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Cramond dig reveals a mass grave and warriors from Dark Ages

Ian Harvey

Thanks to the latest reconstruction techniques, the faces of four people who were buried in a mysterious Edinburgh crypt have been brought back to life.

The bodies had been discovered in a mass grave in the village of Cramond, and researchers believe that the four people were all members of the same family that lived during the Dark Ages. The mass grave was uncovered back in 1975 during an excavation of a Roman Bathhouse found at a car park in the village.

They were all buried in the same grave, and initially,archaeologists thought the grave contained victims from the bubonic plague.

After the remains were analyzed, however, it was found that the individuals date back to the 6th century. Using forensic, isotopic and DNA techniques, the study also showed that the burials belonged to more than one generation of a single family.

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The burial was uncovered in 1975 whilst excavating a Roman Bathhouse. DNA analysis has shown the bodies belonged to more than one generation of the same family. The left-hand image shows the skeleton of the male warrior when he was discovered and the reconstruction shows what he may have looked like.

They weren’t just a family, experts said, but they were possibly members of a noble family. This has raised the theory that Cramond could have at one point been the site of a royal stronghold. Interestingly, three of the four died from violent causes; it is quite possible that they could have been murdered.  Facial reconstructions by Hayley Fisher/www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk

So far, researchers have analyzed four of the bodies — two males and two females — found in the grave, and there is ongoing work to reconstruct the another five bodies found on the site. Here is what they know so far:

Male I was aged between 18 and 25. He was most likely a warrior, because of the many healed head wounds he sustained. Isotopic analysis indicates he grew up in or around Cramond in Edinburgh and spent his last surviving years in the area.

A similarly aged female, who died between 430 and 570 AD showed signs of a “violent, murderous death.” This points to murder from a blunt-force injury to the right side of her head that would have exposed her brain. Even the chipping to her right molar may have stemmed from this attack. This person grew up locally and spent her final years in Edinburgh.

The older male found was aged between 26 and 35 and died between 540 and 610 AD. According to the forensic report, there is evidence of sharp and blunt force injuries and cut marks above his right eye, suggesting he may have been a warrior. The cuts above his eye had healed by the time of his death. Isotopic analysis suggests he grew up in Peebleshire or Lanarkshire. Although he might have been farther afield in Argyll or Loch Lomond, but died in Cramond area.

Female II, who was aged between 26 and 35, was the only person of the four who harbored no evidence as to her cause of death. Isotopic analysis reveals she grew up locally and spent her final years in and around Cramond. Forensics reveal poor teeth and an iron deficiency. She died between 430 and 550 AD.

The City of Edinburgh Council archeologist, John Lawson, led the investigation. He noted that their research has provided a lot of information about the Dark Ages, but also opened a whole world of questions. “Many mysteries remain but thanks to CSI techniques, we’ve managed to make great strides in our understanding of Scotland’s Cramond burials.”

He continued, “Why did these people migrate to Cramond? What was so special about this area during the Dark Ages? Why were some of them murdered but given a special burial? If this grave was indeed the burial crypt of a noble or Royal family, it suggests Cramond just might be a Royal stronghold of the Gododdin. If this is the case, these findings have a significant impact on what is known about the history of Scotland and Northern Britain during the Dark Ages.”

Back in the 6th century, Scotland would have been inhabited by different groups including the Picts and Brythonic-speaking Britons. Among these Britons were the Gododdin. This group had strongholds at Din Eidyn. now called Edinburgh and Manaw Gododdin around Stirling. In 638 AD, the Angles captured Din Eidyn marking the end of Gododdin rule.

Councilor Richard Lewis, Edinburgh’s Culture Convener, added, “For decades, the circumstances surrounding the burial were unanswered.” He said, “Thanks to developments in modern science, the council has been able to revisit the remains and carry out an extensive investigation…With theories of ancient warriors, murdered nobles and a lost Royal stronghold – you could be forgiven for mistaking the resulting story for a plot from the Game of Thrones.”