Face of Man Brutally Murdered 1,400 Years Ago Reconstructed

The man was likely part of the Picts, a mysterious people who lived in eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods.

This is the face of a handsome man who was "brutally killed" 1,400 years ago, according to researchers at the University of Dundee, Scotland.

The remains were discovered in the Scottish Highlands, in a recess of a cave on the coast of the Black Isle peninsula.

Archaeologists and volunteers were digging at the site to determine when the cave might have been occupied. They were astonished to find a well-preserved skeleton in a cross-legged position, with large stones holding down his legs and arms.

Forensic investigation not only revealed the features of the young man, but also reconstructed the gruesome details of his violent death.

The man suffered at least five blows which caused fractures to his head and face, breaking his teeth and jaw. In the strike intended to end his life, a weapon was driven through the skull from one side and out the other.

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Radiocarbon dating of a bone sample indicates the young man died sometime between 430 and 630 A.D., commonly referred to as the Pictish period in Scotland. In fact, hearths and extensive iron-working debris in the cave revealed the site had been used for iron-smithing during that period.

The Picts were a mysterious people who lived in eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. They left no written record of their history. All that is known about them comes from images they carved on stones and from Roman and Scottish writers who came later.

According to these records, the Picts frightened their enemies and fought off Rome's invading legions by decorating their bodies with tattoos and woad - a blue plant dye. The practice was depicted in Mel Gibson's 1995 film "Braveheart."

Not much is known about the skeleton.

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"As you can see from the facial reconstruction, he was a striking young man," professor Dame Sue Black, director at the Center for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee, said.

Black and her team first scanned the skull with a 3D laser scanner and reconstructed it in the computer. Then they added tissue depth pegs and the anatomical muscular structure.

"Artificial skin was then overlaid in the computer and then the resulting surface textured," Black told Seeker.

By analyzing the skull, Black and colleagues were able to detail the various stages that led the Pict man to his brutal end.

"The first impact was by a circular cross-section implement that broke his teeth on the right side," Black said.

The blow was followed by another one in which the same weapon, used like a fighting stick, broke the jaw on the left. The third blow caused a fracture to the back of the head. The man likely fell from the blow to his jaw onto a hard object, perhaps stone.

"The fourth impact was intended to end his life as probably the same weapon was driven through his skull from one side and out the other as he lay on the ground," Black explained.

The fifth injury is believed to have come from a larger weapon, since "a hole, larger than that caused by the previous weapon, was made in the top of the skull," the researchers said.

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Black explained to Seeker that the man was likely unconscious during the fatal fourth trauma, which went through his temporal regions.

"I suspect that he was largely rendered unconscious from his second trauma which was the blow to his jaw. That would have knocked him down and he then hit his head," Back said.

Death came quickly for the unlucky man.

"From first impact to unconsciousness, it could have been just a very few seconds," Black said.

Why the man was killed remains a mystery.

"We have a man who has been brutally killed, but who has been laid to rest in the cave with some consideration - placed on his back, within a dark alcove, and weighed down by beach stones," excavation leader Steven Birch said.

According to Birch, the murder could have been the result of interpersonal conflict. A "sacrificial element relating to his death" is also possible, Birch said.

Ongoing analysis on the skeleton is expected to provide more details of the man's life and place of origin.