Decoding The Mystery Of The Miniature Coffins of Arthur’s Seat.

200 Years ago Miniature Coffins were discovered on Edinburgh Arthur’s Seat… But what was the actual reason for these Miniature Coffins? Were they used for Witchcraft? Sinister spell? Or reverberation of Edinburgh’s frightful hidden world history? We look at the speculations set forward to clarify the bizarre tale and theories of these Miniature Coffins.

The Story Of Baffling Mystery

London Times, July 20, 1836:

That, early in July, 1836, some boys were searching for rabbits’ burrows in the rocky formation, near Edinburgh, known as Arthur’s Seat. In the side of a cliff, they came upon some thin sheets of slate, which they pulled out.

Little cave.

Seventeen tiny coffins.

Three or four inches long.
In the coffins were miniature wooden figures. They were dressed differently in both style and material. There were two tiers of eight coffins each, and a third one begun, with one coffin.
The extraordinary datum, which has especially made mystery here:

That 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.
Above: Three of the miniature coffins on display in the National Museum of Scotland. Source image:

Things To Know About The Place

Arthur Seat

A unique volcanic hill overlooking Edinburgh’s Old Town, Arthur’s Seat is full of history and mystery. Considered the home of legendary Camelot King Arthur and the Celtic Botadini in 400, it has been the site of medieval magic, 18th century assassinations, and fictional encounters with demons for centuries.

About Miniature Coffins

Source image: Pinterest

Small coffins were located under the slate in three tiers. Each coffin is only 95mm long and contains a small wooden figurine professionally sculpted and covered with custom garments sewn and pasted around it.

Theory Of Witchcraft and Demonology

Satanic spell-manufactory!’ cried The Scotsman, the first paper to report the tale, in an article published on 16 July 1836:

The Scotsman

“Our own opinion would be – had we not some years ago abjured witchcraft and demonology – that there are still some of the weird sisters hovering about Mushat’s Cairn [sic] or the Windy Gowl, who retain their ancient power to work the spells of death by entombing the likenesses of those they wish to destroy.”

Reads Scotsman on 16 July 1836

Theory Of Superstitious Customs

An ancient custom which prevailed in Saxony, of burying in effigy departed friends who had died in a distant land.

Edinburgh Evening Post
This calf’s heart stuck with pins, on display in the National Museum of Scotland, shows evidence of sympathetic magic practices being carried out in Scotland. However, x-rays have found no evidence of pins or pinholes in the Arthur’s Seat figures. Source image: Google

We have also heard of another superstition which exists among some sailors in this country, that they enjoined their wives on parting to give them “Christian burial” in an effigy if they happened to be lost at sea.

Caledonian Mercury

Theory Of Honorific burial

Creator and novice historian Jeff Nisbet, who initially came from the city prior to emigrating to America when he was a kid, accepts he has hit upon the explanation behind their creation.

Citing a little known event dubbed the Radical war of 1820, Nisbet believes the coffins were created as a memorial to a political movement related to the war and those killed supporting it.

As indicated by the author, numerous ineffectively paid laborers and weavers from the zone were captured following a progression of fights and strikes pointed toward improving their working conditions and getting better compensation.

A significant number of those captured were banished to Australia, while a few of the ring leaders were executed.

Nisbett has now told the Herald that it is his theory that the reason for the existence of the artefacts was to keep the “flames of rebellion lit”, and to honour those Radicals who had lost their lives and deserved to see their cause revived by later generations.


The Theory Of Ghost In The Coffins

Fast-forward to 1976 and Walter Hävernick, the Director of the Museum of Hamburg History, had come up with a new theory. Referring to a German seafaring superstition of keeping mandrake roots or dolls in tiny coffins as talismen, he postulated that the coffins were a hoard of lucky charms, hidden in the hillside by a merchant, to be sold to sailors.

But while the use of charms persisted in Scotland well into the 19th century, no evidence of this particular seafaring tradition has been found.

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