Teen Boy Discovers Long-Lost Medieval Gravestones in Scottish Churchyard

A Govan Stone emerges from the dirt.
Credit: Tom Horne

A trio of lost Medieval gravestones have been rediscovered in an Scottish churchyard.

The stones, carved with elaborate, interlacing patterns, were found by a 14-year-old boy during an archaeological survey of the Old Parish Church in Govan, a town established in the Middle Ages that is now part of the city of Glasgow.

“I was just prodding the ground to see if there was anything there, and suddenly it made a noise and I realized I had hit something,” the discoverer, Mark McGettigan, said in a statement. [See Photos of the ‘Lost’ Medieval Gravestones]

McGettigan had hit a trace of the Govan of 1,000 years ago. Today’s Govan Old Parish Church stands on the site of an older site of worship, the Church of St. Constantine. Archaeologists have found Christian artifacts at the site that date back to at least the year 500, but Govan is most famous for its carved stones that date to between the years 800 and 1000. According to the Govan Old Parish Church, the most impressive of the stones was carved during the early part of this period. It’s a sarcophagus made from a single hunk of stone, carved with images of a warrior astride a horse.

In the centuries after the sarcophagus was made, local artisans continued a tradition of intricate carving, making stone crosses and long, sloped slabs called “hogbacks” that were used as grave markers. These artisans also carved flat stone slabs called cross-slabs, which were laid over the surfaces of graves. At the time the carvings were made, Gavon was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, which lasted from around the seventh century until it was conquered by the Scots in the 11th century.

Thirty-one Govan Stones had already been found and preserved within the parish church museum, but another 15 were thought to be forever lost. In the 1970s, the walls of the shipyard next to the church were demolished, and the Govan Stones that hadn’t already been brought indoors were thought to have been crushed and carted away with the rubble.

The discovery of three Govan Stones buried in the churchyard reveals that at least some of these lost stones survived. McGettigan was volunteering on his first-ever archaeological dig when he discovered the first of the stones. The dig was run by the charity Northlight Heritage, with funding from the Glasgow City Region City Deal and the Govan Cross Townscape Heritage Initiative. [In Photos: Stone Monument Discovered in Scotland

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