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Highland warrior found alongside five decapitated skulls in a mystery grave gets his face recreated

Experts have painstakingly recreated the craggy, freckled face of a 15th-Century Scottish warrior who was buried with five decapitated skulls in a crowded grave in the Scottish Highlands 

Archaeologists counted six skulls in the grave when it was uncovered in 1997 at St. Colman’s Church in the fishing village of Portmahomack – and its contents have remained a mystery ever since.

But now,  using 3D scans, researchers are offering a glimpse at what one of those men may have looked like before he died in a clash of powerful local clans.   

The image reveals a highly detailed and glowering visage that included a generous, ginger neck beard.

Forensic experts recently reconstructed the craggy, freckled face of an occupant of that crowded grave, creating a highly detailed and glowering visage that included a generous, ginger neck beard. The man was probably killed in a clash of powerful clans

One body, six heads. The mysterious skeleton from the 15th century is finally yielding its secrets as archaeologists reconstruct its face and story

One body, six heads. The mysterious skeleton from the 15th century is finally yielding its secrets as archaeologists reconstruct its face and story  

And, the scientists have started piecing together how the weird grave came about. 

The two complete skeletons in the grave likely belonged to successive clan chiefs, possibly killed during clashes with a neighbouring clan, according to archaeologist Cecily Spall from Field Archaeology Specialists (FAS) Heritage, a private company investigating historically significant sites who was speaking to LiveScience.

FAS and the University of Bradford in England have spent several years excavating St. Colman’s Church and the surrounding area, as part of the Tarbat Discovery Programme.

Field Archaeology Specialists Heritage and the University of Bradford in England have spent several years excavating St. Colman's Church and the surrounding area, as part of the Tarbat Discovery Programme

Field Archaeology Specialists Heritage and the University of Bradford in England have spent several years excavating St. Colman’s Church and the surrounding area, as part of the Tarbat Discovery Programme

In addition to the weird grave with six-headed skeleton, archaeologists have also found numerous 'normal' skeletons, 88 in total, belonging to men, women and children. One group of bodies dated to between the 13th and 14th centuries, and another group was laid to rest during the 15th and 16th centuries

In addition to the weird grave with six-headed skeleton, archaeologists have also found numerous ‘normal’ skeletons, 88 in total, belonging to men, women and children. One group of bodies dated to between the 13th and 14th centuries, and another group was laid to rest during the 15th and 16th centuries

St. Colman’s Church burned down sometime in the late 1400s, around the same time as a battle between the Ross and MacKay clans. The men in the grave may have lost their lives — and in some cases, their heads — during the conflict between those clans.

The grave’s central location inside the ruins of the church near the entrance hinted at the importance of the people who rested within the burial, the scientists said.

Initially, the grave held just one complete skeleton, which lay on its back, that of a man who had suffered terrible sword wounds to his face – one of his injuries had nearly separated the man’s jaw from his head. Four skulls without their lower jaws were arranged in the grave around the man’s head, though researchers don’t know if these belonged to family, friends or foes of the man.

Scientists with Face Lab at the Liverpool School of Art and Design digitally modeled the face of one of the skull. They sculpted his features by first calculating the average depth of facial soft tissue from datasets of modern European faces. The researchers then used high-resolution facial textures to craft individual features based on the morphology of the skull

Scientists with Face Lab at the Liverpool School of Art and Design digitally modeled the face of one of the skull. They sculpted his features by first calculating the average depth of facial soft tissue from datasets of modern European faces. The researchers then used high-resolution facial textures to craft individual features based on the morphology of the skull

At some later point, the coffin was opened and the body of another man was added. “The skull of the first man was moved to the foot of the coffin to make way for the second man’s head, which was then also surrounded by the extra skulls,” Spall told LiveScience.

“The skull of the first man was moved to the foot of the coffin to make way for the second man’s head, which was then also surrounded by the extra skulls

Researchers said that both of the men in the grave were likely between the ages of 46 and 59 years old when they died; burial rituals and the arrangement of these skeletons along with other bodies nearby suggest that the grave belonged to “a prominent family”.

Scientists with Face Lab at the Liverpool School of Art and Design digitally modeled the face of the grave’s second clan leader. They sculpted his features by first calculating the average depth of facial soft tissue from datasets of modern European faces, Ching Yiu Jessica Liu, a Face Lab project manager, told Live Science.

The researchers then used high-resolution facial textures to craft individual features “based on the morphology of the skull,” Liu said.

Further investigation of the six-skull burial will use techniques such as radiocarbon dating, DNA analysis and stable isotope analysis to uncover more clues about the burial, “including the date of both interments, the date(s) of the extra skulls, possible familial connections or shared ancestry, and physical appearance,” Spall said.

In the post-Reformation period Tarbat church went through a number of changes and developments. Burial in the nave of the church was prohibited but wealthy landowners built a separate aisle on the north side of the church to accommodate burial. Some memorials to the individuals buried are still visible in the church today

In the post-Reformation period Tarbat church went through a number of changes and developments. Burial in the nave of the church was prohibited but wealthy landowners built a separate aisle on the north side of the church to accommodate burial. Some memorials to the individuals buried are still visible in the church today

One of the memorials to the individuals buried in the Tarbat church that are still visible in the church today

One of the memorials to the individuals buried in the Tarbat church that are still visible in the church today

Archaeologists counted six skulls in the grave when it was uncovered in 1997 at St. Colman's Church in the fishing village of Portmahomack – and its contents have remained a mystery ever since

Archaeologists counted six skulls in the grave when it was uncovered in 1997 at St. Colman’s Church in the fishing village of Portmahomack – and its contents have remained a mystery ever since

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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