An Amazing Discovery
Durham University Scottish Soldiers Project
In November of 2013, construction work at the Palace Green Library of Durham University unearthed human remains. Archaeologists subsequently excavated parts of two mass graves containing up to 29 skeletons. It was suspected that they were the remains of Scottish prisoners who died while imprisoned in Durham Cathedral and Castle after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. After a two-year research project analysing the bones, it was confirmed that they were indeed Scottish prisoners of war.
A second phase of research by the Scottish Soldiers Project team investigated the lives of these men in more detail, and extended to other prisoners who survived their captivity. These survivors included men sent to France as mercenaries, to the Fens of eastern England as labourers, and 150 sent to New England as indentured servants. The research has been published in the book Lost Lives, New Voices: Unlocking the Stories of the Scottish Soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650. The findings were also the basis for an exhibition at the Palace Green Library in 2018 entitled Bodies of Evidence: How science unearthed Durham’s Dark Secret. Based on materials from this exhibition, two travelling exhibitions are circulating in the UK and the USA.
The project team have also produced a free online course at FutureLearn: Archaeology and the Battle of Dunbar 1650: From the Scottish Battlefield to the New World.
Although the human remains were reburied in May 2018, the team are still working on aspects of the project and developing future research directions.
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