Photos: Mass Graves Hold 17th-Century Prisoners of War

A bloody history

Skeletons of Scottish Soldiers

(Image credit: North News)

In 2013, two mass graves were unearthed at Durham University, and scientists now say the once-mysterious graves hold the remains of Scottish soldiers who were captured and held prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.

New clues are helping archaeologists piece together who the soldiers were and how they died. The research is ongoing, but already the bones are helping researchers learn more about one of the shortest but bloodiest battles of the English Civil Wars. [Read full story about the mysterious mass graves]

Unexpected discovery

Durham University Skeletons

(Image credit: North News)

The skeletons were found in 2013, during an excavation on campus for a proposed addition to the school's library.

Battle of Dunbar

Battle of Dunbar Prisoners

(Image credit: North News)

The two mass graves beneath Durham University had been hidden for nearly four centuries. The prisoners were captured by Oliver Cromwell during the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, and many died from hunger or disease, the archaeologists said.

Burial site

Durham University Skeletons

(Image credit: Richard Annis/Durham University)

Skeletons in the larger of the two mass graves, at the northeast side of the dig site. The person at the center was laid on his right side on top of another individual.

Dental remains

Close-Up of Dental Remains

(Image credit: Jeff Veitch, Durham University)

The teeth in some individuals were worn, a sign that they enjoyed smoking a pipe, according to the archaeologists.

A tale of teeth

Teeth Showing Wear from Pipe-Smoking

(Image credit: Jeff Veitch, Durham University)

Pipe-smoking wear in the teeth of a young adult male aged 18 to 25 years old.

Old wounds

Durham University Mass Graves

(Image credit: North News)

The archaeologists noted that the skeletons showed very little evidence of healed trauma, which suggests the soldiers didn't have much combat experience before they were sent to fight in the Battle of Dunbar.

Recovered bones

Scottish soldier remains

(Image credit: Richard Rayner | Copyright North News & Pictures ltd)

Scientific tests revealed that human remains found in mass graves are those of 17th-century Scottish soldiers.

Denise Chow
Live Science Contributor

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.