By Kirsty Topping
THEIR faces have not been seen for seven centuries.
But modern forensic techniques developed to identify victims of murder have brought a 14th Century Knight and his Lady back to life.
The skeletons of the Knight, thought to be Englishman Sir John de Stricheley, and the unnamed woman believed to be his Lady were discovered in Stirling Castle.
The remarkable feat of rebuilding their faces from nothing more than bone forms the centrepiece of a new exhibition at the castle which opens next month.
The couple are believed to have died a violent death during one of the many sieges and skirmishes at the castle during the period.
Their skeletons were discovered 14 years ago in the oldest known part of the Royal Chapel, a burial place described as
“unusual’ because only people of the very highest status would normally be laid to rest there.
Two teams of experts worked to recreate the faces of the couple.
Professor Sue Black, the eminent forensic pathologist based at Dundee University, used sophisticated computer techniques to recreate Sir John’s features.
Professor Black has achieved international recognition for her work in helping identifying victims of massacres and disasters around the world, including Kosovo and the 2004 tsunami.
Meanwhile, a team from Bradford University used a physical modelling approach, building up layers of clay based on reference points on the skull, to recreate the woman’s face.
Caroline Erolin of the Dundee University team said:
“We took a CT scan of the skull and used that to form the basis of our model.
“We use specialized software and a computer arm which gives the sensation of working with clay.
“We are doing exactly the same as the Bradford team, just with virtual clay instead of real clay. “
A Cardiff company then produced a physical model of the face which was painted by hand and glass eyes added to give a life like appearance.
The discovery of the skeletons happened in 1997 during the preparatory work for a 12m refurbishment of the castle’s Renaissance royal palace.
They were amongst 10 bodies, including two infants, excavated from the site of the lost royal chapel. At least five of them had suffered violent deaths.
Radio carbon dates indicate that the people probably died in a series of incidents between the 13th Century and around 1450.
Some, or all, may have been killed in sieges, skirmishes or battles round Stirling during the Wars of Independence.
Historian and archeologist Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland’s Head of Cultural Heritage said:
“The public will be able to come face to face with people who lived over 700 years ago and understand how they died.
“There were 10 sieges at the castle around the time the skeletons were buried, not to mention the Battle of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn. “
Richard Strachan, Historic Scotland’s senior archaeologist, said:
“The skeletons were a remarkable find and provided an incredibly rare opportunity to learn more about life and death in medieval Scotland.
“The new research has brought some quite incredible results.
“It was unusual for people to be buried under the floor of a royal chapel and we suspected that they must have been pretty important people who died during periods of emergency – perhaps during the many sieges which took place.
“The fact that five of the skeletons suffered broken bones, consistent with beatings or battle trauma, suggests this could be what happened. “
Experts believe Knight was a battle veteran, as he had a deep, but healed, scar on his forehead. They believe he could have been the victim of a Scottish archer.
A corroded iron arrow head was found close to his spine. Unfortunately the bones of his spine were not well preserved and no evidence of any injury could be seen.
He may have died as a result of a soft tissue injury or haemorrhaging after being shot by the arrow – but it is also possible that the arrowhead was a chance inclusion in the grave.
The lady, believed to be high-born, could have been killed by a war hammer. Her skull had 10 fractures on the right side, resulting from two heavy blows.
Experts suggest the attacker was above the woman – perhaps on horseback while she was on foot, or the blows to the side of her head could have brought her to the ground.
Dr Jo Buckberry, biological anthropology lecturer and experimental officer at the University of Bradford’s Biological Anthropology Research Centre, said:
“What we discovered from this research is enormously exciting and has far-reaching implications for our understanding of medieval warfare. “
Visitors will be able to see the reconstructions at the grand opening of the palace on June 4 and 5.