Archaeology Mystery of bones find at church

Discussion in 'Archaeology' started by mscbkc070904, Apr 6, 2005.

  1. mscbkc070904

    mscbkc070904 Premium Member

    MYSTERY surrounds the discovery of six bodies dating back to the 16th century in the grounds of a historic church in Leith.

    Archaeologists uncovered four skeletons and the remains of at least another two bodies during construction work on the 19th-century St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Constitution Street.

    Carbon dating by scientists has revealed the bodies date back to around the time of the Siege of Leith from 1559 to 1560, which involved French, English and Scots forces.

    But experts believe the bodies - one a teenager - could also be executed criminals or victims of the devastating plague.

    Two of the individuals - which are all thought to be male - were probably aged below 30 and another two between 40 and 60.

    A study of the remains has also revealed a high degree of bone disease in the group, particularly in the spines and joints of the older men.

    Four of the five skulls also showed signs of a possible scalp infection.

    One of the older men had several broken bones and a mild cranial lesion, suggesting that he had been involved in a violent incident.

    Other skeletal remains - found in Constitution Street, around Wellington Street and on Leith Links - were linked to the plague in 1645, while the Siege of Leith also generated a huge number of casualties.

    It is thought the presence of disarticulated bone within the fill in two of the graves indicates further burials.

    The experts believe the graves may be the final resting place for executed criminals because they are in a north-south alignment and have been buried in a rushed manner. Traditionally, Christian burials are east-west.

    John Lawson, the city council’s archaeologist, said the discovery was extremely exciting.

    He said: "What we have here is completely unexpected. There is no known graveyard in the area. There is no known chapel site. They shouldn’t be there. The question now is why are they there? The fact they turned up is amazing and some detective work is required."

    Ross White, field officer with the private Musselburgh-based archaeological firm CFA, added: "We were looking for the remains of Balmerino House, built in 1631. We expected to find the remains of the house so it was a shock to find the skeletons.

    "I think they are from the Siege of Leith because they are all male, quite big and tall."

    The skeletons were found near the site of a former out-building or garage, which had been demolished.

    A spokeswoman for Edinburgh City Council said: "This discovery provides an intriguing insight into the history of the area, as well allowing our imagination to soar as we try to guess who these men were and why they were buried on this site."

    St Mary’s Star of the Sea is currently undergoing an expansion including refurbishing of the social club into flats and alterations to the presbytery.

    Under the planning consent for the project, an archaeological excavation was required last year, when the skeletons were discovered.

    The Siege of Leith, from 1559 to 1560, led to the Treaty of Edinburgh, the eventual fall of the Catholic Church in Scotland and the end of the Franco-Scottish Alliance.

    The French had sent thousands of men to Leith during the English-French war to help the Scots drive out an English garrison on Inchkeith that was creating havoc with shipping in the Forth.

    They soon succeeded in destroying the garrison and slaying the commander of the English troops, but it became clear that they had no intention of going home again.

    Even after the English encampments in Scotland packed up and went home, the 3000 troops of the French garrison and their wives and families refused to move.

    By 1559, the people of Edinburgh had had enough and, led by the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, 12,000 people set out to clear the French from their fortified positions - to no avail.

    They turned to Queen Elizabeth of England who sent an English fleet and troops to reinforce the siege.

    The siege finally ended with the Treaty of Edinburgh, under which the French agreed to go home and destroy the fortifications in Leith.

    Ironically, a year later, Mary Queen of Scots arrived from France at the very spot where the siege took place to mount a challenge to Elizabeth for the English throne.