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Watch archaeologist Richard Annis describe the discovery of two mass graves in Durham in 2013.
There’s a lot of work going on in Palace Green Library to improve the facilities at the site and during the building work some human remains were found. Now, human remains means you’ve got to stop and sort things out properly so the archaeologist who discovered them reported the discovery, we got a licence
from the Ministry of Justice to remove them and we’ve been carrying out an excavation to determine just what has happened there. We initially thought that they were part of the graveyard that lies in front of the cathedral but there’s something rather unusual about this group of burials. There is a whole lot of people in one or two largish graves rather than individuals carefully laid out. At the moment we have identified 18 individuals and I am fairly sure that there will be more to come because they are piled one on top of another. We seem to have numerous people roughly in the same alignment but another part of the site on a different alignment but equally untidy.
We have mostly adults, we have one juvenile, so we can’t really say what the population is, where they come from, who they are, or even why they are buried there but we hope that in the post-excavation process when a lot of different techniques will be applied will bring some more of the story out. It might be all sorts of things, it might be the result of disease or some other calamity, all sorts of possible explanations but we need to get the bones back to the lab, examine them and see if we can determine what’s gone on…

That sense of discovery, the excitement at seeing something revealed for the first time, is very much part of what it is to be an archaeologist. A fingerprint on a pot, a footprint in the sand, these are some of the things which bring us directly into contact with people from the past.

Watch archaeologist Richard Annis describe the discovery of two mass graves in Durham in 2013. At the time, the human remains had not yet been analysed in detail in the laboratory and it would take several years to find out all the answers to their true identity. The detective work had only just begun…

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