An unusual stone found in Dundee Howff cemetery (established in 1564) hints at the site’s medieval past. (Image: Dundee Howff Conservation Group)

In April, a survey was conducted on the 1,800 gravestones in Dundee Howff cemetery by the Dundee Howff Conservation Group, aided by archaeologist Dr Oliver O’Grady of OJT Heritage. The aim was to create a detailed map of the site and to research the origins of some of the headstones, as well as the generations of Dundonians buried beneath them.

During the project, an unusual moss-covered marker was discovered, which is believed to date from the 12th or 13th century AD, many centuries before the Howff cemetery was established in 1564 by a grant from Mary, Queen of Scots. Previously, the site had been the location of a Franciscan friary outside medieval Dundee.

Oliver returned to help the Group excavate around the find and a specialist conservator from Graciela Ainsworth Ltd was called in to remove the moss and help preserve the stone and its engravings. Parts of two inscriptions – one for the Ferguson family from the 18th/early 19th century and the other from 1603 – were revealed, complete transcriptions of which had already been made by 19th-century antiquarians. The later engraving was particularly intriguing: the inscription was for Christian Rutherford, the wife of David Lindsay, a former Dundee Grammar School master and later the Bishop of Edinburgh, who crowned Charles I as the King of Scotland in 1633.

But while the inscriptions demonstrated that this medieval ‘coped-stone’ had been reused several times throughout the centuries, they did not reveal its origin.

‘This stone may have come from the church of the Franciscan monastery, which housed the mausoleum of the Lindsay Earls of Crawford from the 14th century,’ said Oliver. ‘It could have originally been above a tomb within a family burial aisle in the friary church, or it could have come from one of the
other historic churches in Dundee.’

It is hoped that further work on the stone and on the burial ground will help to solve this mystery. More information can be found at: www.facebook.com/DundeeHowff.