Stab victim’s skeleton found at North Berwick dig

Murder victim uncovered at dig.Picture: Comp

Murder victim uncovered at dig.Picture: Comp

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The skeleton of a man stabbed to death in a “calculated” murder from the Middle Ages has been unearthed in North Berwick.

Archaeologists discovered the victim’s remains during a dig at Kirk Ness and found he had been wounded four times – twice in the shoulder and twice in the ribs – in a “professional” killing.

It is thought the murder of the man, thought to be aged over 20 and possibly an archer owing to his worn shoulder, dates back to the 12th or 13th century.

Although experts could tell the man had been stabbed in the back, they weren’t able to tell if he had other injuries, due to the legs and some of the right side of the body being cut away in a later burial.

Archaeologists who uncovered various graves at the ­historic site surmised from the size, shape and relative positions of the injuries to the bones of the man that the ­dagger-like weapon used to stab him had a symmetrical lozenge-shaped section with very sharp edges and was ­probably at least 70mm long, but likely longer.

Daggers with a lozenge-
sectioned blade were a specialist weapon carried mainly by military men. The excavation, organised by the Scottish Seabird Centre and undertaken by Edinburgh-based Addyman Archaeology, also revealed structural remains, individual finds and an important new series of radiocarbon dates.

Experts dug up stone tools, lead objects, ceramic material and bones of butchered seals, fish and seabirds, providing evidence that a medieval community once lived on the site.

Although the excavation itself took place between 1999 and 2006, the results of the dig were kept under wraps until yesterday as it has taken years for archaeologists to study all the items that were found.

Tom Brock OBE, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “Being at the centre of a 900-year-old murder mystery is very exciting for the Scottish Seabird Centre.”

Rod McCullagh, senior archaeology manager at Historic Scotland, which supported the excavation, said: “The expansion of the Seabird Centre triggered an ­archaeological excavation of an important medieval ­cemetery, which revealed the remarkable remains of ­buildings dating from the fifth to ninth centuries AD.

“These archaeological discoveries and the subsequent analyses mark a significant advance in our understanding of the early history both of North Berwick and of southern Scotland.