Free Press Journal

Durham skeletons are of 17th century Scottish soldiers


Durham skeletons

London: Skeletons discovered in a centuries-old mass grave in Durham, England, are the remains of Scottish soldiers taken prisoner after the 1650 A. D. Battle of Dunbar, new research has revealed. In November 2013, during construction of a new cafe, human remains were uncovered by Durham University archaeologists. The jumbled skeletons of at least 17 and up to 28 individuals were subsequently excavated from two burial pits (a 29th individual was not exhumed). Since then the researchers have been carrying out a wide range of tests to try and establish their identities.

“Taking into account the range of detailed scientific evidence we have now, alongside historical evidence from the time, the identification of the bodies as the Scottish soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar is the only plausible explanation,” said Andrew Millard, senior lecturer at Durham University said in a statement released by the university on Wednesday. In less than an hour the English Parliamentarian army, under the command of Oliver Cromwell, defeated the Scottish Covenanting army who supported the claims of Charles II to the Scottish throne.

The battle left anywhere between 300 and 5,000 dead. Modern calculations suggest that an estimated 6,000 Scottish soldiers were taken prisoner, about 1,000 of whom – the very sick and wounded – were freed. Of the remaining prisoners, around 3,000 soldiers were imprisoned in Durham Cathedral and Castle, at a time when the Cathedral was empty and abandoned. An estimated 1,700 prisoners from the battle died and were buried in Durham. Radiocarbon dating analysis has concluded that the date of death was between 1625 and 1660.

When these dates are combined with the nature of the graves, the results of earlier scientific and observational tests that established the adult skeletons were all male, the fact that the skeletons were predominantly aged between 13-25 years and as isotope analysis showed the skeletons were of likely Scottish origin, all this points to their identification as the prisoners from the Dunbar battle, the study noted.