Leading forensic anthropologist Dame Professor Sue Black, of Dundee University, is working to determine who is buried in an unmarked lead coffin at the family crypt at Wardlaw Mausoleum at Kirkhill near Inverness.
Human remains were removed from the coffin for examination and DNA testing last week.
Prof Black’s work could finally solve the long-held mystery over where the body of Lord Lovat, also known as The Fox, was taken following his beheading at Tower Hill on April 9 1747.
Convicted of treason following Culloden, he was 80 at the time of his death.
Officially, a gold plaque marks his interment at St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London but some have long claimed his body was secretly smuggled back to the Highlands by his supporters. The Government had banned such a move given it would likely buoy once again Jacobite sentiment in the north.
Author Sarah Fraser, who is the aunt of the current Lord Lovat, watched on as Prof Black removed a collection of thin, broken bones and human matter from the coffin and examined the fragile remains.
She said it has been a moving experience.
Ms Fraser, author of the Lord Lovat’s biography The Last Highlander, said: “There are a lot of colourful character in the family but Lovat of the ‘45 is the most notorious, the most infamous. He is such a colourful character that we want it to be him.
“The exhumation has been moving but there is a bit of anxiety as well because what if it isn’t him? Who is it? And what did go on following the execution and why? That is a completely different forensic exercise then.”
“What is happening here matters a great deal to the family. He is an ancestor.”
Ms Fraser added: “There is almost something slightly forlorn about what is left. There is a sense of time destroying everything.”
The fob watch worn by Lord Lovat, clan chief of the Frasers of Lovat, during his execution has also emerged - as have two sets of his false teeth.
One is believed to have been his “best pair” which were held together by gold springs. The items were retrieved from the Lovat Estates office in Beauly and shown to Prof Black during her visit.
Prof Black has removed a small quantity of remains from Wardlaw in ordern to attempt a DNA analysis.
Early findings of her examinations show that the bones are likely that of an elderly man given signs of arthritis in the rear pelvis, although further work is required to confirm this.
The vertebrae are key to determining whether the man in the coffin is Lord Lovat. Some vertebra have been retrieved but it has not yet been confirmed whether the upper pieces, which would have been struck by the axe at Tower Hill, are among them.
Prof Black’s conclusions will be revealed at a Royal Society of Edinburgh Event which is due to be held in Inverness in November. Details have yet to be finalised.
The mausoleum also holds the coffin plate for 11th Lord Lovat, which has long been detached from any casket.
It is inscribed with the family crest and topped with a five pointed crown - the emblem of a dukedom which Lord Lovat had sought from Bonnie Prince Charlie in return for his support.
Lord Lovat had earlier sent messages of support to both sides ahead of Culloden in 1746 . Infamous for his double dealings, Lord Lovat’s Jacobite sympathies were forged in the late 1600s in France but he was later to betray the cause after revealing the plan for the first uprising to Queen Anne’s government.
Ms Fraser added: “He was such as important person in the story of the ‘45. The Bonnie Prince got away and who are they left with? They are left with the Jacobite lords.
“He is an emblem of the life of the Stuart cause and of course Scottish nationalism. He loathed the union which he felt that Scotland was not yet benefitting from.
“He touched a lot of issues that have stayed live in Scottish history and Scottish identity.”