Monday, 6 October 2014

Seminars 2014/15 report: "Death in the Scottish wars of Independence"

During our first seminar of the year Dr. Jo Buckberry of Bradford University took us back to the Scottish Wars of Independence and more specifically a building in Stirling Castle. Excavations that were carried out in 1997, of what was first believed to be the “Old Governor’s Kitchen” unearthed evidence of 9 sets of skeletal remains. The vast majority of the remains date to the Wars of Independence and show evidence of trauma. Originally there were thought to be 10 sets of remains but later analysis identified that what was believed to be two separate skeletons was one infant aged between 3-6 months. Among the 8 remaining, sex determination was predominately male and 1 female, with 2 left undermined. Analysis of the remains showed skeletal variation, evidence of both dental and skeletal diseases and signs of healed and unhealed trauma.

Dr.Buckberry began the seminar by providing a brief background into osteological study and terminology. She explained that blunt force trauma occurs when the victim is hit by an object with a large surface area for example a pavement or a club while sharp force trauma occurs when the injury is inflicted by a bladed object. If a wound is determined to have occurred ante-mortem then it was before the time of death and evidence of healing would typically be present. It can be difficult to differentiate between peri-mortem and post-mortem. Peri-mortem injuries have no evidence of healing but still retain an elastic response however post-mortem injuries show no elastic response.Bone mechanics that tell us if there is evidence of an elastic response.

The seminar continued with specific discussion concerning each set of remains. 

  • Skeleton SK199 was composed of a pair of feet therefore the sex was undetermined. It was estimated by the level of epiphyseal fusion that the remains were aged at least over the age of 13yrs. 
  • SK176 represents the remains of an infant aged between 3-6 months. Analysis provided evidence of  active rickets, identified by flared bone ends and ribs. There is evidence of possible scurvy alongside the skull. Interpretations highlight the infant was malnourished or that the mother was malnourished. 
  • SK196 is of undetermined sex with an estimated age between 16-18 years. Trauma was identified on the remains as 4 peri-mortem fractures. 
  • SK523 was identified as a male aged between 16-28 years with evidence of probable peri-mortem fractures to the lower limbs and ribs. 
  • SK190 was identified as a male aged between 16-20 years. Dental notches were present in the victim’s mouth highlighting that the victim used his mouth as a way to hold objects. Further evidence of trauma included 4-6 post cranial injuries, blunt force trauma to the right scapula and right humerus. one stab injury to the 8th rib. This latter injury was located close to the heart and the blade had been inserted horizontally. Seven or eight other fractures are present along the base of the cranium, as well as 1-3 mandibular fractures. 
  • SK148 is identified as an older male aged between 24-57 years. There is a healed sharp force injury to the frontal bone. Cysts are present above the upper incisors, these occur as a plug of soft tissue that forms when the tooth dies. Is this evidence of violence?
  • SK539 is the only female identified at Stirling aged between 29-60 years. The skeletal remains were robust and she had a cleft neural arch of C1 of the vertebrae. Evidence of cranial trauma is present in the form of 2 penetrating lesions with internal bevelling. 10 linear and curvilinear lesions were also identified. 
  • SK150 is male aged between 24-46 years. There is potentially a hundred peri- mortem fractures, 40/44 of these occurred to the cranium and less than 60 to the post cranial skeleton including rib fractures and a crushed knee. Was this the result of being crushed, tortured or a fall? Developmental conditions are evident, this man suffered from scoliosis and sacralisation. A C14 date has been obtained and the remains date between 1217 –1292 AD.
  • SK141 is male aged between 29-57 years. A radio carbon date places these remains much later than the rest, between 1442-1627 AD. 
Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis was carried out to examine the diet of those at Stirling Castle. Results identified their diet as typical of a medieval population’s diet. The pattern of trauma amongst the remains however is not typical of the period. Evidence discovered at Towton and Fishergate Castles highlights sharp force trauma as common but at Stirling evidence of blunt force trauma is clear. Debates have discussed whether or not the remains were left here after one serious traumatic event. Was this event a siege? This hypothesis is supported by the unusual burial site location and evidence of scurvy in a number of the individuals.

By Emily Geoghegan 

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