An archaeological dig at the unlikely site of Victoria Primary School near Newhaven, Scotland, appears to have provided the skeletal remains of a pirate or criminal, archaeologists say. The skeleton found there could be as much as 500 years old.
CNN reported January 4 that archaeologists, using carbon dating, believe the bones to be from the 16th or 17th century, making the skeleton at least 400 and as much as 500 years old. The scientists believe the remains belong to a be a male in his 50s. They also believe the man to be a pirate or some sort of criminal.
Experts reached the conclusion that the man was either in the piracy vocation or was type of criminal due to the location of the burial and the manner in which the skeleton was disposed. A shallow and unmarked grave, which is located near the sea (Newhaven, once a fishing village, is part of Edinburgh, Scotland) and was once a public place of execution, indicates that the bones belong to someone most likely executed there. The Victoria Primary School rests where a gibbet (a gallows) once stood. People of the times were put to death there for any manner of crimes, from piracy to witchcraft and various criminal acts in between.
The skeleton was discovered when Victoria Primary School decided to expand. As construction began on an extension to the school, it was speculated that portions of the old Newhaven shipyard and harbor installations would be uncovered. However, much to the surprise of many, skeletal remains were found. And, according to a statement posted by the Edinburgh City Council, because of some shards of pottery found near the skeleton that were some 4,000 years old, archaeologists at first believed the bones to be from the Bronze Age. That turned out to be a misplaced assumption…
“Thanks to carbon dating techniques, archaeologists now know that the skeleton was likely to have been a murder victim — and quite possibly a pirate,” Councillor Richard Lewis, of Edinburgh’s City Council, said in the statement. (Note: The councillor’s choice of the term “murder victim” allows for the fact that those put to death by modern United Kingdom standards is “murder” whether via criminal intent or government-sanctioned.)
Gibbets were places of public execution and those who met their ends there could be hanged, placed in stocks, guillotined, or even placed in a metal cage to slowly expire without sustenance. As to the latter, many pirates died this way, with the caging used to hold the dying (and eventually dead) remains on display as a cautionary warning to the public. According to Biography.com, infamous privateer and pirate, William Kidd (Captain Kidd) was executed in such a way after a public trial, his remains viewable to ships plying the River Thames. Such punishment spectacles were discontinued in England in 1834.
The Newhaven skeleton has become the focus of study and a learning experience for the school children. Forensic artist Hayley Fisher, in conjunction with AOC Archeology (a professional archaeological consultancy), to create a facial reconstruction of the skull. This allowed the students at the school to better understand what the man found under their school might have looked like.
School headteacher Laura Thompson noted that the students have found the discovery of the skeleton “fantastic.” She added, “The archeologists will hold a special lesson with some of the children about how they have used science to analyze the remains — will be a good learning opportunity for them.”