It was designed to bring to an end a 270-year-old mystery surrounding the final resting place of notorious clan chief Simon “The Old Fox” Fraser who was executed for treason following the Battle of Culloden.
But instead, a whole new chapter of intrigue has opened up after human remains removed from the Fraser of Lovat family crypt near Inverness were found not to be those of the 80-year-old chief - but those of a 25-year-old headless woman.
Professor Dame Sue Black, director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, who led the analysis, revealed her findings to an audience of more than 400 people gathered in Inverness tonight.
Her research started last year to determine whether a long held theory that the Old Fox’s body was removed from London following his execution in 1747 and smuggled back to the Highlands by his supporters was true.
Professor Black said: “We can say with absolute certainty that these are not the remains of The Old Fox.
“The area of the body most indicative of whether remains are male or female is the shape of the pelvis, and two areas of the pelvis in particular. In both areas, these remains were very feminine.
“There is no way that these were the remains of an 80-year-old six-foot man who suffered from gout and arthritis.
“We estimate these are the remains of a young woman, probably aged 25-35.
“We understand that there are some possibilities that she might be a member of the Fraser family, and further DNA testing is being carried out.”
Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat and chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat, was the last man beheaded in the United Kingdom with his execution at Tower Hill attended by thousands of spectators.
He was a key operator in Highland society and known for his double dealings between the state and the Jacobites.
Officially, he was buried in the chapel at the tower but family lore has long maintained that his headless body was removed during the nine days between execution and burial and taken north by ship.
While it now seems more likely he is buried at Church of St Peter ad Vincula, where a plaque bears his name, the discovery of the remains of a 25-year-old woman in the crypt presents a fresh mystery.
Prof Black added: “The DNA testing should confirm whether the remains are those of a member of the Fraser family, in which case the casket may well have simply been put to use.
“But if the remains are not a member of the family, then we are faced with more of a poser as to how she came to be buried in the casket.”
Author Sarah Fraser, who is married to a descendant of Lord Lovat 11th and who has written a biography on the chief, said she was at first “really disappointed” to learn it was not him in the coffin.
Ms Fraser, who will also speak at the event in Inverness, organised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said: “I was also surprised by the findings. When you see human remains, they are still someone, they are still a person. You feel closer to that person, even though they died 270 years ago. We had invested hope in it being him.”
Erik Lundberg, custodian of the Wardlaw Mauseoleum, said he was intrigued by the findings.
The mausoleum has enjoyed a swell in visitor numbers given the Old Fox was portrayed in hit television series Outlander as the grandfather of lead character Jamie Fraser.
Mr Lundberg said he was curious whether the woman died in London or locally or if the body was placed in the empty coffin, which was made specifically for Lord Lovat, after it arrived home from the tower.
He said: “The findings are very surprising but they open up a whole new set of questions. The intriguing question is really who would got to the effort of putting her in the coffin - and why?”