New tests add years to story of skull find

FOR more than a century the skull has lain in storage as part of the national museum collection.

But now radiocarbon testing has established the remains - discovered in a stone box grave in Edinburgh by 19th century workmen - are hundreds of years older than anyone realised.

It has become clear the skull belonged to a Bronze Age man who lived in the area which almost 4000 years later became Juniper Green.

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The discovery has added a new dimension to the area's 300th anniversary celebrations this year.

The skull was found in a carefully-constructed cist, or stone box grave, during excavations in 1851. It was handed over to archaeologists at the time and ever since has been kept in a collection which became part of the National Museum of Scotland. However, no-one realised the significance of the find, until now, with little known about the precise age of the skull.

The discovery of its great age came after it was chosen to take part in a 500,000 international research project using modern dating technology.

Radiocarbon dating was carried out on the skull by the museum and the results revealed the man died between the ages of 40 and 55 around the year 2150BC.

Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis at Leipzig University in Germany has revealed more about the man, including that his diet was high in animal protein, although he didn't eat fish.

Work is continuing at the university in the hope of shedding more light on Bronze Age life in the area.

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The discovery has already established the likelihood of a previously unknown settlement in the Juniper Green area.

Dr Alison Sheridan, head of early prehistory at the National Museum of Scotland's archaeology department, said: "It is fascinating that within all the celebrations of Juniper Green's past we have been able to confirm that there was life in the area long before the village was formed.

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"We are certain that he lived in the area - he was bound to have. We know that Bronze Age cemeteries and settlements were pretty close but nobody has found the settlement yet."

It was one of 250 skulls being studied as part of the Beaker People Project being run between Sheffield and Leipzig universities and the Museum of Scotland.

It was originally found in 1851 in a house which is now the Scotts butcher shop on Lanark Road.

Professors at Leipzig are now awaiting results of strontium and oxygen tests on the enamel of the skull's back teeth to see whether the man was born in the area.

The revelation about Juniper Green's history is an important addition to the understanding of Edinburgh's Bronze Age past.

It means that it joins a growing number of sites where Bronze Age activity has been noted, including Cramond, Traprain Law, Broomhouse and Huly Hill.

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Archaeologists date the earliest inhabitants of the Lothians - and Scotland - to 8000 BC following the discovery of a Mesolithic house in East Barns, near Dunbar.

The dating of the skull has left residents in Juniper Green taken aback, especially at the butchers shop that it was first found at.

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Colin Hanlon, owner of Scotts, said: "It's a huge shock that there were people here all that time ago.

"The whole community is alive with all this at the moment - everyone's talking about it. We may arrange something to celebrate that it was here that the village's oldest resident was found."

Prof Cliff Beevers, who set up the Juniper Green 300 website and has been arranging many of the celebratory events, said: "We are all delighted to hear that there is evidence of people living here 4000 years ago - not just 300 like we thought. We are building up a living memory of the village and this discovery is a great help in doing that."

Dr Sheridan will present her findings in a presentation at Juniper Green Parish Church at 7.30pm on Thursday.


ARCHAEOLOGISTS inspect most sites in the Lothians whenever building or development work takes place - leading to a much greater understanding of the region's past in recent years.

Rock art dating back 5000 years was discovered in 1996 when work started on East Lothian's Traprain Law following a massive six-acre fire. Among the other discoveries were part of an ancient roadway and Bronze Age axes.

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Huly Hill, near Newbridge, is known to be a Bronze Age burial cairn surrounded by three standing stones, and Cairnpapple in the Bathgate hills, home to a 4000-year-old stone monument, continues to attract tourists and pagan worshippers.

Nearby, on Hallowe'en 1997, workmen at Linlithgow Bridge found human bones that were later shown to be from a 4000-year-old tomb.

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However, the discovery of an early Mesolithic settlement at East Barns, near Dunbar, during the construction of a main road in 2003, remains the oldest find in not only the Lothians but also Scotland, and dates back to 8000BC.