600 year old pirate
The skeleton of a man believed to have been in his fifties was discovered near a gibbet used to execute criminalsCity of Edinburgh Council

Archaeologists believe a 600-year-old skeleton discovered underneath the playground of an Edinburgh primary school could have been that of a pirate. The grisly remains were discovered by City of Edinburgh Council developers at the Scottish capital's Victoria primary School in 2015.

The school is the city's oldest primary and is close to the harbour in Newhaven around two miles from the city centre. Builders were expecting to find remnants from the area's shipbuilding past as they undertook survey work to build an extension, but instead they uncovered human bones.

When archaeologists first found the human remains they were led to believe they were from the Bronze Age because of their poor condition and their positioning alongside 4,000 year old shards of pottery. However after carbon dating, the bones they found appeared to be that of a man in his fifties, and from the 16th or 17th centuries.

Local historians know that a gibbet – a wooden gallows commonly used to execute witches and pirates - stood on the edge of the Newhaven dockyards 600 years ago. Archaeologists believe the man could have been executed for piracy or another criminal act and discarded in nearby wasteland.

Pirate under Edinburgh school
The skeleton was discovered under the city's oldest primary schoolCity of Edinburgh Council

Councillor Richard Lewis, Culture Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "Edinburgh has an undeniably intriguing past and some of our archaeological discoveries have been in the strangest of places. Thanks to carbon-dating techniques, archaeologists now know that the skeleton was likely to have been a murder victim - and quite possibly a pirate."

The man's burial close to the sea and gibbet rather than any of three nearby graveyards suggests that the man was likely killed before being displayed in plain sight of ships to deter fellow pirates. An unceremonious burial in a shallow, unmarked grave suggests he had no relatives or friends in the area.

Laura Thompson, Head Teacher at Victoria Primary School, added: "As the oldest working primary school in Edinburgh, we are proud of our history and heritage. The pupils think it's fantastic that a skeleton was found deep underneath their playground."