Brutal death of Pictish man in Fife revealed by 1,500-year-old skull

The brutal death of a Pictish man who lived in a Fife coastal community around 1,500 years ago has been revealed following analysis of his badly damaged skull.

A 3D print of Solomon's skull which clearly shows the injuries sustained during his fatal attack in Fife around 1,500 years ago. PIC: Contributed.
A 3D print of Solomon's skull which clearly shows the injuries sustained during his fatal attack in Fife around 1,500 years ago. PIC: Contributed.

The man, nicknamed Solomon by archaeologists, was killed by five hard blows to the head that were likely delivered from above by a heavy sharp bladed instrument, such as a sword or axe.

His is likely to have been hit from above, with his attacker possibly striking from horseback.

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Solomon tried to evade his attacker, moving between the first and second strike, but he did not survive the violent encounter which took place sometime between 500 and 700AD.

A 3D print of Solomon's skull which clearly shows the injuries sustained during his fatal attack in Fife around 1,500 years ago. PIC: Contributed.
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The man, who was probably in his late thirties or early forties when he died, was buried in an elaborate grave on Lundin Links near Lower Largo, with the style of burial suggesting he was respected within the community.

Research carried out by the McManus Art Gallery and Museum in Dundee, Edinburgh University and Aberdeen University is now building a fascinating picture into the life and time of the Pict.

The graves at Lundin Links which were exposed during a strom in the 1990s. PIC: Moira Greig.

Christina Donald, curator of early history at the McManus, said: “Our man wasn’t an enemy or a criminal. He was someone thought well enough of to be given a respectful burial. He wasn’t just left where he fell.

“At the time that he died, it was too late for the Romans and too early for the Vikings. He may have possibly been attacked by the Northumbrians. Or, he may have been a victim of Pict-on-Pict violence.”

Solomon, who was given the name by those who excavated him, was one of around 20 people buried in the cemetery at Lundin Links which was exposed during a storm in the 1960s.

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There is much evidence of Pictish settlement throughout Fife, which is widely-held to have been once known as the Pictish kingdom of Fib.

The largest hoard of early Pictish silver discovered in Scotland was found at Balman Farm near Upper Largo - just over three miles from the burial site - with the treasures dating from 7th Century.

Other key sites in Fife include East Lomond Hillfort, which was occupied by Pictish kings during the early 5th Century.

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Solomon was laid to rest in a ‘double disc’ burial cairn - known as the Dumbbell Complex - which is made up of two circular tombs connected by a rectangular structure.

Solomon was found in one of the circles with woman buried in the adjoining enclosure.

Analysis of his skull has show that Solomon - who has been described as an ‘impressive’ figure’ - was around 5ft 10 ins tall with a long face, a flaring jaw and a cleft in the chin.

He was also suffering from a range of chronic health problems at the time of his death, Ms Donald said.

“He was really in the prime of his life at the time of his death but he must have been quite below par at the time,” Ms Donald added.

The bones behind his ears are elongated, due to a condition called Eagle syndrome which might have caused sharp, shooting pain in his jaw and neck.

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He had a chronic sinus infection as well as dental abscesses. He also suffered from arthritis of the spine and a slipped disc.

Dr Kate Britton of The University of Aberdeen is one of the experts involved in the project and is undertaking a project on Pictish diet and mobility that will help determine how people moved around during the period.

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Meanwhile, Laura-Kate Girdwood a Phd student at the University of Edinburgh, studied the teeth of the Lundin Links skeletons and became drawn to Solomon’s head injuries.

So far, it has been established that Solomon lived on a meat and plant-based diet and did not eat fish, despite living so close to the sea.

Ms Donald said: “That does fit the pattern of Picts that have been tested - significant marine-based consumption does not show up again until the Vikings.

“The samples are small, so it is difficult to say for certain what is going on.

“But my personal - and completely untested theory - is that their wealth was in the land and cattle so it was perhaps a mark of prestige to eat beef.”

Dr Elena Kranioti of the University of Edinburgh’s Unit for Forensic Anthropology, a specialist in skeletal trauma then examined the skull and concluded the man had suffered strikes with a heavy, sharp bladed object which resulted in fatal injuries.

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The case of Solomon has now been included in Dr Kranioiti’s study of interpersonal violence throughout the ages.

A CT scan of the skull led to a 3-D reconstruction of his face by master’s degree student Kristin Walters.

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-Links With The Past, which examines the stories of the Solomon and others buried in the Fife coastal graves, is now on show at McManus Art Gallery and Museum, Dundee, until Sunday March 31.