Remains of 17th Century Scottish soldiers to be reburied in Durham City

The remains of 17th Century soldiers captured at the Battle of Dunbar in Scotland and discovered in a mass grave will be reburied in Durham once research on the bones is completed.

Durham University has announced it is intended that the soldiers will be laid to rest at the Elvet Hill Road Cemetery in Durham City, close to where the remains were originally found.

Dated: 22/06/2016 Dr Bethan Upex and Dr Kamal Badreshany from Durham University's Department of Archaeology examine 3D photography of the remains of Scottish soldiers.  #NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia

Dated: 22/06/2016 Dr Bethan Upex and Dr Kamal Badreshany from Durham University's Department of Archaeology examine 3D photography of the remains of Scottish soldiers. #NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia

They will also be permanently commemorated with a plaque near to the site where they were discovered, which will be made from stone cut in Dunbar.

Durham University will apply to the Ministry of Justice for an extension to the timescales of the exhumation licence, to allow for further research to be completed before reburial.

Research will most likely be completed some time in late 2017, after which reburial will take place.

A small sample of teeth will be retained by Durham University to allow for further research as new techniques and opportunities become available.

“We were acutely aware of the strength and depth of interest amongst many about the fate of these soldiers, whilst at the same time recognising our ethical, moral and legal obligations.”

Prof David Cowling

The remains of the soldiers were found in a mass grave during construction work on Durham University’s Palace Green Library café in November 2013.

None of the skeletons exhumed is complete as, in keeping with archaeological best practice, only those remains directly affected by the construction work were exhumed.

Analysis led by Durham University showed that these were the remains of Scottish soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar, answering an almost 400-year-old mystery as to where those soldiers who died had been buried.

As an estimated 1,700 prisoners from the battle died and were buried in Durham, it is very possible that there are more mass graves under buildings on Palace Green which were constructed up to 260 years ago.

Dated: 22/06/2016 Photographing the remains of the Scottish soldiers to compile 3D images at Durham University's Department of Archaeology #NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia

Dated: 22/06/2016 Photographing the remains of the Scottish soldiers to compile 3D images at Durham University's Department of Archaeology #NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia

Professor David Cowling, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Arts and Humanities at Durham University, said: “We were acutely aware of the strength and depth of interest amongst many about the fate of these soldiers, whilst at the same time recognising our ethical, moral and legal obligations.

“All options were explored fully by the University and in the end it was felt that the case for reburying the remains in Durham and also commemorating them here with a plaque was strongest.”

A key part of the decision-making process has been extensive consultation. The team worked with professional bodies and other academics to consider existing best practice and comparative case studies, including the decisions around the reburial of the remains of England’s King Richard III.

Meetings and public events in Dunbar and Durham also enabled the University’s project team to present its findings to over 250 members of the public and hear from interested groups and individuals.

Dated: 22/06/2016 Technicians testing bone samples at Durham University's Department of Archaeology  #NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia

Dated: 22/06/2016 Technicians testing bone samples at Durham University's Department of Archaeology #NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia

A plaque in Durham Cathedral dedicated to the soldiers, which was installed in November 2011, will also be updated so wording can reflect the fact that the final resting place of the soldiers is now known.

Durham University and Durham Cathedral intend to hold a commemorative event later this year to remember the soldiers and unveil both the new and the updated plaques.

The University hopes that individuals and groups who have shown such an interest in the project to date will work with it in the planning and delivery of these events.

The announcement follows confirmation in September 2015 that the remains, uncovered during construction of a new café for the University’s Palace Green Library in November 2013, were those of Scottish soldiers taken prisoner after the 1650 Battle of Dunbar.

Following the Battle of Dunbar, one of the most brutal and short battles of the 17th Century civil wars, thousands of soldiers were marched over 100 miles from the South East of Scotland to Durham in North East England.

Around 3,000 soldiers were imprisoned in Durham Cathedral and Castle, at a time when the Cathedral was empty and abandoned.