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Mysteries of medieval skeletons revealed at Stirling Castle

16 May 2014

Findings from the analysis of the nine skeletons uncovered at Stirling Castle in 1997 will be presented in Silent Witnesses: Trauma Tales from Stirling Castle, a talk held at the castle on 24 May at 7:30pm.

The discoveries will be presented by Dr Jo Buckberry, an expert in battle trauma from the University of Bradford who carried out the analysis, and found that some of the individuals may have died or sustained injuries during sieges of the castle in the Scottish Wars of Independence (1296-1357).

The nine skeletons, which have been broadly radiocarbon dated to the period of conflict, consist of seven males, one female and a baby. Analysis has found that most suffered blunt trauma injuries, with some showing evidence of TB, scurvy and rickets.

One male skeleton has over 100 fractures, while the female skeleton has skull injuries consistent with being struck by a weapon such as a poleaxe or mace. The evidence of both blunt trauma and periods of malnutrition are consistent with sieges, when both falling rubble and close conflict were a danger.

Stirling Castle was besieged repeatedly during the Wars of Independence. It changed hands between the Scots and the English a number of times and it is unclear whether the skeletons are Scottish or English. Evidence suggests, however, that they were of high status.

They enjoyed the kind of rich diet which was common among the medieval nobility, while the fact that they were buried within the castle walls – something which was unusual in medieval times - suggests that they were people of a high social standing.

The graves were discovered by a team from Kirkdale Archaeology within a fragment of what was subsequently recognised as the earliest upstanding building within the entire castle; the royal chapel dedicated to St Michael by King Alexander I in the early years of the 12th century.

Dr Jo Buckberry will also be on hand to discuss her findings from 12-4pm on 24 and 25 May as part of The Road to Bannockburn event at the castle, when visitors will be able to find out more about the Battle of Bannockburn. Scottish and English soldiers will be setting up camp, while there will also be weaponry demonstrations, a sword school and opportunities to learn more about how the knights who fought at Bannockburn would have dressed.

Lorna Ewan, Head of Visitor Experience, Content and Learning for Historic Scotland said: “The discovery of the nine skeletons at Stirling Castle continues to teach us more about how people lived and died in the castle in the 13th and 14th centuries. Dr Buckberry’s ongoing research helps to bring history to life, offering fascinating details about everything from diet to injury and cause of death. Her talk, a Year of Homecoming 2014 event, promises to give a fascinating glimpse into castle life during the Scottish Wars of Independence.”

Dr Jo Buckberry said: “The patterns of injury seen in the Stirling Castle skeletons is completely different to what we usually see in the medieval period, when most battles were fought hand-to-hand using swords and other weapons, and they stand out as different to other skeletal populations associated with medieval battles.”

“The isotope analysis undertaken as part of this project was done in collaboration with Dr Janet Montgomery, Durham University and Prof Julia Lee-Thorp, University of Oxford.”

The Road to Bannockburn will take place at Stirling Castle on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th May and is included in admission to the castle. Silent Witnesses: Trauma Tales from Stirling Castle will take place at Stirling Castle on Saturday 24th May at 7:30pm. Tickets cost £10-£15 and can be purchased at the castle or online at

Notes for editors:

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

  • Founded in 1966, the University of Bradford is one of the UK’s ‘traditional’ universities. It is a research-active institution, with over 80 per cent of our research being rated as either ‘international’ or ‘world-leading’ in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The University was ranked No 1 in Yorkshire for employed graduates obtaining professional & managerial level jobs. Known for its strong emphasis on employability skills and knowledge transfer work with businesses, the University has a truly global make up with over 20 per cent of its student population being international. The University is also a leader in sustainable development and education, and is within the top ten greenest universities in the UK, according to the Green League 2013.

  • Scotland welcomes the world in the Year of Homecoming 2014 providing a year-long programme of events alongside the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games. The Year of Homecoming Scotland will run until 31 December 2014 throughout the length and breadth of the country. Visitors from around the world are invited to join in a celebration of the nation’s food and drink, active pursuits, cultural heritage, nature and ancestral heritage. Homecoming Scotland 2014 is a Scottish Government initiative being led by EventScotland and VisitScotland, supported by numerous partners. To find out more visit For more on Historic Scotland’s Homecoming activities visit or tweet us using #hshomecoming.

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For further information

Alice Wyllie
Historic Scotlnd Media Office
0131 668 8603 or 07920 768 096