Remains of 13th Century friar identified by belt buckle

The remains of a 13th Century friar have been discovered in Stirling with a belt buckle found on the body of the young man helping to solve the mystery over his identity.

The belt buckle found close to the friar's skeleton. PIC: GUARD Archaeology.
The belt buckle found close to the friar's skeleton. PIC: GUARD Archaeology.

The skeleton was found during the excavation in the city’s Goosecroft Road, the site of a Dominican friary, with tests suggesting he may have lived in the area during some of the most turbulent events in Scottish history, including the battles of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn.

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Members of he public are known to have been buried at similar friary sites across Scotland but the belt buckle found on the front pelvic area of the skeleton gave experts a significant lead as to his true identity.

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    The excavation of the medieval friary in Stirling. PIC: GUARD Archaeology.

    A spokesman for GUARD Archaeology said: “The archaeological evidence suggests that this young man was a friar himself, which is usually quite difficult to demonstrate.

    “However, as friars were buried in their habits, buckles found near the pelvis indicate those individuals being friars of orders such as the Dominicans, as their rule required them to wear a belt with a buckle, rather than a rope cincture worn by other orders such as the Franciscans.”

    The bronze buckle held traces of textile which showed it was fastened against a piece of clothing. It also suggested the man was a friar rather than “simply a local individual,” the spokesman said.

    He added: “Furthermore, his skeleton was radiocarbon dated to AD 1271 - 1320 so it is possible that this friar was a witness to some of the most significant events of the Scottish Wars of Independence during late 13th and early 14th centuries, not least the battles of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn.”

    Historical research reveals that this friary belonged to the Dominican Order - the Blackfriars – for over 300 years from 1233 to the Scottish Reformation in 1559.

    The remains of the friar were found carefully buried in a foundation trench of a wall with his crossed arms suggesting he had been firmly wrapped in a shroud.

    Other finds made at the site included pottery sherds from cooking vessels and jugs from across Britain and Continental Europe.

    Bob Will, of GUARD Archaeology, who led the excavation, said: “The Blackfriars of Stirling had access to luxury table goods from around the North Sea, foodstuffs such as figs and raisins and wine.

    “The friary as well as the burgh of Stirling was well positioned to receive imports, which may have been brought to land at Cambuskenneth Abbey which lies on the River Forth and was then navigable from the sea.’

    Archeologists believe they may hae found the remains of a lavatorium or kitchen at the site. Two small shards of window glass were also found.

    “However, due to subsequent development of this area of Stirling, not least the robbing of stone from the friary after its dissolution, only part of the layout of the friary is known,” the spokesman added,

    The excavation was funded by the Stirling Development Agency.