6. What was their diet like? Microscopic particles and chemical traces from food trapped in dental calculus showed evidence for a range of foods. These included milk, wheat, oats, beans, brassicas (cabbage-like plants), and unidentifiable boiled vegetables. Lowland Scots at the time subsisted mainly on oats (as porridge oatcakes and oat bread), bread made from peas and beans, and kale broth; they ate little meat.7. Did they suffer from any other diseases? Analysis of the DNA and proteins in dental calculus showed the presence of disease-causing organisms. Many of these occur in a healthy mouth, so we cannot tell if they were actively causing disease. The conditions included gum disease, inflammation of the heart, meningitis, gonorrhoea, upper and lower respiratory tract infections.8. What else did microscopic analysis tell us? All 12 men examined had microscopic particles of charcoal and soot in their calculus. Some also had fibres (probably flax, hemp and wool), soil, mineral, grit or wood fragments. Soil and grit could be from household fires or tobacco smoking. Their presence might be linked to the presence of sinusitis in some men.9. Where did they come from? Analysis of oxygen and strontium isotopes suggests that a Scottish origin was likely for five of the skeletons, and five others came from Scotland or northern England. Three other northern Europeans were also present. Comparing several teeth from each man showed that many of them had moved between different places in their childhood. All of the individuals showed little exposure to man-made or industrially processed lead, suggesting they were from rural areas. Further DNA analysis may be able to tell us more in the future.Although everything now pointed firmly to a mid-17th century military context with a Scottish connection, one final possibility remained to be considered. Could these be the burials of Scottish soldiers billeted in Durham who died of the plague which broke out in the city between November 1644 and February 1645? The date could fit within the radiocarbon dates we have and with the isotope data too. The registers which record deaths by parish suggest a different story, however. Infection during this particular outbreak caused single deaths and did not spread through households. Mass graves of the kind discovered at Palace Green would not have been needed and bringing bodies to the heart of the city to be buried seems wholly unlikely.Instead, the skeletal analysis coupled with the results of a dating programme and isotope evidence indicates, with a very high degree of probability, that the Palace Green Library skeletons must be the remains of prisoners who fought at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. But how does this scientific evidence fit with historical accounts of the battle and its aftermath? Is the geographical diversity suggested by the isotope analysis compatible with what is known of Scottish army recruitment? And if some of the men were foreigners, what evidence is there that men from mainland Europe served in the Scots army? Above all, why is there no evidence of battle injuries on the skeletons?Many questions remained to be answered.
Use the comments section below to discuss with other learners the strengths and weaknesses of the research and whether you would have reached the same conclusion.
We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.
We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas. You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.