Putting a face to our city’s oldest resident
Do you recogniseTorbrex man’s ancestors?
Human bones uncovered in Stirling in the late 19th century have been identified as being more than 4000 years old, making ‘Torbrex Tam’ the city’s oldest resident to date.
The remains of the man in his 20s were found within a chambered cairn, on land occupied by a market garden, in 1872. The cairn, the oldest structure in Stirling, is now surrounded by houses in Coney Park.
Radiocarbon dating results, released last week, have established that Tam’s bones date from the Bronze Age when Torbrex was a small settlement surrounded by water.
During the 1870s, workmen digging for gravel hit a stone-lined box or cist. Inside were the remains of a man who would have been in his 20s when he died.
Nicknamed ‘Torbrex Tam’ they were given to the Smith Museum for safekeeping. As well as Tam’s bones being dated, his facial reconstruction has also been carried out.
Stirling archaeologist Murray Cook explained: “Torbrex Tam died around 2152 to 2021 BC. He is more than 4000 years old.
“He’s the oldest individual from Stirling and his facial reconstruction is Stirling’s first recorded face. For anyone from Stirling, Tam is their oldest ancestor. I’m sure I’ve seen his face in people around the town.”
Dr Cook has been working with Michael McGinnes of Stirling’s Smith Art Gallery and Museum – and Dundee University forensic art and facial identification graduate Emily McCulloch from Stirling, who carried out the work on facial reconstruction – over the last six months.
A second excavation of the chambered cairn was carried out by Stirling Archaeological Society in 1972 which found another cist and the bones of a second person, likely to be a woman in her 20s. The second cist contained a pot and the remains of a child aged around four.
Dr Cook said: “At the time, average life expectancy was probably mid to late 20s; life was short, nasty and brutish. Infant mortality was high.
“What we have here is probably an extended family. There are a number of other burials in the immediate environs.
“I think the cairn is a family vault that’s been in use for a period of between 200 and 500 years. Different generations would have been buried in the cairn.
“However, it’s difficult to know if Tam and the bones thought to be female are man and wife. They could have been, but they could be brother and sister. The child is unlikely to be theirs, but it might be a grandchild or great grandchild.”
An exhibition featuring items associated with ‘Torbrex Tam’ is expected to take place at the Smith Museum next year.
■ Do you think you might look like Torbrex Tam? Or perhaps you know someone who looks like him? Send your photos to news@ stirlingobserver.co.uk.