8.2.2 Demography, mobility and migration

The monastery and chapel site of Auldhame, East Lothian had a total of 242 human burials ranging in date from 650–1700. The early medieval phases included 29 burials (Crone and Hindmarch 2016). While the cemetery represents a full range of ages, sub-adults only represent a small proportion of the burials from throughout the cemetery’s use (33%). Very few cemeteries within the SESARF region have undergone intensive isotopic studies, although this is changing. The isotopic analyses at Auldhame provided very little evidence for migration, with strontium and oxygen isotopes demonstrating that the group was largely comprised of people from the local area (i.e. from within 15km of the site: Lamb et al 2012). Only one outlier was found within this chapter’s time period, that of a female aged 26–35 (AULD-SK 158) who was buried sometime between 1000 and 1200 and spent her early years in either Perthshire or Aberdeenshire.

Photograph of two people crouching in the dirt at an excavation site. They are surrounded by various equipment.
Archaeological excavation at Auldhame © HES

At the site of Thornybank (MEL8391) in Midlothian a 1st millennium AD cemetery of 111 graves was found. It consisted primarily of stone-lined long-cists, but also included log coffin graves, dug graves, a four-posted burial, and square-ditch/enclosed graves (Rees 2003). Only 25 individuals were well-preserved enough for their age and sex to be ascertained (Sinfield in Rees 2003, 339). Five young adults (18–25 years) were identified, one male and four female. Middle adults (25–40 years) comprised the largest proportion, of which there were nine, four male and five female. Only three older adults (40+ years) were identified, one male and two female. Amongst the juvenile remains one foetal/neonate was found, five juveniles (5–13 years), and one sub-adult (13–18 years). It is worth noting that no infant (6m–5 years) remains were identified from the site, which could be due to poor preservation or alternative burial practices for very young children. Isotopic evidence from this site has yet to be published, so the levels of mobility within the population are indeterminable at present.

Aerial photograph of burial sites under investigation.
Thornybank (Newton) long cist cemetery under excavation © HES

The mass burial from Cramond contained the remains of nine adults: four males and five females. Two of those buried at the site were determined to be non-local based on isotopic analysis (Czére et al 2022).

The long cist cemetery at Four Winds, Longniddry (MEL526) which was excavated in 1989 contained 25 identified burials, 18 of which have been investigated. The majority of the skeletal remains examined were either unsexed or indeterminate, however four males were identified (one 25–35, one 35–45, and two that were identified as 18+ years) and one female of 46+ years (Boyle 2021, Table A5.1). A single grave was also found at Longniddry Golf Course, which contained the remains of a female between 18–25 years. A further two burials were together in Longniddry, one of a possible adult male (18+ years) and the other of a female between 35–45 years.

Aerial photograph of a burial site. There is a skeleton visible in one of the graves.
Four Winds excavation (burials 2, 15, 18 and 26) © HES

Several burials have been found at sites in Dunbar, the largest collection of which was the cemetery found at Castle Park (MEL6995, MEL6999), where 76 skeletons were analysed from the Captain’s Cabin excavation in 1998, and others excavated in 1993, 2006 and 2009. This cemetery appears to have continued in use into the later medieval period (Moloney 2001, 285). The skeletal remains recovered in Dunbar are currently undergoing isotopic analysis.

Aerial photograph of an excavation site. on the left is a car park, and on the right is a cliff overlooking water.
Castle Park, Dunbar, aerial view of excavations © HES

While evidence for mobility in the populations within the SESARF region is lacking at the moment, studies being carried out at present could change this view. If we look to just outside the study region at Bamburgh Bowl Hole, there is clear evidence of people coming from west Scotland, the Mediterranean, and Scandinavia in the early medieval period (Groves et al 2013). Likewise, the Isle of May has one outlier from the Central Highlands of Scotland among those remains which have been tested (Willows 2016, 351).