25th June 1836

Mysterious miniature coffins discovered on Arthur’s Seat

A group of boys, who had gone hiking up Arthur’s Seat in search of rabbits, discovered 17 miniature coffins, hidden behind a piece of slate. The coffins had been placed in a small, natural cave in the rock, but by whom – and why – nobody knows.

Each of the coffins was wooden, and slightly less than 10cm long. They contained small wooden figures, one per coffin, dressed in carefully cut and sewn clothes. The coffins were in three layers, with eight on each of the bottom and middle layers, and a single coffin – the 17th – on top.

Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh
Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh

Unfortunately, not all of the coffins survived. The boys apparently spent some time throwing the coffins at each other, as a result of which, several were destroyed. However, eight of the coffins still exist and are looked after by the National Museum of Scotland, which notes that “the fabric the little bodies are dressed in dates from the early 1830s, so they hadn’t lain buried for more than six years”.

Speculation as to the coffins’ origin

However, the London Times of 20 July 1836, reporting the discovery, described how “the coffins had been deposited singly, in the little cave, and at intervals of many years. In the first tier, the coffins were quite decayed, and the wrappings had moldered away. In the second tier, the effects of age had not advanced so far. And the top coffin was quite recent looking.”

There has been much speculation as to the meaning of the coffins and why they were produced. Some suggest that they could have been used in witchcraft, while others say they are talismen that were designed to protect travellers or sailors.

However, the National Museum of Scotland reports that they could in some way be related to the crimes of the infamous Edinburgh bodysnatchers, Burke and Hare. “Seventeen coffins, seventeen victims [including the executed Burke]; buried just a few years after Burke and Hare’s sensational story had hit the headlines. Could the coffins’ secret interment represent a substitute burial for the poor, friendless souls dispatched by the murderous pair?”



Other events that occured in June

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