Ancient Murder Mystery

There are lots of things I’ve been meaning to post about lately, but I haven’t managed to write anything longer than a FaceBook post or a letter to a legislator. And truthfully, this isn’t really my story, I just find it fascinating. Archaeologists in Scotland uncovered the remains of a Pictish man who was brutally murdered and whose body was hidden in the back of a cave in Northeastern Scotland.

The archaeologists sent the remains to the renowned forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black (did you think I was gonna say Dr. Temperence Brennen?) of the University of Dundee’s Center for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID). Professor Black and her team were able to reconstruct the man’s face, as well as the means of his murder. According to the CAHID report, the young man was struck five times in the head (four times with a blunt object that broke his teeth and went through his skull) and one from a different weapon in the top of his head. Radiocarbon dating places this man’s life and death between 430 – 630 CE, which is referred to as the Pictish period in Scotland. If you look visit the article I read about this find, you’ll be able to read more details about the excavation and reconstruction of the murder.

I watch a lot of shows like “Bones” and listen to true crime podcasts like “Undisclosed” and “Accused.” When someone is murdered I always want to know what happened. I suppose I’m not alone in that, since the true crime and mystery genres are so popular. When I first read the word “Pict” I automatically thought of the Vikings and the Irish invaders of Scotland, and while this predates the Vikings, it could have still been within the timeframe of Irish invaders. The violence of the blows and the fact that they were all aimed toward his head seems to indicate a more intense rage than most invaders would be able to muster. And the fact that his body was hidden in the back of a cave and covered with beach stones certainly makes it seem as if someone were hiding the body.

In a lot of early Germanic law codes killing someone wasn’t necessarily murder. If Harold killed Sven, Harold would pay weregeld to Sven’s family and things would usually be okay. However, from the Law Code of the Salian Franks to the laws of medieval Iceland, hiding a killing was murder. We know hardly anything about the Picts. When I was stationed abroad I had acquaintances who even visited a tourist attraction in Scotland called Pictland where they learned nothing other than how their houses were built and what food they ate. We know they had writing, Ogham like the ancient Irish, though the few inscriptions they left behind tell us nothing of their laws, their religion, or their character.

We don’t know anything about this young man’s life, not even his name, but it is likely he was missed and lamented by those he was taken from. I’m glad our modern scientists have been able to put a face to this 1400-year-old cold case.