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1 May 2006
Scotland's oldest murder mystery

A body found in Orkney (Scotland) was likely to have been a murder victim dating back as far as 2,000 years, it has emerged. The skeleton of the man, who was aged between 25 and 35, was found during an Iron Age site excavation at Mine Howe, Tankerness. Tests have now revealed that the body met with a violent death and had been dumped in a crude grave barely big enough to contain him. The toes of his right foot had been bent back and protruded over the side of the pit. Other toes were hacked off and found under his back. Experts believe it dates from between 100 BCE and 100 CE and now hope to establish more about where the man came from and what may have happened. A complete skeleton was revealed and experts sent the remains for analysis.
     The cause of death came as a surprise as the man had numerous violent wounds on his bones and internal organs would also have been damaged. Nick Card, of the Orkney Archaeological Trust (Oat), has been co-directing the excavations and said the findings were a surprise. "When the body was uncovered there was a lot of interest but we said it would not be a murder victim," he said.
     The man's left shoulder blade had a diamond shape puncture wound which appeared to have been caused by a high velocity blow perhaps caused by a spear or arrow. Cut marks were clustered on the left side of the body on his ribs, shoulder, hand and arm. The nature of these cuts suggested they had been delivered by a sharp, metal weapon, probably a short sword or long dagger, wielded with some force. Put together, it suggested that the possible spear injury was the first wound, inflicted from some distance behind, perhaps to slow him down. The attacker, standing beside or slightly behind him, then slashed at the victim while he raised his left arm in a final attempt to fend off the blows. The victim was then dumped in the shallow grave.
     It is not know whether the man was murdered at Mine Howe, or killed elsewhere and brought to the site - perhaps as a sacrifice or offering. Mr Card said: "All the indications are that rather than a formal burial this was a totally different kettle of fish. It's been there roughly 2,000 years. There will be more samples taken and hopefully we will be able to say if it was a local person or from further afield."

Sources: BBC News (26 April 2006), The Scotsman (27 April 2006)

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