Robert Bruce discovery goes to history's heart

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The Independent Online
There was a buzz of patriotic excitement in the Borders last night after Scottish archaeologists announced that they had unearthed a casket containing what many Scots believe is the real Braveheart.

During excavations at the ruins of Melrose Abbey yesterday, archaeologists found a modern casket which they believe contains another, much older, casket holding the heart of Robert the Bruce.

A spokesman for Historic Scotland, the government body which commissioned the excavation, said the casket was unearthed yesterday at a depth of between 18 and 24 inches.

Great secrecy surrounded the location of the casket, which was transferred last night from the abbey to a conservation laboratory in Edinburgh.

Archaeologists are expected to open the modern casket today. If it contains the original casket, it will be reburied at Melrose Abbey.

A spokesman for Historic Scotland, Pat Conner, said yesterday: "We know from history what this ancient casket looks like because it was dug up in the 1920s, so we won't have to open it to check.

"The heart - if it is in there - might be completely withered away and we have a strict policy on dealing with human remains. So we will confirm the casket is the one we think it is and then rebury the remains at Melrose.

"Obviously, the casket is of tremendous significance to Scottish history - it would be the heart of one of Scotland's greatest monarchs."

It was Robert the Bruce's final request to his good friend, Sir James Douglas, that his heart be carried on the Crusades to Jerusalem and brought back to be buried at Melrose Abbey.

Sir James fell fighting the Moors in Spain and, according to legend, hurled the casket at the enemy as his last act.

The casket was recovered and buried at Melrose, but the bones of Robert the Bruce were buried at Dunfermline.

Bruce became King of Scotland in 1306 and led the forces that won freedom from England in 1328 under the Treaty of Northampton. His doggedness is said by legend to have been inspired by watching a spider weave its web.

The main aim of the pounds 300,000 excavations at Melrose Abbey was to unearth the chapter house and locate the first church built on the site.