Hi all this is my weeks offering for picture it and write from Ermilias Blog, here. The picture is not mine, it is just for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy!
I suppose there are a few jobs where if you tell people that you do it, they then start making all sorts of assumptions. I can imagine that this is due to a lack of education or the pervasive influence of TV but whenever I tell a woman in a bar that I’m an archaeologist they end up getting all of these notions, images of fedoras and Harrison Ford and buried treasure. Most of time my job is really very dull. In fact I have only found something really valuable once, only a few months ago actually.
It started when a group of lads near Gorey digging a septic tank uncovered a human skull. Naturally, they called the guards who went all CSI on the scene and called in the state pathologist from Dublin. It took her all of five minutes to figure out that the skull had been there for over a century. That meant that it wasn’t a police matter any more (it’s a little over the statute of limitations!) and it was a job for the archaeologist, that means me and my team.
Digging down from the skull we found the almost complete skeleton of a man covered in heavily degraded clothes, linen most likely. The soil he was buried in was a fine silt which match deposits from a local stream which had changed course several times over the centuries. The bands of silt indicates that the body was buried by the silt naturally. That was important, it shows that the body was just dumped there rather than deliberately buried. The carbon dating of the soil and the clothes put the body at between 1700 and 1800, while the style of the clothes put it somewhere between 1760 and 1795. The most shocking information comes from the bones. There were two holes in the skeleton, one in the skull the other in the shoulder-blade which match the lead shot used at the time (a heavily corroded lead musket ball was also found amongst the bones) as well as the notches on the ribs indicting that he had been stabbed as well. Most gruesome was the parts that were missing, and from the looks of it cut off, several of the mans fingers were missing.
From this we were able to picture a scene. A young man, fairly well to do, well dressed, travelling along a road is beset by bandits. There is an altercation and the man is shot, twice. He might have been still alive on the ground so one of the bandits stabs him in the heart to finish him off. Cut marks on a leather cord on what remains of the belt shows that the robbers removed a money bag from the body. They also cut off the fingers with rings on them to save on time. They must have been startled or nervous because they didn’t search the whole body, instead they threw it into a ditch just off the road leaving it there to rot and in time, be covered in soil.
We were pretty sure how this man died and how is body ended up were it was. But we still had no idea who he was. However a huge clue was left thanks to the rushed job the bandits did. Sifting through the remains of the clothes, we found, under a jacket, where it had been originally concealed, was a leather pouch that had survived better than the rest if the clothing. Inside we found a single, gold pocket watch. It had the most unusual design, a rib cage for a cover, something none of the rest of us had seen before. At its rear was a crest, a family standard, we just had to match the crest to a known family and we would have the identity of our victim. We didn’t have to travel far.
The Fitzroys had been ensconced in Wexford since Strongbow and had been based in their stately home only a dozen miles up from where the body was found. I was able to arrange a meeting with Lord Percival Fitzroy, the current head of the family, and brought photographs of what I had found. He seemed very excited when I showed him the picture of the watch, it was almost as if something he had lost had been found. In an essence it had.
Percival took me to one of the drawing rooms where the family had laid out an exhibition about the family for tourists to visit during the summer season. One of the panels was about a strange legend of the family. A George Fitzroy, youngest son of the Sixth Lord Fitzroy, had disappeared on midsummer night 1767. The story was that George had fallen in love with the daughter of a local tradesman and when his father had tried to stop the romance, George had decided to elope. He supposedly took a large sum of money and a new pocket watch that his father had bought for his nephew. The story went on that George never made it to the tradesman’s daughter. The legend was that he couldn’t go through with the elopement but was unable to return home and instead was banished to seek his fortune elsewhere.
Percival pointed to one part of the panel. There was a drawing of the watch, it was a match for the one we had found. “I had always thought the stories told by my family were mainly rubbish. But what you have found makes it all the more real. Even if things did not quite go the way that we had hoped it did”
Well that was pretty much the end of it. It seems that we solved the identity of the mystery bones as well as uncovered a new aspect of an old family legend.
Georges bones, DNA profiles later confirmed he was a Fitzroy, were re-interred in the family plot. As for the watch. That was returned to its rightful owners where it is going to become the centre piece of a new exhibition on the legend of George Fitzroy which is just to show that the truth can be just as interesting, and considerably more gruesome than any legend you’re likely to tell.