Hard days for Stirling knight who'd been hit by axe, arrow and sword

WHEN the skeleton was discovered buried beneath Stirling Castle more than a decade ago, archaeologists knew only that the man had been someone important, possibly a priest.

However, new analytical techniques have revealed the 600-year-old bones had a very different past – as they are those of a horrifically injured knight who lived a short but "incredibly violent" life.

Research has shown the man, who was in his twenties, was killed by a sword slicing through his nose and jaw. It also revealed he had previously survived both an axe wound to the forehead and a large arrowhead being embedded in his chest.

In addition, the man appears to have lost several teeth, possibly from a blow or a fall from a horse.

Historic Scotland, which runs the castle and commissioned the research, said the work had produced "quite remarkable information" about the skeleton.

But officials admitted they were only part of the way towards establishing the man's identity, and it was not yet known where he was from.

His origin is likely to be established next year from teeth analysis to show his diet.

This could decide one theory that he was an English knight called Robert Morley, who died during a jousting tournament at the castle in 1388.

Experts remain unconvinced, as radiocarbon dating of the bones has given a 95 per cent probability that the man died between 1390 and 1450.

Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland's head of cultural resources, said: "It appears he died in his mid-twenties 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.

"This evidence, and the fact he was buried at the heart of a royal castle, suggests he was a person of prestige, possibly a knight."

The skeleton was excavated from beneath a floor in 1997 when archaeologists were working in an area of the castle which turned out to be the site of a lost medieval royal chapel.

Some research was carried out at the time, but only limited information was gleaned. Advances in technology and analytical techniques prompted a re-examination of the skeleton, which produced the new results.

They showed injuries suffered prior to the man's death, including a large arrowhead in the skeleton which appears to have struck through the back or under the arm.

Gordon Ewart, of Kirkdale Archaeology, who carried out the excavation and some of the research for Historic Scotland, said: "There were a series of wounds, including a dent in the skull from a sword or axe, where bone had re-grown, 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.

"This is a remarkable and important set of discoveries."

The man was among a group of 12 skeletons discovered. He appears to have been buried in the same grave as a boy aged between one and three, who may have been linked to him.

One of the other skeletons is of a woman, probably buried in the 13th century, who also met a violent end. Two neat, square holes in her skull are thought to have been caused by a war hammer.

Historic Scotland believes the interment of the bodies within the castle suggests extreme circumstances, such as a siege.

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