Revealing the face of the tudor Dublin

In August 2014 the discovery of skeletons at the entrance to Trinity College Dublin garnered national media coverage. The discovery was made by Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd., who were carrying out archaeological monitoring works for the Luas Cross City Utilities Works on behalf of GMC Ltd. for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII). A total of five burials were identified, with initial speculation that the remains may have been medieval or even Viking/Hiberno-Norse in origin. The painstaking post-excavation analysis of these remains has now been completed, allowing us to tell something of the story of these long dead-Dubliners- and also to reveal how one of them may have looked in life.

Post-excavation analysis undertaken on behalf of TII revealed that all the burials date to the Tudor period (1485-1603). Radiocarbon dates suggest that one of the burials was mid-15th century, while the remaining four individuals were buried sometime between the 15th and 17th centuries. The remains do not appear to have been placed in a formal cemetery, but were rather in the area of the Hoggen Green, one of Dublin’s three main medieval commonages at this time.

Specialists from Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd. worked with international experts to analyse the individuals. The results suggest that these people had lived their lives at the poorer end of Dublin society, with evidence for childhood malnutrition and heavy manual labour. All had short lives- four of the individuals died between the ages of 13 and 17, while the fifth was identified as an adult male aged between 25 and 35. Isotopic analysis of the teeth revealed details on the origins of three of the individuals; two were likely born and raised in Dublin, while a third was either from North-East Ireland or from Wales/South-West England.

One of the skulls, that of the adult male aged, was particularly well preserved. This man would have been about 5’6” in height. He was also one of those who we know had grown up in Dublin. Given the level of preservation, a 3D Digital Facial Reconstruction was commissioned, and was undertaken by Professor Caroline Wilkinson and her Face Lab team at Liverpool John Moore’s University. First taking a 3D scan of the skull, they built up the facial muscles, soft tissue and skin onto a digitised model, combining it with the data already gathered by Rubicon on the age, gender and origin of the individual to inform a final reconstruction. What is revealed is the extraordinary face of a medieval Dubliner, here seen for the first time in centuries.

The monitoring and post-excavation analysis of archaeological discoveries as part of the current Luas Cross City Main Infrastructure Works are continuing, being conducted by Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd. on behalf of SSJV for Transport Infrastructure Ireland. For further detail on this story or the archaeological works, please contact Rónán Swan, Head of Archaeology and Heritage, Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

Enjoy the sounds of the city with our Spotify playlist