Bones found in garden ‘may be teaching specimens’

It is thought the remains could be teaching specimens. Picture: comp
It is thought the remains could be teaching specimens. Picture: comp
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HUMAN remains dating back more than 250 years, discovered in the back garden of an Edinburgh house, could have been used as teaching specimens, archeologists say.

The remains of at least five people were discovered in a back garden of a house in Grove Street, Edinburgh, in September 2012, by workmen carrying out renovations to a six bedroom property which has just been recently purchased after lying empty for a number of years.

The workmen found the bones, which included a patella, vertebrae and skull, as they were carrying out landscaping work in the back garden.

At the time it was not known how the 77 bones and fragments of bones got into the garden of the house, but it was thought they had been there before it was built, in 1822.

However a team of archaeologists, led by Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick, have discovered that at least 19 of the bones were used as anatomical exhibits.

The people, which were made up of at least one male, one teenager and an elderly person, are though to have lived at various time between 1736 and the early 1800s.

The team believe that the bones were deliberately buried there once they were no longer needed for teaching.

Although it is not known who buried the bones, or exactly when, one theory put forward by the archeologists is that they were owned by a Dr David Thomson who trained in Edinburgh and whose daughter resided at 12 Grove Street with relatives involved with wire-working companies in the 1860s.

GUARD Archaeologist Ms Kilpatrick said: “Several of the bones had very polished and smooth surfaces suggesting that they may have been repeatedly handled prior to their final deposition.

“Nineteen of the bones revealed evidence of their use as anatomical exhibits or specimens.

“This was particularly the case with many of the foot and hand bones which contained small holes most commonly on their articular [joint] surfaces, although several also on their shafts.

“Two samples of human bone obtained from two different right mandibles were submitted to the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre for AMS radiocarbon dating.

“The dates revealed that both mandibles were of probable eighteenth/nineteenth century date, with an overlap in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries

“Radiocarbon dating of two of the bones provided a date of death within the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries AD which equates to a period within Edinburgh’s history when it was a renowned centre for medical teaching and research.”

Morag Cross, who also worked on the find, said: “Dr David P Thomson is the strongest candidate for ownership of the remains, his daughter boarded with her aunt at 12 Grove Street in 1861.

“Thomson had even provided museum exhibits to the University of Edinburgh.”