Mystery of man buried 1,500 years ago might finally be solved by Dundee experts

Laura Girdwood and Christina Donald with the skull.
Laura Girdwood and Christina Donald with the skull.

The mystery of how a man was killed 1,500 years ago could finally be revealed.

Next month, the McManus is holding an event exploring the life of the Picts — a “mythical” tribe who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods.

The event will take place on Saturday March 10, from 11am-3.30pm, and will explore the death of one Pictish man in particular.

His death in Lundin Links, near Largo, has been a mystery for 1,500 years but now, thanks to new technology, researchers can for the first time shed light on how he died.

All signs point to the man — who was buried in a stone cist at Lundin Links cemetery — being murdered with a sword or other bladed weapon.

As part of the event, experts at McManus have used technology to create a 3D recreation of the man’s skull, which shows damage to the back of the cranium.

PhD student Laura Girdwood, who is running the workshop, said: “The skull is much too fragile to be handled, which is not surprising for something that is 1,500 years old.

“As technology gets better, we will be able to do more and more with it. The sky is the limit.

“Things have improved so much in such a short time.”

Laura with an axe similar to the type of weapon likely to have killed the man

The excavation of the mystery man was originally done in the 1960s.

However, it is only now — thanks to recent technology developments — that the team has been able to undertake more detailed analysis of his remains.

The event will consist of a tour of the McManus, before people head to the museum’s collections unit, in the city’s Barrack Street, to see the bones of the mystery Pictish man.

Experts will be on hand to talk about the forensic advancements used to create the 3D image.

Laura’s hope is that the event will bring more public interest to the Picts as well as more funding to the project.

Christina Donald, museum curator, said: “It’s a shame. A lot of money gets put towards Roman excavations but ignores indigenous people.

The 3D recreation of the skull.

“This is a rare opportunity for members of the public to find out from curators and forensic scientists more about the mysterious Pictish period.

“We will give a glimpse into the lives of the almost mythical people and the death of this particular man who lived many, many centuries ago.”

The event is being funded by Art Fund, a charity which helps museums and galleries buy and show works of art for everyone to enjoy.

Laura said she hopes “the collection will inspire interest and we will be given more funding”.

The event is being held in partnership with the Edinburgh Unit For Forensic Anthropology Research Group (EUFA), of the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID).

The hope is that if the event goes well, then it might lead to more in the future. Laura added: “EUFA is very keen to interact with everyone to get the message (about the Picts) out there.”

The event coincides with the BBC Civilisations Festival, which will run from Friday March 2 to Sunday March 11.

As part of the festival, there will be a nine-part series. Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, said: “In a complex and fast changing world, Civilisations is a landmark BBC Arts series which asks us to question what lies at the heart of our identity and what makes us human. We want it to inspire the public to take their learning further, and we want the Civilisations Festival to allow them to do just that by engaging with museums and galleries across the UK.”

The event is free, but booking is essential.