Where did they come? What were they for?
In the summer of 1836, a group of boys hunting rabbit burrows around a rocky outcropping called Arthur's Seat near Edinburgh came across an interesting treasure trove. Beneath some thin sheets of slate, the boys uncovered a mysterious collection of seventeen tiny coffins, inside which were tiny wooden figures.
The coffins were about three or four inches long, and the wooden figures inside were dressed in a range of different tiny outfits. The coffins were in three rows: two rows of eight, and a single coffin on the top row.
The coffins on the bottom row were considerably more aged than the middle or the top row. The clothes on the bottom row had almost completely rotted off. Those on the middle row showed definite signs of decay. However, the lone coffin on the top row looked practically fresh.
No one has ever solved the mystery of the tiny coffins found at Arthur's Seat. Very few of them survive. At the time, the boys treated them like random junk, throwing them at each other and generally discarding most of them. A few ended up in the collection of an Edinburgh jeweler, who put them in his private collection.
The eight surviving tiny coffins exchanged hands a few times and finally ended up in the National Museum of Scotland, where they can be seen today.
According to recent analysis, two different people likely carved the coffins. The coffins have been dated (thanks to paper samples from the lining) to after 1730. In fact, they were most likely interred about five years before the boys found them.
The figures themselves seem to have been part of a set of carved wooden toy soldiers. There are indications that they wore hats, and that they had to be weighted to stand upright - perhaps with a tiny tin musket. Many of the soldiers have had one arm knocked off, in order to get it to fit into the coffin.
This answers the "what," but we still have no clue as to the "why." Dubbed the "Fairy Coffins of Edinburg," many theories have been proposed, including that they were a memorial to sailors lost at sea, or that they represented a mock burial for the victims of notorious local serial killers Burke and Hare whose victims (having been sold to medical schools for dissection) never received a decent burial.