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Decisions around reburial and commemoration

Decisions around reburial and commemoration
We recognise that this Scottish soldiers archaeology project has generated a great deal of interest worldwide and it’s been extremely helpful for us to engage with a wide range of stakeholders both within academia, but just as importantly beyond it. This phase of the project has focused on making some decisions about appropriate commemoration and reburial of the Scottish soldiers. In terms of reburial, we’ve decided that the most appropriate resting place for the skeletons
is actually in Durham. That’s in line with the exhumation license granted to us by the Ministry of Justice. But also we’ve been mindful of archaeological best practice and recent legal precedent. Reburial will take place once the programme of further research has been completed, and that is most likely to be in autumn 2017. In terms of commemoration we’ve decided to install a plaque as a permanent memorial to the soldiers, as close as possible to the site of their discovery and we’ll be working with the Cathedral and any interested stakeholders in taking that forward. We’re also planning a commemorative event.
We took these decisions following an extensive period of consultation with stakeholders, and throughout, we’ve been guided by the moral, ethical and legal responsibilities of the University.
The public consultation involved two events; one in Durham and one in Dunbar, attended by around 250 people, together with a programme of public lectures. We’ve also spoken to academics, and we’ve spoken to local Government and community council representatives. We’ve spoken to professional bodies, The Ministry of Justice and to Historic England. And then there are local stakeholder groups and online we’ve given people the opportunity to make comment through an email account and also to involve themselves in our ongoing research through a blog. In taking our decision to rebury in Durham there are three important sensitivities we need to consider.
If we take the ethical side to begin with we have to bear in mind that all of these remains are extremely fragile and crucially none of them are complete, so we are left with a situation in which different parts of the skeleton have been retrieved from the archaeological site and other parts of them have been left on the site underneath the buildings on Palace Green. And we felt that we should try to limit the distance wherever possible between the human remains that have already been moved and those which are still in situ.
If we turn to the moral arguments and we feel that the human remains should be interred as close as possible to their comrades; these are men who fought together and died together, and to separate them in death would be insensitive. Finally there are legal factors which play into our decision; reburial in Durham is in accordance with English law and it reflects the standard approach set out by the Ministry of Justice License. It also conforms with best archaeological practice. As part of the consultation process we considered a number of different options and the first of these is reburial in Scotland which presents a number of challenges which we needed to think about very carefully.
Ethically concerns were raised during the consultation period about separating individuals from the remainders of their bodies any more than was necessary. Part of the case for reburial in Scotland was a moral case to bring the remains home, but our research is clear that not all of the individuals are from the United Kingdom, and several more may be from either Scotland, or from northern England, so home was perhaps not Scotland for all of these men. Legally the most comparative case when there were calls to rebury at an alternative site was Richard III.
A judicial review in May 2014 ruled that the remains should be reburied in Leicester, close to where they were found, and in line with the exhumation license granted by the Ministry of Justice. Another of the suggestions raised was reburial elsewhere in Durham. The Cathedral has been closed for burials since 1938 and other sites that have been suggested to us, such as Palace Green itself are not lawful burial grounds. It was clear from the consultation process that the public felt that there was a need to ensure that these individuals were provided with a respectful and dignified burial and for these reasons we feel comfortable that reburial in Durham with an appropriate grave marker and a ceremony offers these two things.
We had a number of good suggestions from a number of people around reburial commemoration including the use of Scottish soil and the cutting of stone from Dunbar for a commemorative plaque near to the site where they were found and we’ll continue to work on these arrangements during the coming weeks and months.
Well, from the very beginning when the remains of the prisoners were found, obviously we’ve been closely involved. I’ve been working with the University’s team on this and also I’ve been liaising on their behalf with some of the churches, with the local church that will be involved in the reburial and have made initial contact with the churches in Scotland who are very interested in this. The plaque that is in the Cathedral is in the Chapel of the Nine Altars and at the moment it says that their burial place is unknown.
Now we need to reword that obviously in the light of these discoveries which we will be doing and we will be consulting people in Scotland about arranging for a rededication of the plaque, possibly later this year, depending upon when we can get it arranged.

Watch this short video for insight into the decisions taken around commemoration and reburial of the Scottish soldiers. Make sure you read the rest of this week’s content for the wider context and current guidelines in the UK.

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