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Leper woman in Scotland has face reconstructed

The Advertiser 2020-01-12 10:08:00

The face of a Scottish woman struck down by leprosy 500 years ago has been reconstructed by forensics experts.

Unearthed in Edinburgh, her remains – upon which the lookalike is based – suggest the disease-stricken Scot was a high-flying businesswoman during the 16th Century, The Sun reported.

They were discovered during a series of digs beneath the city’s famous St Giles’ Cathedral in the 1980s.

Forensic artists also recreated the face of man buried 900 years ago at the cathedral. He’s believed to be one of the first residents in Edinburgh.

The man, thought to be aged between 35 and 45, had part of his lower jaw missing which forensic artists had to hide by adding a beard.


The images have been created under a joint project between the City of Edinburgh Council and the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee University.

“Being able to physically examine the remains has been fascinating and has provided a great insight into the lives of our common ancestors,” team member Karen Fleming said:

St Giles’ dates back to 1124 when it was built to serve the newly-declared royal burgh of Edinburgh during the reign of King David I.

The St Giles’ digs, which began in 1981 and continued over various phases for another 12 years, led to the first major archaeological study to be carried out in the area.

The work covered the site of several burial grounds, which were created as the cathedral gradually expanded over several hundred years.

A total of 111 bodies were discovered during the digs. It is thought the woman with leprosy was a “high status” businesswoman — because her remains were discovered in the most recent burial ground inside the cathedral, which dates back to the 16th century.

Council archaeologist John Lawson said: “We are revisiting a lot of old cases like this one as we are very keen to put human faces on a lot of the human remains we have in our collections.

“These were really important excavations when they were carried out as some of the remains date back to when Edinburgh became a royal burgh at the start of the 12th century, when St Giles’ was first constructed.”

Long stigmatised for being a “biblical” illness, leprosy sufferers were made to live in colonies and had to wear bells around their necks.

Symptoms include severe blistering that causes the flesh to appear as if it’s rotting.

The remains of the man were exhumed from some of the oldest burial sites at the cathedral.

This led scientists to conclude he was one of the city’s first inhabitants.

“We’ve got five very distinct graveyards, each covering about 100 years, with the earliest dating from the very foundation of Edinburgh as we know it today,” Lawson said.

“They were its first official inhabitants.”

Forensic artist Lucrezia Rodella, who worked on the 12th century’s man’s facial reconstruction, said: “It is of a man aged between 35 and 45, who was around 5.6ft tall.

“The interesting yet challenging part was dealing with a missing lower jaw.

“Even with the cranium intact and only a few teeth missing, without the lower part of the face an accurate reconstruction was a lot harder. In order to hide the jaw line, I decided to add a beard.”

Previous work overseen by the council has seen dozens of facial reconstructions carried out on the remains of bodies dating back to the 14th century which were dug up during construction work on the Edinburgh tram project.

Nearly 400 bodies covering a period of more than 350 years were found beneath a main road next to a historic churchyard in Leith during a six-month dig in 2009.

The official report stated: “For more than 450 years, St Giles’ served as the parish burial ground for the whole of the burgh, with burials inside for the wealthy and privileged, and outside for the greater part of the population.”

This story originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission.

Originally published as ‘Rotting’ face of woman reconstructed