The Seventeen Mysterious Lilliputian Coffins


A Miniature Coffin

Mysteries engage and intrigue; keeping people on their toes.


What's more compelling are the probable theories that seem absurd but at the same time perfectly logical.


Little coffins were unearthed from the volcanic hill of Edinburgh. This hill had an enigmatic history. As the name suggested, it was the fabled site of King Arthur's Camelot. Now it was home to another secret.


The Mystery

July 20th 1836,

  • Three Scottish boys were playing around, rabbiting along the edge of Arthur’s Seat, a rocky formation near Edinburgh's Old Town, Scotland.

  • They discovered a little cave; with a strange cache of concealed miniature coffins.

  • Seventeen in total; laid out in stacks. Two tiers of eight coffins each and one on the third tier.

  • Each coffin three to four inches in length.

  • Inside were miniature wooden human figures carved out of wood.

  • The figures, each dressed differently in style and fabric.

  • They were laid out in a mimic representation of the last homage to the dead; a funeral.


The most extraordinary fact was the datum: the coffins were deposited singly and at several intervals. The first tier coffins were decayed and wrappings mouldered away; while the third tier coffin was relatively new.


Theories

The theories that circulated and dominated were varied in options and had everything to do with the fact that superstitions were still not denounced.


Fact: Charles Hoy Fort, American Writer and researcher who specialised in anomalous phenomenon took a keen interest in those little coffins. He had addressed the London Times with a report, mentioning the discovery and probable motive. 

  • One theory suggests the practice of witchcraft. The local people believed it to be a satanic ritual carried out by witches.

  • Another theory links to sailors. It was believed to be a good luck omen. Sailors asked their wives to give them a mimic funeral to ward off death.

  • A third theory links back to the horrific past of Edinburgh. It was suggestive of surrogate burials as a bid to assuage the guilt of the grisly duo, Burke and Hare's gruesome murders.

  • In 2018, author and amateur historian Jeff Nisbet, a former resident of that town; indicated towards the Radical war of 1820. He believed the coffins were to commemorate the martyrs and to keep the flames of the rebellion alive.


William Hare and William Burke Murders

  • In the 19th century, Edinburgh was the centre of anatomical studies. This led to an increased demand for dead bodies.

  • The duo committed a series of 16 murders in 1828 and sold the bodies to Robert Knox.

  • Knox was a Scottish anatomist who used the bodies for dissecting in his Anatomy lectures.

  • Burke was sentenced to death and publicly executed and dissected. His skeleton was donated to the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh Medical School.

  • Hare became a government witness and was released in 1829. It is assumed that he lived out his last days on the streets as a blind beggar.

  • It was believed that someone had deposited those coffins as a symbol of respect and to forgo guilt for the duo's crimes.


Fact: The Burke and Hare murders eventually contributed to the enactment of the Anatomy Act of 1832. The Act was passed under the parliament of the United Kingdom; it gave free access to doctors, anatomy teachers and medical students to dissect donated bodies; an attempt to curb the illegal trade of corpses. 


The Radical War of 1820 aka The Scottish Insurrection
  • It was a series of strikes and unrest in Scotland; in an aim to reform the government.

  • Several workers, weavers, artisans were arrested, exiled or executed for revolting for better working conditions and pay.

  • The remaining fraction who agreed or supported the strike was put to work, constructing a road surrounding Arthur's Seat.

  • Nisbet believes that it was around this time that the coffins were buried.


Fact: Today only eight of those coffins survive; and are exhibited at the National Museum of Scotland. 


The evidence fails to provide any definite reason for the presence of those coffins. Time and again historians and scholars have revisited this puzzle and unable to find valid reasons, it remains as an unsolved mystery.



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