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Schoolboy digs out the historic tale of Govan graveyard stones

A Catholic schoolboy has helped uncover long-lost gravestones from the Middle Ages during a community archaeology dig in Glasgow.

Mark McGettigan volunteered to help the Stones and Bones dig at Govan Old Parish Church and found what turned out to be the first of three lost medieval sculptured stones.

The 14-year-old, who signed up to take part with his mother Sandra, was helping with the survey of the area and felt something solid below the surface.

His discovery turned out to be part of the Govan Stones collection, dating back to the 10th or 11th century, featuring crosses and Celtic interlace designs.

The S3 pupil from Lourdes RC Secondary School, Glasgow, said: “I was just prodding the ground to see if there was anything there and suddenly it made a noise and I realised I had hit something.

“Myself and two of the archaeologists worked out the area of the object and started to dig it out and clean it.

“I wasn’t too sure at the start what it was. But then we checked with the records and we realised it was one of the lost Govan Stones.

“I am extremely happy, in fact I’m ecstatic at what I helped to uncover.”

During the 19th century 46 stones were found in the graveyard with 31 of them taken into the church for safe keeping.

The remaining stones were displayed against the wall of the churchyard by the Harland and Wolff shipyard which was demolished in 1973 – leading experts to believe the stones were also destroyed.

It is believed many of the stones survived, including the ones found in the community dig.

Professor Stephen Driscoll is the University of Glasgow’s Professor of Historical Archaeology and part of The Govan Heritage Trust, which owns Govan Old Parish Church and the Govan Stones.

He called it “the most exciting discovery we have had at Govan in the last 20 years”, adding: “The Govan Stones are a collection of international importance and these recovered stones reinforce the case for regarding Govan as a major early medieval centre of power.

“The discovery is very timely because the Govan Heritage Trust is embarking on a major refurbishment of Govan Old, which will culminate in a redisplay of the collection.

“In the coming months we look forward to continuing this community archaeological work to locate the other lost stones to assess their condition from a conservation perspective and to consider how best to secure their long-term future.”

Ingrid Shearer, of Northlight Heritage, also said: “We’re delighted that our volunteers have had the opportunity to make such a significant discovery.

“They’ve toughed it out through rain and snow over the past few weeks and their hard work and commitment has really paid off.

“Govan Old is the oldest churchyard in Scotland and we hope that this find will give a boost to plans for the future.”

Picture: 14-year-old Mark McGettigan who has helped uncover long-lost gravestones from the Middle Ages during a community archaeology dig at Govan Old Parish Church in Glasgow. (Martin Shields/University of Glasgow/PA).