Public consultation on the Battle of Dunbar skeletons

Archaeologist Janet Beveridge from Durham University Archaeological services carrying out an excavation on a human burial site near Durham University's Palace Green library.
Archaeologist Janet Beveridge from Durham University Archaeological services carrying out an excavation on a human burial site near Durham University's Palace Green library.

The Battle of Dunbar in September 1650 was one of the most brutal, bloody and short battles of the 17th Century civil wars.

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.

Although the exact figures are not known, it is thought that around 1,700 Scottish soldiers died of malnutrition, disease and cold after being marched over 100 miles from the South East of Scotland to Durham where they were imprisoned in Durham Cathedral and Castle, by then disused for several years. What happened to their bodies was a mystery for almost 400 years.

However, archaeologists at Durham University carried out scientific analysis on skeletons discovered in two mass graves on Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site in November 2013.

Combining this data with information from the excavation and historical records, the researchers concluded that ‘the only plausible’ explanation was that the skeletons were those of Scottish soldiers captured by English forces following the Battle of Dunbar and taken to Durham on the orders of Cromwell.

The team gave a commitment to consult on the next steps, taking into consideration the views of a wide range of interested parties and organisations before making any decisions. The bodies will eventually need to be reburied – a condition of the exhumation licence issued by the Ministry of Justice.

Now a public consultation event will be held in the Goldenstones Suite of the Dunmuir Hotel, Dunbar, on November 30, St Andrew’s Day. The Durham University archaeology team, joined by Canon Rosalind Brown of Durham Cathedral, will present their findings and ask for public feedback on the possibility of further research, reburial and commemoration. All are welcome on a first come, first served basis due to venue capacity.

Durham University’s Professor Chris Gerrard said: “Given the historical links with Dunbar we thought it fitting to bring our event there to give local people a chance to hear from the researchers involved in the project.”