Archaeologists put face to medieval man found at Art Gallery site

The face of a medieval man whose remains were found during Aberdeen Art Gallery’s redevelopment has been revealed to the world for the first time in at least 600 years thanks to amazing facial reconstruction technology.

The man, known only as Skeleton 125 (SK125) was among 60 entire skeletons and 4272 human bone fragments from at least 381 individuals discovered on the site of the Art Gallery shortly after the redevelopment work began in 2015. The discovery resulted in construction work being suspended to allow for archaeological investigations.

Following extensive post-excavation research, AOC Archaeology Group have reconstructed SK125 and concluded that he was a mature adult male over 46 years old. At between 159 and 166cm tall (5’2”-5’5”), he was shorter than the average male for the later medieval period. He suffered from extensive dental disease, including tooth loss, periodontal disease, cavities and a chronic abscess.

Dr Paula Milburn of AOC Archaeology Group explained: “SK 125 has provided us with a first fascinating glimpse of one of the people buried on the site of Aberdeen Art Gallery over 600 years ago. The on-going post-excavation work is examining the remains in detail and will provide us with amazing information on the kind of people buried here, including their ages, gender, health and lifestyles.”

Dr Milburn added that the man displayed the effects of age, with degenerative joint disease observed in the middle and lower back. Research also indicated that, while many individuals buried at the site display ‘local’ values – consistent with growing up on soils local to Aberdeen – he was not local to Aberdeen but perhaps spent his childhood in an area such as the north-west Highlands or Outer Hebrides.

“Fascinatingly, sulphur isotope data – which can reveal residence later in life – indicates that he may have spent the last years of his life in or around Aberdeen.”

Councillor Marie Boulton, Aberdeen City Council’s cultural spokeswoman, said: “The incredible find on the site and the amazing painstaking research of Dr Milburn and her team is another wonderful chapter in the history of Aberdeen Art Gallery which enters its latest phase with the much-anticipated re-opening on 2 November”.

The Art Gallery was built in 1885 on the site of the former Blackfriars Dominican Friary, believed to have been founded between AD1222–1249. The friary and its church, dedicated to St John the Baptist, were destroyed by reformers in AD1560.

Excavations outside the Gallery uncovered a red brick charnel house containing three Victorian coffins, holding a mass of disarticulated human remains. Inside the Gallery excavations revealed in situ burials including the 60 skeletons and the remainder of the human bones.

SK125 was recovered from the lowest level of the burials, with other skeletons dated to the period 1050 to 1410.

Of the 60 skeletons, 56 were adults (18+ years), one an adolescent (13 years) and three were children of six, eight and 11 years of age. Of the adult skeletons, 26 were male and six were female, and they ranged in age from 18 to 25 through to 46 years and older. The remains provided evidence of a strenuous, physically active lifestyle with high rates of dental disease.

In addition to the skeletal remains abundant artefacts including dress accessories, personal ornaments, and coffin wood and fittings were recovered. Animal bones and fragments of pottery and glass tell us about wider activities.

Aberdeen Art Gallery re-opens on Saturday 2 November with all seven thousand six hundred free tickets snapped up for the opening weekend. From Monday 4 November no tickets are required.