Nine skeletons have been recovered beneath the floor of the Royal Chapel at Stirling Castle. All of these remains date between the 13th and 15th centuries, which potentially means these could be victims of the War of Independence at the turn of the 14th century. This argument for their involvement in the war is further supported by the brutal trauma suffered by the 5 of the 9 individuals found (BBC 2011).
The Wars of Independence were a series of military campaigns from 1296 to 1327 fought between the independent Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England. It began with the English invasion into Scotland in 1296 after the problematic succession of Scottish rulers. Edward I of England took control of Scotland while the country debated over the next ruler. The Scots rebelled against this action, and a series of campaigns took place to reclaim their country. This first series of battles is most well known for the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace overwhlemingly defeated the English in 1297. Later came Robert the Bruce’s decisive victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. it was during this first War of Independence that archaeologists believe the skeletal remains date to (Wikipedia).
Trauma and cause of death are notoriously difficult to discern on skeletal remains. The blows are most often suffered by the soft tissue, and this damage is rarely preserved in human remains. When trauma does preserve on bone, it can also be difficult to determine when it occurred, either before death, cause of death or after death, and the reason for the specific blow can also be difficult. It is not as easy as forensics TV shows make it out to be. When dealing with trauma, it is important in skeletal remains that researchers look carefully at the wound to determine whether any healing occurred, the direction of the wound, how many wounds the trauma consisted of, and whether the damage could be accidental. In order to determine weapon, researchers look at the way the damage was created and how the bone reacted to the blow. A sharp force trauma from a knife or sword creates a cleaner area of damage whereas blunt force from a hammer or club creates indentations and a wider area of damage (Larsen 1999).
Luckily for us, trauma from the middle ages can be easier to recognize due to the types of weapons being used: large swords and war hammers. Remains from the Chapel are of varying ages, and the trauma varies. An adult male, aged between 25 and 35 had 44 fractures on his skull from repeated blows, as well as another 60 across the post-cranial remains from a blunt object. An adult female aged between 35 and 45 had 10 fractures on the right side of her skulls with evidence showing that this was the cause of multiple blows. The skull also contained square perforations at the top of the skull, suggesting that she had been struck by a war hammer, potentially after a fall. Another set of remains of a young male, aged between 16 and 20 showed a clear stab wound in the chest, as well as damage from blunt force trauma to the base of the skull, jaw, collarbone and ribs.
Evidence does support that these individuals were involved in a battle or skirmish, and given their burial in the chapel floor they were likely of higher status. The question is whether they were killed during the War of Independence or at another time. While radiocarbon places them in the range 1270 and 1324, which is firmly within the War of Independence. However, we cannot tell if they were standing with “Robert Bruce in the historic victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 or with William Wallace at the Scottish triumph at Stirling Bridge in 1297” as Urquhurt (2011) speculates.
What is most interesting about this find it the inclusion of the female, who is strongly muscled (I’m assuming they mean robust muscle markers on the skeleton) and suffered damage like the males. It gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate gender roles in this period. Hopefully there will be a more detailed report about these remains so that we can get a better understanding of who this female warrior was.
Larsen 1999. Bioarchaeology: interpreting behavior from the human skeleton. Cambridge: UK.
Wikipedia. 2011. Wars of Scottish Independence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_Scottish_Independence#King_Robert_the_Bruce:_1306.E2.80.931328
Urquhurt 2011. Stirling Castle’s Amazon Warrior Revealed. The Scotsman. http://www.scotsman.com/odd/Stirling-Castle39s-Amazon-warrior-revealed.6775068.jp?articlepage=1
BBC News 2011. Stirling Castle skeletons show signs of brutal trauma. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-13569885