16th-Century 'Pirate Bones' Found Under School Playground In Scotland

The body may have been hung and displayed in the village before being buried in a shallow, unmarked grave.

Kids often dream of stumbling upon a pirate treasure, but a group of children in Scotland have for years been playing right on top of an actual pirate. 

The remains of a man who is believed to have been a pirate centuries ago were excavated from the playground of a school in Edinburgh. The bones were found at the Victoria Primary School when plans were being made to extend the school, which was built in 1844 and sits near the harbor of Newhaven, a fishing village.

Workers discovered shards of pottery estimated to be 4,000 years old as well as a set of bones in such poor condition that they initially believed them to be about the same age. 

Tests by AOC Archaeology revealed the bones were from the 16th or 17th century, and at the time there was a gibbet at the dockyards for executing pirates and witches, according to a news release from the City of Edinburgh Council. 

The bodies and bones of dead pirates were often put on display.

"That form of public execution, on a shoreline, just outside a port, was very common, almost as a lesson to the local population of what could happen to them if they are caught," John Lawson, archaeologist at Edinburgh City Council, told the Scotsman. "There are accounts of some bodies being left hanging up in gibbets for as long as 20 years.” 

The fact that this man was buried unceremoniously in a shallow grave at what was the shore of a fishing village suggest he may have been a pirate and an example was made of him.

It's also possible the man may have been a murder victim, but the council said the poor condition of the bones makes it more likely he was executed and displayed. 

The man is believed to have been in his 50s when he died. Forensic artist Hayley Fisher created an image showing what he may have looked like in life, centuries ago: 

"This new discovery is a really good learning opportunity for the children. It’s very interesting that things have had to be re-examined based on the new evidence," Victoria Primary School headteacher Laura Thompson told The Scotsman. 

"We are the oldest still-working primary school in Edinburgh and the children are all very proud of the history and heritage in Newhaven," she said. "They have a sense of the history all around them. This is another chapter in that.”


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