What was found?

Most of the excavation at the Palace Green site was quite shallow, but deeper excavation was required where the steps for a fire exit descended. This is where the human remains were found, tightly packed in two mass graves.

Not all the bones of each skeleton were removed from the ground. In line with national guidelines, where a body extended beyond the limits of construction, bones that were unaffected were left in place. Those bones are still there today. Only what needed to be exhumed was removed.

The skeletons were not laid out in the normal manner for a Christian burial. Typically, people are buried in individual graves, on their backs with their heads to the west and with orderly arm and leg positions.

At this site many people had been buried together in two common graves, neither of which was fully exposed. Their bodies were jumbled and tightly packed together at different angles; one lay face down and another on one side, with arms raised. There was no trace of clothing, shoes or other possessions. This suggests that the dead were stripped naked and then dropped unceremoniously into large pits. Fine linear marks were detected on the surfaces of some bones, possibly due to gnawing by rodents. This may be because the people were not buried immediately or because they were given only a shallow initial covering of soil.

Burial positions as found during excavation, by Richard Annis, Durham University:

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

(Video showing the different positions in which skeletons were found during the excavation)

One pit might represent one day of deaths. If so, each would have contained approximately 35-40 bodies. We can be almost certain that these men would have known or recognised one another.

Up to 29 individuals were identified during the excavation and 28 of them were successfully lifted. The last skeleton lay deep enough not to be disturbed by the building work.

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This article is from the free online course:

Archaeology and the Battle of Dunbar 1650: From the Scottish Battlefield to the New World

Durham University