Highlands & Islands

Royalty theory to 'brutally-killed' Rosemarkie Man

Skeleton Image copyright Rosemarkie Caves Project
Image caption The Pictish man's skeleton was discovered during a cave excavation in the Black Isle

A Pictish man who was "brutally killed" 1,400 years ago could have been royalty, say researchers.

Archaeologists found the man's skeleton buried in a recess of a cave at Rosemarkie in the Black Isle.

In 2017, scientists made a facial reconstruction of the man during a forensic examination of his remains, which found he had severe injuries.

New analysis has shown he had a high-protein diet suggesting he ate foods enjoyed by people of high status.

The Pict was discovered in a cross-legged position with stones weighing down his limbs while his head had been battered multiple times.

Image copyright Dundee University
Image caption A facial reconstruction of Rosemarkie Man was made in 2017

Analysis carried out on behalf of the Rosemarkie Caves Project now suggests he was a prominent member of the community, such as royalty or a chieftain.

The findings show he had a high-protein diet, which researchers have few other examples of during that period.

Simon Gunn, founder of the project, said: "He was a big, strong fella - built like a rugby player - very heavily built above the waist.

"It's rather peculiar that he had a very high-protein diet throughout his life, to the extent that it's as if he had been eating nothing but suckling pigs.

"He was a bit special, that could be royalty or a chieftain.

"Obviously he had a rather brutal death, but he was buried quite carefully in that cave."

Mr Gunn added he was only aware of two examples of people in Scotland around that time having a similar diet.

Image copyright Rosemarkie Caves Project
Image caption The Rosemarkie Caves Project has been excavating caves along the coast of the Black Isle

A bone sample sent for radiocarbon dating indicates that he died sometime between 430 and 630.

The man, known to archaeologists as Rosemarkie Man, stood at 5ft 6ins and was aged about 30 at the time of his death.

His skeleton had no injuries other than those inflicted during his death. This suggests he was not a warrior or engaged in arduous labour.

Mr Gunn also said the cave burial could have been a way to place his body at an "entrance to the underworld" as part of a ritual.

Forensic anthropologist Dame Sue Black previously led a University of Dundee team in an examination of his injuries. The team concluded he suffered a brutal death.

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