1,000 skeletons found in Aberdeen to be reinterred

More than 1,000 intact skeletons found buried in Aberdeen city centre are to be finally reinterred after funding was secured to build a new crypt.

Archaeologist at work at St Nicholas East Kirk in 2006 when remains of more than 2,000 people were found. PIC: Norman Adams/Aberdeen City Council.
Archaeologist at work at St Nicholas East Kirk in 2006 when remains of more than 2,000 people were found. PIC: Norman Adams/Aberdeen City Council.

The skeletons - and the remains of 1,000 more Aberdonians - were first found more than 10 years ago as excavation work got underway at the medieval site of St Nicholas East Kirk, also known as Mither Kirk.

Young children and entire families were discovered with remnants of burial garments, such as silk caps, also found in some of the graves.

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The bodies date from the late 1100s to the 17th Century and were originally buried on the site of the original parish church with the plots becoming covered in time as the building expanded.

Since their discovery, the remains have been stored by Aberdeen City Council with councillors tonight (Wednesday) agreeing to spend £50,000 on a new crypt as part of wider redevelopment of the Mither Kirk site.

Dr Arthur Winfield, project leader at the OpenSpace Trust which is working on the redevelopment, said:

“This will be a significant step forward for us. We will be putting something back into the East Kirk.

“The skeletons are in storage and the moment and we are hoping, subject to the decision being taken by the council, of being able to bury them in a new crypt under the floor of the new building.

“We would like to see the remains reinterred by next Easter with a religious ceremony to be held at the crypt.”

Few records remain as to the identities of those found but several rounds of DNA testing have been carried out to establish any relationships between those buried.

The skeletons have also provided an invaluable source of information on Aberdeen’s medieval population such as them diseases and injuries suffered by them.

Syphilis was discovered in a post 15th-century burial along with tuberculosis and many examples of osteoarthritis.

Blunt force trauma to the head was found in at least four cases. One body carried at least four wounds made by a blade.

A number of skeletons will also be used in a study by Aberdeen University to determine the diet and nutrition of city dwellers over the centuries.

The redevelopment of the Mither Kirk site will cost up to £5.5m with fundraising ongoing, Dr Winfield said.

It is planned to create a heritage centre in the heart of the city which will house Aberdeen’s impressive collection of medieval burgh records which have been recognised by UNESCO.

Another fascinating relic planned for the attraction is evidence of a witches prison created within St Mary’s Chapel at Mither Kirk following the Reformation.

A single ring used to shackle the witches to the wall remains in place along with records and invoices relating to subsequent witch burnings in the city. These include receipts for tinder and rope, Dr Winfield said.

He added; “There are also entries in the archive which detail how people would gather outside the chapel windows to watch the witches.”

The crypt will below the floor of the new building inside the exterior walls.

The reburial of the bodies will cost approximately £50,000, according to a report put to Aberdeen City Council.