattering” blows to the head and two men carrying severe wounds which did not kill them.

A photo of the reconstructed face of a 6th century man found at a crypt in Edinburgh
Male, aged 26-35 (died 540-610 AD). Isotopic analysis suggests he grew up in Peebleshire or Lanarkshire, or perhaps further afield in Argyll or Loch Lomondside in the British Kingdom of Alt Clut (Strathclyde). He died in the Cramond area. The forensic report provides evidence of sharp and blunt force injuries, probably caused by a blunt weapon like the butt of a spear shaft. He also had cut marks above his right eye© Hayley Fisher
Experts have used forensic techniques and DNA tests to suggest that the bodies could have belonged to a noble family living at the site of a royal stronghold in Cramond, where they were originally found during the excavation of a Roman bath house 40 years ago.

A photo of the reconstructed face of a 6th century woman found at a crypt in Edinburgh
Female, aged 26-35 (died 430-550 AD). Isotopic analysis reveals she grew up locally and spent her final years in and around Cramond, but there is lack of evidence as to her cause of death. Forensics reveal poor teeth and an iron deficiency© Hayley Fisher
“Many mysteries remain but, thanks to CSI techniques, we've managed to make great strides in our understanding of Scotland’s Cramond burials,” says John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist.

A photo of a man discovered in the Cramond area of Edinburgh next to a skull
© Hayley Fisher
“The study has provided important evidence of life during this time of political turmoil and has helped us answer questions about the Dark Ages. But it has also opened up a whole new world of questions.

A black and white photo of a young 7th century man discovered in Cramond, Edinburgh
The remains of the 18-25 year-old man were discovered in 1975© Dick Ewart
“Why did these people migrate to Cramond? What was so special about this area during the dark ages? Why were some of them murdered but given a special burial?

“If this grave was indeed the burial crypt of a noble or royal family, it suggests Cramond just might be a Royal stronghold of the Gododdin. If this is the case, these findings have a significant impact on what is known about the history of Scotland and Northern Britain during the Dark Ages.”

Cramond is believed to be the oldest occupied village in Scotland.

“Thanks to developments in modern science, the council has been able to revisit the remains and carry out an extensive investigation,” says Councillor Richard Lewis, Edinburgh’s Culture Convener.

“The findings have revealed a story even more mysterious than the one we started out with.

“You could be forgiven for mistaking the resulting story for a plot from Game of Thrones.”

  • Dark Goings On In Cramond is at the Museum of Edinburgh from October 2 2015 – February 27 2016.

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