THE REMAINS of Scottish soldiers discovered in a centuries-old mass grave in Durham will be reburied in the city once research on their bones has been completed, it has been revealed today.
The 17th century soldiers captured at the Battle of Dunbar, Scotland, were found on the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site in November 2013.
Durham University announced this morning the soldiers will be laid to rest at the Elvet Hill Road Cemetery in Durham – close to where their remains were originally found.
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.
The decision follows extensive consultation with a range of interested parties about what should happen next to the remains in terms of further research, reburial and commemoration.
It is intended that these individuals and organisations continue to be involved in this next phase of the project.
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.
In making the decision on where the remains should be reburied, Durham University had to consider its ethical, moral and legal responsibilities.
The final decisions have been approved by both the University’s Executive Committee and the University Ethics Advisory Committee.
Options considered by the university included whether to rebury the remains in Durham or at an alternative site in Scotland, as suggested by some parties during the consultation.
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.
The University’s project team concluded that, given the incomplete nature of the skeletons, limiting the distance between those remains that have been exhumed and those still in the original mass graves was the most ethically responsible course of action.
It was also agreed that keeping these individuals as close as possible to their comrades would be morally appropriate.
Reburial of the remains in Durham conforms to standard legal conditions governing the exhumation of human remains, as set out by the Ministry of Justice, which usually requires reburial in the closest burial site in use. The decision is also in line with established archaeological best practice.
Professor David Cowling, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Arts and Humanities at Durham University, said: “The decision on where to rebury the soldiers was very complex.
“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.
Professor Chris Gerrard, Head of the Project Team at Durham University, said: “Consultation has helped us to make a fully informed decision regarding what happens next to the remains.
“It has been hugely rewarding to see the level of interest in the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project.
“All those we consulted with agreed that a respectful and dignified reburial and commemoration was vital. There have been some excellent suggestions for how this should be achieved, such as using Scottish soil for the reburial and stone from Dunbar for the commemorative plaque.”
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.
Canon Rosalind Brown, of Durham Cathedral, said: “The hope of both Durham Cathedral and Durham University is that interested parties will join us in planning a fitting and dignified reburial and commemoration for the soldiers.
“We will also be working closely with both the local church and churches in Scotland to plan this.”
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.
Those that survived imprisonment in Durham were transported to different parts of the world including Virginia and New England, USA, where they worked as indentured servants.
Research on the remains is being undertaken by Durham University’s Department of Archaeology. The aim is to learn more about where the soldiers came from, their health and what illnesses they suffered from at different stages of their lives.