Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

The ‘Six-Headed Chief’ of Portmahomack

The website of LifeScience Essentials has a very interesting report about DNA analysis of a group burial discovered in the historic church at Portmahomack in Easter Ross in northern Scotland. Known as the ‘Six-Headed Chief’ the  remains are of three men dated to the late thirteenth to early fifteenth century, with in the grave of the apparently most senior figure three other skulls of family members together with another dated to the eighth to tenth century. This last it is suggested may have been a relic that had become a family relic.

The skulls look a tempting project for a facial reconstruction expert to work on.

Portmahomack appears to have a fascinating history and a wide range of archaeological material and sites, as can be seen in the Wikipedia articles at Portmahomack and Portmahomack sculpture fragments

The ‘Six-Headed Chief’ looks to be another medieval proof of the maxim that ‘the family that prays together stays together’, even if veering in this case towards the macabre. Given the violent death of the apparent lead burial and the story of the later killings and burning at the church in the 1480s maybe it was a family that preyed or was preyed upon together.

To put the same point in historical and archaeological terms the burials indicate a strong sense of family and kinship in the region and the society of the fourteenth century, reinforced by a sense of ancestral piety and loyalty to a familial patron.

I look forward to seeing and learning more about these people from the past.

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