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Secrets of the Stirling Skeletons

14 September 2010



The secrets of medieval skeletons discovered at Stirling Castle will be revealed during an evening with renowned forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black and leading archaeologist Gordon Ewart.

The skeletons were part of a group discovered by Mr Ewart and his team when they were excavating a lost royal chapel at the castle.

Two of them – a knight and a woman – attracted international headlines when they were featured in the recent BBC 2 History Cold Case documentary.

The programme followed Prof. Black, and her colleagues from the University of Dundee, as they used the latest scientific techniques to discover more about the skeletons – the sort of people they belonged to, their lives and brutal deaths.

Both had suffered severe wounds from medieval weapons and may have died during the Wars of Independence with England.

The Secrets of the Skeletons talks will take place in the castle’s magnificent Great Hall on Wednesday, 22 September.

Prof. Black said: “The expertise and equipment available at Dundee University allowed us to use 21st-century scientific techniques to find out much more about the skeletons than was known before.

Professor Black explained how she and her team approached the project.  “The expertise and equipment available at Dundee allowed us to use 21st-century scientific techniques to find out much more about the skeletons than was known before,” she said.

“History Cold Case attracted an enormous amount of interest, so I’m really looking forward to the talk at Stirling Castle, where the skeletons were discovered.”

A facial reconstruction of the knight, and controversy over whether he might have been brought up in England, Scotland or France attracted headlines from India and Africa to North and South America.

Mr Ewart, who runs Kirkdale Archaeology, will talk about the work he has done over many years to explore the past of the castle and its royal palace.

Burials in a location of this kind were unusual and suggest extreme circumstances, such as a siege or plague which made it dangerous to leave the castle.

It is likely that only people of high status would be buried in such a prestigious place.

Mr Ewart said: “Stirling Castle is one of the most remarkable places in Scotland.

“It was at the heart of the kingdom’s affairs for centuries, and since the 1970s I have been involved in a series of archaeological projects to discover more about its past.

“It will be a pleasure to talk about the work we have done, and the insights which archaeology has given us into the castle, the skeletons, and more recently, the royal palace.”

The investigation of the palace by Mr Ewart and his team has been of fundamental importance to Historic Scotland’s £12 million project to return the palace to how it may have looked in the 1540s.

Refurbishment work is currently underway and the palace will reopen to the public, as a major new Scottish visitor attraction, next Easter.

  • In addition to Secrets of the Skeletons, Mr Ewart and his colleague David Murray, will make a series of presentations about their work on the palace on the weekends of the 18th and 19th and the 25th and 26th of September at 11am and 2pm in the Nether Bailey.

  • Secrets of the Stirling Skeletons and the weekend presentations are being run to coincide with Scottish Archaeology Month.

Notes for editors:

  • Tickets for Secrets of the Skeletons are £15 for adults and £12 for concessions or £10 and £8 respectively for members. They are available from Tracey Macintosh on 01786 431 312, or from Stirling Castle Gift Shop. Teas, coffees and shortbread at 6.45pm with the talk starting at 7pm.

  • The weekend talks are included in the entry price to the castle.

  • For all the latest on the palace project, and everything else that happening at Stirling Castle, visit our website at and sign up for our free e-newsletter.

  • Stirling Castle is at the top of Stirling Old Town off the M9 at junction 9 or 10. Call 01786 450000.

  • The Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee is an internationally leading centre in the fields of human identification, forensic anthropology, cranio-facial reconstruction and the study of the human body. The centre's work was recently featured in the major BBC2 series 'History Cold Case'. The centre is regularly contacted for advice and input in high-profile identification cases both at home and abroad. The cases in which staff have involvement are reflected in much of the research undertaken by the centre, which has excellent relations with local, national and international police and forensic practitioners allowing for worldwide collaborations in both research and forensic cases.

  • For media enquiries: Grant Hill, Press Officer, University of Dundee, Nethergate, Dundee, D1 4HN Tel: 01382 384768. E-mail: Mobile: 07854 953277. The University of Dundee is a Scottish Registered Charity, No. SC015096

  • Historic Scotland has 345 historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae. For further details visit:  

  • Historic Scotland’s Mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

For further information, interviews and images

Matthew Shelly
0131 668 8347