Janet Beveridge at work at Palace Green in November 2013 when the human remains were first discovered
Janet Beveridge at work at Palace Green in November 2013 when the human remains were first discovered

Who found the mass graves?

The discovery of the two mass graves in 2013 was made by Janet Beveridge, a project archaeologist with Archaeological Services, part of the Department of Archaeology at Durham University. Here is her account of what happened:

The archaeological monitoring of construction works for the new café for Palace Green Library began on 5th November 2013. At first it was a project much like any other. A mini-digger was lifted in by crane so that the ground surface could be taken down. Underneath were recent rubbish deposits which had been used to level the surface. There was little of interest and the work was hampered by the proximity of the surrounding buildings, all of which needed to be underpinned with concrete. Then on 21st November three human skulls were suddenly exposed and even at this stage it was apparent that there was something very odd about the remains. They lay outside the Cathedral graveyard and were buried north-south instead of east-west. My first thoughts were that they could be some of the prisoners from the Battle of Dunbar. I had first heard the Dunbar story when I attended school locally.

Once a burial licence was obtained, the excavation of the graves began. The layers of soil overlying the first grave were removed and the skeletons were exposed, cleaned, recorded and lifted one-by-one. It was obvious right away that the bodies had been slung into the pit and become entangled with each other. Identifying which arm belonged to which skeleton took care and patience and one grave continued right under the foundations of the brick stable whose walls needed to be made safe before the excavation could be extended. In such difficult circumstances, the excitement and pride of finding the graves was mixed with sadness and compassion for those who had died. I had no idea at that time how significant this story would become.

In the Comments section below, write a phrase explaining how you might feel about the excavation of human remains.

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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