Skeletons tell tales of brutal wars from beyond the castle's crypt

One set of remains had suffered 100 fractures and researchers found that the others had all died from blunt injuries

Some of the most horrific war-related injuries ever found, have been identified by scientists studying medieval warriors killed in Scotland’s wars of independence.

According to a new study of skeletons found at Stirling Castle, one individual died after suffering 100 fractures. Others had between seven and 16 fractures – all caused by massive blunt force, rather than bladed weapons, according to the study, carried out at Bradford University.

They symbolized the suffering in one of the bitterest wars ever fought in Britain. Giant siege engines, starvation, Greek fire (a sort of medieval napalm) and even early guns were used in a war in which up to 100,000 men – and some women – fought to the death.

Terror was used to systematically humiliate opponents at Stirling Castle itself. On the orders of the English king, Edward I, the Scottish garrison, though later freed, was led out of the castle with nooses round their necks to instil abject fear. Just a mile away, a few years later, thousands died at the great Battle of Bannockburn fought between Edward II and Robert Bruce over who should control the castle.

Although the skeletons, from Stirling Castle, 40 miles north-west of Edinburgh, were all discovered in the 1990s, the identification and detailed scientific analysis of the injuries all took place over the past 18 months.

It’s likely that the 9 individuals – including five men, a woman and an infant – were killed during two or more of the eight sieges that took place at Stirling Castle between 1296 and 1342. The Battle of Bannockburn - just a mile away – was fought primarily for control of the fortress.

The individual with the 100 fractures – almost certainly a soldier – had severe injuries to his skull (44 fractures), and to his lower jaw, ribs, collar bone, shoulder blades, arms, left hand, sternum and some vertebrae, according to the investigation led by biological anthropologist, Dr. Jo Buckberry of the University of Bradford’s Biological Anthropology Research Centre.

Another individual had often multiple fractures to his skull, lower jaw, shoulder blade, collar bone, upper arms and ribs while a third individual had seven fractures to his leg and ribs.

The woman – who was probably a combatant – sustained eight fractures to the right side of her skull, according to the Bradford University study. But she also appears to have been hit on the top of her head twice by a poleaxe, war hammer or similar weapon which punctured her cranium.

The precise cause of most of the victims’ injuries is not yet known.

However, it’s conceivable that many of them may have been sustained through siege warfare. The fact that they were buried inside the castle, rather than elsewhere, suggests that they were under siege at the time. What’s more, the blunt force damage is consistent with the sort of injuries which would have been sustained at the receiving end of a medieval artillery barrage, unleashed by great siege engines.

It’s known, for instance, that Edward I (nicknamed ‘Hammer of the Scots’) developed a giant trebuchet – a vast wooden catapult – to bombard Stirling Castle. Indeed, in 1304 he drove the Scottish defenders who had already surrendered, back into the castle to suffer as ‘guinea pigs’ at the receiving end of the outsized machine – known as Edward’s ‘War Wolf’.

However, it’s also possible that some of the individuals were systematically beaten up and killed – or that they were trampled by horses in the thick of battle. But the almost complete absence of sword damage on the skeletons probably makes those latter explanations less likely.

3D facial reconstructions of two of the individuals – the woman and one of the male warriors – will go on display at Stirling Castle early next month.

But only further research will determine whether the victims were Scottish or English soldiers, as the castle changed hands eight times in 46 years in the late 13th and early to mid 14th centuries.

Today, most of Stirling Castle – for many years a Scottish Royal Palace – dates from the 16th century – but is partly composed of masonry re-used from the earlier Medieval fortifications.

The skeletons were found in the medieval royal chapel, the existence of which was totally unknown until the 1990s.

The individuals’ interment there – an unusual act – suggests not only that it was done under siege conditions when burial elsewhere was impossible, but also that the individuals were of high status.

The individual with 100 fractures was aged around 30 and was 5 foot six inches tall. Another man of similar age and height, probably a knight, sported a healed battle scar on his forehead. He almost certainly died from a deep arrow wound. A slightly taller individual was aged around 20. The oldest person in the group was the only woman identified. She was aged around 40, was five foot four inches tall and was extremely robust with evidence of incredibly strong muscles in her arms and legs. The research on her raises the whole question of the role of medieval Scottish women in warfare. Interestingly at another siege (at Dunbar Castle) in the Scottish War of Independence, the Countess of Dunbar – nicknamed Black Agnes – led the defence of her castle spitting defiance at the English attackers.

On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£15000 - £16000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: To work as part of the Le...

KS1 Float Teacher needed in the Vale

£100 - £110 per day + Travel scheme plus free professional trainnig: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

KS2 Float Teacher required in Caerphilly

£100 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme plus free professional training: Randstad ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week